Working Title Ch. 1
Summer solstice meant copious amounts of heat for a long period of time, and copious amounts of heat in the Achille Desert meant death for the unprepared. Bastien Wyndrose was fortunately prepared, even if only somewhat. He posed little threat walking across the cracked, scorched earth, a lonely figure in a barren wasteland. Wisps of dust swirled from his heels as he trekked the desert, canvas duster flapping in the occasional breeze. Even the wind here provided no relief because it was purely bellows of hot air. A bright yellow scarf clung loosely around his neck and face, protecting him from the glaring sun, and linen wraps enveloped his hands, providing protection from the heat.
“It’s just you and me, kid,” Bastien muttered to a solitary cactus as he passed by. He knew that crossing the Achille would be a trial, especially on foot. He knew that the summer solstice would be a bad day to cross because it meant long, sweltering hours of travel. He did it anyway because his task could not wait.
Just as Bastien lifted his hand to shield his eyes and look out across the expanse, a loud caw sounded from above. A glance upward told him it was a grim, a large black seeker of carrion. He continued to trod onward, ignoring the creature.
“Caw, caw!” A second grim seemed to materialize from thin air; it joined the first one in its endeavor to wait for Bastien to keel over. Bastien neglected them, adjusting his scarf. He was starting to feel parched, and he knew he had barely any water left in his hide flask. Something he chided himself for.
A substantial black shadow passed over him, and he stopped mid-stride. Tilting his head up, he did not like what he saw.
Feathery wings spread wide, gliding on an arid breeze, a massive grim chief hovered above Bastien. Even from that distance Bastien could see the beast’s sharp skeletal beak pointed at him, eyeing him hungrily. Bastien’s right hand eased into the flap of his duster and rested on the mother of pearl grip of his pistol, holstered in tooled leather. He continued walking.
Vigorous flapping and a gust of air told him the grim was swooping, so he bolted to the left and spun around, whipping his pistol from the holster. Focusing, he tapped into his internal well of mana and fired several electric blue bursts at the beast. It emitted a frenzied screech at him and banked to the side. Catching a current of air, it rose out of range. Bastien gritted his teeth and looked around him, desperate to find some sort of cover to no avail.
A high-pitched keening grabbed his attention, and he reacted swiftly as the smaller grim shot out of the sky toward him, two black bullets. Aiming with precision, he dropped the beasts with two well-placed mana bursts. He knew that running was out of the question, so he faced the grim chief, staring it down.
The grim chief dove, and Bastien fired several rounds while backpedaling. Mana did not seem to affect the grim chief….Its leathery, feather-encompassed body appeared to absorb the shots. Bastien leaped to the side, narrowly avoiding the grim’s snapping beak, and half-rolled to catch himself from planting onto the searing, compact earth. Sweat and dust blurred his eyes, obscuring his vision along with the brilliant sun. Blinking his vision clear, his eyes sought the sky for the grim, poised and ready with his pistol.
High above him again, the grim was circling. The beast let out a tremendous caw and plummeted toward Bastien. Bastien quickly took aim, firing shots at the grim’s head. He aimed for its eyes, hoping that blinding the creature would either deter it or slow it down enough to take advantage of other weaknesses. A calculated blast hit the grim in one beady eye, but the beast stayed its course and slammed into Bastien, the strike knocking him to the ground. His pistol flew from his hand and his breath was taken from his body as the grim pinned him to the desert floor. The stench of rot sullied the air. Sharp claws dug into his shoulders as the beast hovered over him, and he could not budge from the sheer weight of the grim. The grim snapped at his head and face, shredding the scarf and cutting into the flesh of his exposed face. Bastien could see the gaping bloody hole that his mana bullet had made; he had a mad inclination to laugh at the prospect that the grim was about to return the favor. Bastien felt helpless, struggling to move to save himself from the grim’s onslaught, but he could do nothing.
Suddenly the pounding of hooves approached and Bastien heard a woman yelling. He tilted his head as far as he could and saw a palomino steed come to an abrupt halt, a black-haired woman sliding from its back. She quickly untethered a sickle and chain from her saddle and ran up to Bastien and the grim, swinging the chain above her head. The grim hunkered down and screeched, protective of its prey, and Bastien groaned as its claws dug deeper into his shoulders, puncturing him through his duster.
“Hang on!” the woman yelled, and with one deft lunge she let the chain fly. It wrapped tightly around the grim’s neck, and the grim began thrashing its sooty wings, enraged. The woman was jerked forward, but she held fast to her weapon and then swiftly decapitated the grim with the sharp blade of her sickle.
Bastien felt the grim’s claws loosen as its head plopped to the ground. Founts of hot blood splattered him in the face as he rolled the grim’s limp body off of him. The woman offered him a hand and he took it, standing shakily. He sucked in air through his clenched teeth, his wounds burning and throbbing.
“Here, let me look at you,” the woman demanded. Her fingers peeled back his shredded duster and scarf, dancing lightly over his chest and face as she examined him. She was short enough that he could look down at the top of her ebony hair. She tilted her face up to look at him, concern in her hazel eyes. “You need healing. I don’t want to do it here in case more grim show up, but I know a place nearby if you can bear the pain a bit longer.”
“I can manage,” Bastien uttered, spying his pistol lying in the dust forlornly. He picked it up and holstered it. He followed the woman to her horse and awkwardly clambered up behind her. There was nothing else to hold onto, so he gently gripped the woman’s waist.
“Ajax, go,” she directed the golden steed, and he took off at a gallop.
The sun beat down on the pair as they rode, crossing endless desert. After about ten minutes of jostling and bumping, a cluster of trees came into view, a small oasis in the blistering expanse. Ajax slowed to a trot as they neared the grove of palms, and a crystal clear pond was revealed. Foliage ripe with berries edged the water, and the trees provided dappled shade. The horse entered the grove and came to a stop, and the pair dismounted. Bastien stumbled as his feet hit the ground; he felt weak, unsteady.
“Here,” the woman said, gesturing to a large smooth stone at the water’s edge. She helped Bastien ease into a sitting position and began removing his shirt and scarf.
“Whoa, there, get to know me first,” Bastien chuckled, then groaned in pain as bloody scraps of his duster were pulled from his open punctures.
The woman’s eyes flashed at him, hazel facets gleaming pensively, but her lips tilted upward into a smile. “Alright, I’m Lilah. What do I call you, other than spared dinner?”
“The name’s Bastien. Thank you, by the way….for saving me back there.”
“Thank me properly once I’ve healed you,” Lilah replied. “I’m only an apprentice sage yet, but I can take away the brunt of your pain.” She tossed his shirt and scarf to the side, revealing Bastien’s torso. He was slightly muscular and tanned, but the grim had left him a bloody mess. “Sit back and relax,” said Lilah. She placed her hands firmly on Bastien’s wounds, ignoring his flinch, and focused her healing mana. She felt it well up inside of her and willed it to knit Bastien’s flesh back together. The arcane warmth spread up her arms, into her hands, into Bastien’s body, restoring him slowly. Lilah moved her hands to every wound, resting them finally on Bastien’s face. The cuts faded away, leaving a faint trace of scarring.
“That should do it,” said Lilah, one hand still poised on Bastien’s face. She brushed his dusty cheek softly with her thumb, and his blue eyes met hers. She quickly withdrew her hand and looked out across the water. “You, uh, you should drink some water now. I’m sure you’re parched after all of that...A natural spring feeds into this pond, so the water is always fresh. Clean yourself up a bit, too.” She sat on the stone and sat, legs folded criss-crossed.
Bastien stood, glancing at her, and moved to cleanse himself at the water’s edge. He ripped a piece from his scarf and dipped it into the water, using it to bathe himself free of blood. A few feet away he dipped his flask into the cool water, refilling, and sat down next to Lilah.
He offered her the flask first, and she accepted, drinking deeply. After drinking his own fill, Bastien turned his gaze to her. “Thank you again, for everything, “ he said. “I probably would have died in this desert today, had it not been for you.”
“You’re lucky I was in the right place at the right time,” she laughed in return. “If you’re headed for the city of Tiroon, it’s not far from here. Perhaps a half hour’s walk in that direction.” She pointed. “Ajax and I would carry you the rest of the way, but I am going the opposite direction.”
“Here is perfect,” Bastien replied. “I’d like to think I could manage the rest of the way. Again, I am thankful that you came across me.”
Lilah stood up, stretched, and said, “Well, I’d better be moseying along. Bastien, despite the circumstances, it was a pleasure to meet you. Perhaps if I conclude my business early I might see you at the festival in Tiroon this evening.”
“Festival?” Bastien asked, eyes lighting up.
“Yes, for the summer solstice,” Lilah said. “The city is rife with solstice activity right now. Guard your coin purse closely,” she said ominously, then laughed. She walked over to Ajax and mounted him. “Farewell, Bastien,” she waved. “Until we meet again. Heeyah, Ajax!” Ajax galloped away in a flurry of dust and small rocks.
Bastien watched them until they faded in the distance and he sighed. He decided to meditate and rest before finishing his journey today. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply until--
You have been successfully logged out. The computer monitor displayed the main menu of Warriors of Bastille, showing artfully clad characters wielding an array of weapons. Dawn leaned back in her computer chair, and pushed her glasses up to rub her eyes. She wanted to play more of her newest addiction, but it was almost time for her shift at the cafe. She stood up and stretched, tucking a brown strand of hair behind her ear. Luckily her shift today would be short, and then she could continue adventuring with her character Bastien. She was wondering what the festival in Tiroon would be like as she clicked her mouse and put her desktop to sleep. The anticipation fueled her as she readied herself and left her apartment.