Renderosity recently announced the winners in its Wordsmith Contest. The Grand prize winner was Goldenthrush with "The Skyling Queen."
View Goldenthrush's gallery here.
To continue the success of the Wordsmith's contest, Renderosity added a writing category to its annual Halloween contest, Generation Horror Wars. Create a written piece about the theme -- choose two or more generations of horror and have them battle it out, Universal Monsters vs. Modern day Slashers, Freddie and Jason team up against Saw, the possibilities are endless. The winners will be published here.
The Skyling Queen
"Honestly, Miss Grebbs, if you are incapable of keeping up with an inquisitive and bright little girl, then do just put in your notice and go, I really do not have the time nor inclination to listen to you complaining about Artesia's doings," Governor Darttson noted, her voice flatly annoyed as she oversaw a room filled with computing equipment and operators. She held a heavy clipboard topped with small valves which blinked green and red at intervals.
Miss Grebbs stopped short, her face running scarlet. She was an attractive woman of twenty and two, educated and refined, breathing heavily as if she had been running. She dragged a little girl of perhaps twelve by the hand, and abruptly released the child. The girl reeled back and fell to her backside.
The quiet voices and incessant typing ceased. Every eye turned to the girl. Governor Darttson drew herself up, frosty, her brown eyes narrow.
"You are dismissed," Dartsson announced.
"But you don't--" Miss Grebbs yelped, stunned.
"You are dismissed," the older woman repeated, slow and measured.
"If this is all you care that your daughter was out running about in the dirt and desert!"
"This is what I care about a governess who willfully gives harm to her charge, Miss Grebbs. You are dismissed. Your check and your papers will be waiting with the steward in an hour. Becky, escort Miss Grebbs to her room and assist her to pack," Dartsson responded, perfectly modulated. She nodded to one of the women running the computation machine, then moved to help her daughter to her feet. A moment later, she simply picked the girl up and held her on her hip, returning her attention to the clipboard.
"I'm too big for you to carry," Artesia sniffled into her mother's shoulder.
"You are never too big for me to carry, don't be dramatic."
"You can't pick up Silver."
"I can," Dartsson countered, turning to kiss her daughter's cheeks, "You've broken your record, my dear little droplet. Four governesses in a year, and it's not half over. I'm quite proud of you, Papa will be delighted."
"Papa didn't like Miss Grebbs anyhow," the girl shrugged, clinging tightly to her mother despite being too big to be carried. She knew she was, and she knew her mother wouldn't be able to carry her for long, but after her day, it was a relief to know her mother cared that much.
"Nor I, but unfortunately, with the state of affairs as they are, I haven't much choice but to hire on those morons to look after you and your sister. At least Miss Hobbens gets along well with us all."
"Maybe she could look after us both? If I promise to stay close...?" Artesia asked tentatively. Her mother shook her head.
"No, darling, I won't have you stifling yourself more than you already must, and though I know Miss Hobbens would be delighted to run about with you both, she's just a bit too old."
"Can I pick my own governess?" the girl asked, rather hopelessly. Dartsson exhaled, shaking her head.
"I'm sorry, sweet. They must all be cleared by the government. Our work here is very sensitive, and should the Eastern Frontier fall, ...well. Let's not think about that. Think of a day when this ...insurrection is over, and your brother may return, and we may return to our happy lives."
"Miss Grebbs said I was a national liability, running around and getting into things," Artesia admitted glumly. She didn't see her mother roll her eyes, her own lowered, chewing on her lower lip.
"Why on earth would she say that?"
"I was using a mirror to flash a code to Gemma," Artesia admitted shamefully. Her mother's brows knit faintly.
"The little girl down the railway? Why would that bother her, you two have been having your little code-talks since we were advised to lock down here. Captain Brawly assured us that it was not interfering with anything, and his men would be apprised of it."
"I don't know. She usually just stands there and fixes her makeup and asks if Silver's as handsome as his pictures make him out to be, and I say no, because she's so gross. But today she got all weird and snatched my mirror out of my hand and I only got to see a little of Gemma's code, she told me to go in and she said she was telling Gemma to not code-talk to me anymore."
Dartsson paused greatly. Her brows knit. She quietly tapped at one of the buttons on the clipboard as she let Artesia down to her feet.
"What did Gemma say?"
"It didn't make sense. It was like she was just waving the mirror around. And I couldn't see what Miss Grebbs was flashing back."
"I see. Artesia, I need to you to go directly downstairs and get your sister. Tell Miss Hobbens I need to speak with her, and you will watch Rain. Then you will take Rain down into the basement, into the spring room, and climb down the overflow to get into the caves under the house. You need to do this quickly and without saying anything more than Miss Hobbens needs to see me," Dartsson told the girl calmly and firmly. Artesia stared at her mother, perplexed, but nodding.
"You will not come out until you hear someone calling our code word, do you understand?" Dartsson added. Artsesia nodded once more.
"Now go. Never forget, we love you," Dartsson smiled, gentle, as she leaned down to kiss the girl's brow.
Fear knocked at Artesia's heart as she quickly scurried down two flights of stairs. It was a huge mansion, and sometimes, it seemed too big even for all of the people staying there since the Insurrection had begun.
It had always been lively and interesting, it was the official home of the parish Governor, home to the Dartssons for nearly eight years. It was filled with history and the future alike. But now... Now it had started to become scary. There were armed troops all around the gracious mansion. A trio of repeating rifles and even a repeating cannon were placed in the upper balconies, which had been covered in steel sheets.
Artesia paused on the stairs, catching her breath as she lugged her six year old sister down the steep basement steps. Rain glanced up at Artesia, her amber eyes enormous.
"I don't know," Artesia exhaled, and finally let Rain down. The basement was huge and long, with racks and racks of wine, old work benches, crates, old machines. A carbide lamp hung by the steps, and Artesia grabbed it, lighting it up as led her sister through the dark room.
"Is it about the war again?" Rain whimpered, grabbing Artesia's skirt and clinging.
"Probably. Isn't everything about the war? Insurrection."
"What if they break in?"
"I don't know, Rain. We just have to do what Mama said to do. Okay?" Artesia replied, as calm as she could. She pulled twice on a long disused escapement chain that once powered a dumbwaiter, and a panel opened, leading down to the spring room.
Few people knew of the spring room under the basement. There was a newer one under the kitchen, after all, but that one was modern, and had taps and a drain, it worked better at keeping food cold than the ice box and even the new electric refrigerator. The old one was older than the house, much older. Though there was tile on the floor, the sides of the pool for the cold spring water were made of river rock instead of concrete or even cut stone.
Their parents took them to play in the cool water often in the summer. It was a great and jolly secret, they would send off their secretaries and governesses, though back then, there had only been Miss Deerah. Miss Deerah had left them to build aircraft, though.
It was cold and eerie without their parents and the picnic basket and toys. Artesia sighed and closed the door behind them. She took Rain's hand and they walked carefully to the back of the stone room.
Invisible from the door was a slot at the far end of the room. The water was almost a foot deep there, and it flowed over the stones down that slot. There were stairs cut into the stone. They had practiced all the time going down the wet stone, it had been a merry game. Now it was frightening.
"Down we go," Artesia smiled with all the cheer she could muster. She held Rain's hand tightly, and they carefully made their way down.
The water gathered in a pool, there was no knowing how big it was. The carbide lantern could only pierce the darkness so far. The steps led to the bank of the pool, a dry and dusty slab of granite.
"What's that?" Rain asked, frowning, as Artesia held up the lantern.
"Packs...? Supplies, I suppose," the older girl noted. A few back packs had been placed down there, a few crates. They found preserved food, candles, more carbide tablets for the lamps, matches, blankets, clothing. Artesia smiled and handed Rain a rag doll which had been stored with the other things. Rain took it gladly, hugging it tightly to her chest.
Just as Artesia had found the hook overhead to hang the lantern, the entire world seemed to shake, a deafening explosion went off just over their heads. Dust and rock chips rained down on them. Too frightened to scream, the girls clung together in terrified silence.
The Eastern Frontier had fallen.
Almost as suddenly as the bombardment begun, it stopped. The girls huddled together in the darkness, sleeping fitfully, eating little. The silence was nearly as frightening as the dull thuds of bombs. They didn't dare so much as go up the steps that led to the old spring room. All they could do was to wait for someone to come for them.
They'd lost track of time, but Artesia was certain it hadn't been longer than a week. She hoped, anyhow. The quiet seemed to go on and on.
Once more daring to light the carbide lantern, Artesia quietly went through the supplies that had been left there. It looked as if her parents intended for at least one adult to be with them. She pulled a small radio from one of the crates and frowned at it. There was a note taped to it.
'Do not attempt to venture out via the Rutherband tunnel until after discerning enemy troop movement. The girls must be clad in the clothing left here for them. There is a prayer book with aliases for them: Artesia must be Hazel Down and Rain must be Rose Down. Representatives of the Civilian Protection Order will arrive to observe the occupation of Stagport City. Make some shift to alert them that you have them, and that they must be given political asylum, and their sponsor is Queen Bettina of Osterfree.'
Artesia read the note with a rising sense of panic. Rutherband tunnel. Aliases. Occupation. Asylum. She abruptly sat on the ground, her head lowered to her knees, panting to catch her breath.
A long while later, she got hold of herself. She glanced over to her sister, sleeping fretfully with the doll, and pressed her lips together. She carefully turned the radio on, turning the volume as low as she could.
"Curfew is enforced dusk to dawn. Anyone seen on the streets at this time will be shot on sight. All employees of the governor will report to Stagport House. Any persons sheltering any employee of the governor, any soldier, any official, will be shot. Those surrendering such people will be rewarded. Stagport City is now under the command of General Hashlan. All police are to surrender authority to the troops of Free Aruthra. Former Governor Dartsson's daughters are missing. All citizens of New Free Stagport are ordered to search for the girls and deliver them to Stagport house when found..."
Artesia's hands pressed to her lips. It was real. It had happened. She nearly vomited, but swallowing hard, remembered how her mother would stand tall and let such madness crash against her.
They would have to get through the Rutherband tunnel, and Artesia had never heard of it before. She wondered if their old governess, Miss Deerah, was supposed to be with them. And why at least Miss Hobbens hadn't come with them.
Probably Mother didn't trust her. Or she was just too old. Artesia exhaled, and continued searching through the supplies.
Artesia unfolded a map, and frowned at it. She touched at the underground lake and chamber where she and Rain were. To her surprise, she found several tunnels opened from there, but looking around, she couldn't see them.
"Probably hidden," she murmured, frowning. One tunnel was named Rutherband. She followed it with her forefinger. It eventually led to a cave in the nearby woods. Another had an exit near the train station where Gemma lived. Artesia's heart sank as she wondered if her friend was alright.
Then she froze in terror, wondering if the enemy had found that tunnel. She looked around the small chamber once more. She couldn't see any of the exits, probably no one else could, either.
A third tunnel went quite a long way and ended along the bluffs overlooking the Shining Ocean. The very very last place that would be Western Aruthra, if the troops of the Free Aruthrans weren't stopped.
Artesia tilted her head. A set of dotted lines lead from the underground pool. There was a question mark, though the dotted lines continued. A round chamber was drawn, sketchy and faint. It was labeled 'chamber of the queen' with another question mark.
"Chamber of the queen?" Artesia murmured, head tilting, "Good Queen Skyling?"
"Where?" Rain whimpered as she clambered from the blankets to squeeze to Artesia's side.
"It says there. But. Good Queen Skyling was ... forever ago."
"The magic queen? I wish she was here now. She'd make all this stupid fighting stop," Rain sighed, downcast.
"I'm pretty sure the Free Aruthrans aren't making her very happy right now, so, yes."
"Because they're mean?"
"I hope they all aren't. But. I mean. They aren't even from Aruthra. They all moved here and sort of pushed their way into the middle of Aruthra when North and South Aruthra had that war. Now they're trying to take us all over."
"Why?" Rain asked slowly. Artesia shook her head slowly.
"I don't know. Even though they just took over where they went, and I guess there was a lot of fighting then, they still were allowed to stay and all that. Maybe they're just greedy."
"What do we do now?" Rain whimpered, clinging to her sister. Artesia tried on a smile, it was too small and painful.
"Well. You're going to be Rose. And I'm going to be Hazel. And we're going to walk down a secret passageway and practice being Rose and Hazel Down. Then we're going to get to Stagport and find someone to help us."
"What about Mama and Papa and Silver?" Rain asked, nearly in tears. Artesia held her jaw firmly.
"I don't know yet. Right now, we're safe. We'll just wait a while and practice being Rose and Hazel. Let's get something to eat."
A strange thunking sound woke Artesia with a start. She sat up and put her hand over her mouth, hoping it would quiet her breathing. She was positive that the beating of her heart could be heard all the way to the top of the mansion.
The sound came again. And again. She frowned, and slowly slid from the blankets. She crept to the stone steps leading to the old spring room, tilting her head to listen. She could see light under the door leading into the cellar, and her heart leapt into her throat.
"Where are your sisters, Corporal?"
"You are in control here, Corporal. You can end this at any time. Where are your sisters?"
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
"I don't know."
Artesia's heart felt like it stopped. Her brother's voice. It sounded like Silver. She bit down on her lower lip and crept closer to the door.
"I haven't been here in months, how the hell should I know where they are?!" he blurted out, angry, frustrated, and thick.
"You must know your wretched mother's contingency plans."
The other man's voice was strident and cold.
"They wouldn't be contingency plans if everyone and her son knew them, would they?" Silver snapped, utter disdainful acid, "May I please have an intelligent torturer?"
Thunk thunk thunk.
"Where are your sisters?!"
Another voice spoke.
"Captain, the General wishes to speak with you."
"I already apprised him that this would not be a simple or easy matter."
"Your commanding officer has summoned you, Whyser, you don't stand there and argue with the messenger. Seriously. Send back someone who actually knows what they're doing," Silver noted, his voice flat and strained.
"Be silent," Whyser snapped, irritated, "Very well, let's be quick about it. What does he want?"
"I'm not certain. Should I send the guards to stand over him?"
"No. Definitely not. He's already nearly sweet talked his way out of our captivity four times. He can't very well escape from the basement even if he does escape his bonds."
Silence fell. The light wavered a few times. Biting her lower lip, Artesia slowly eased the spring room door open. Her brows knit as she slipped it shut behind her, and padded for the source of the light.
A yelp nearly escaped Artesia's lips as she realized that Silver was seated in the middle of the basement, his arms bound behind him. His head bowed to his knees. He was filthy and bloody. A knife rested on a nearby table along with tools and implements she couldn't identify, and didn't want to. She quickly scurried out, grabbing the knife and rushing around to cut the thick bindings around her brother's wrists.
"...What...?" he hissed, then his eyes widened, one blacked and bruised, his lip split and bleeding, "Artesia, get back, don't ..."
"Be quiet, Silver," she responded, finally managing to cut away the rope. He gasped, pulling his arms forward, and snatching Artesia up. He tottered, staggered, and abruptly put her back down.
"Can't use my hands, my arm, I think it's broken, ...Just run," he hissed. Artesia shook her head and grabbed his belt loop, towing him for the spring room. He stepped within and watched as she closed the door, then followed her down the steps. Rain nearly screeched to see her brother and ran to him sobbing.
"We have to go now, and I know they know about the tunnels. Just not that they connect here," Silver exhaled, "They've been using all of them for intelligence and sabotage for months. They're going to take the basement apart and find the spring room sooner or later," Silver noted, quiet and calm for all how desperate the situation was.
If he could trust that the General would realize that the girls were just children, and allow them to be sent on to Osterfree, he would simply hand them over. But he knew the General would use the girls as tools and worse.
"There's this," Artesia pointed out, showing him the map. Silver frowned, taking the paper and holding it to the light.
"The Queen's Chamber? That's just a children's story," he noted, rubbing at his brow, "Not that I wouldn't welcome the assistance of the powerful witch-queen who breathed magic into the land."
"We're children," Artesia shrugged. Rain nodded a moment later, agreeing with her sister. Silver gave them a crooked grin.
"...Not what I meant..."
"We don't have any other choice if they know about the other tunnels, Silver," Artesia told him gravely, "And you're hurt."
"Alright," Silver exhaled, realizing that she was perfectly correct. He looked over the supplies and finally exhaled. "Alright. Let's move. It's not going to take long for Whyser to realize I've escaped."
Rain and Artesia hunkered in one of the crates, watching as Silver quietly towed them into the dark pool. They had bandaged him as best they could, changed into the clothing of poor working class girls and opened all of the doorways leading to the other passages. They packed all they could into another crate, and tied it to the first.
If it wasn't so dire a situation, it would have been a terrible lot of fun. Exploring the dark pool in makeshift boats as their brother pulled them along. Artesia held up the carbide lantern, shielding it so it could only shine forward.
There was little to see. Gray stone overhead, mirror black water below. It was cold. She could see her brother shuddering from time to time. Little by little, the pond narrowed and began to turn. It was utterly silent save for the soft clap and ripple of water and their own breathing.
A dull thump sounded, and the sound of falling dust. Silver winced faintly.
"Why bother searching when you can just blow things up?" he murmured, sarcastic. Several moments later, they could hear the distant sound of men yelling. A yellowish light shone across the pond, but wasn't strong enough to show even the rear wall.
"Will they follow us here?" Rain asked in a tiny voice.
"They might. We have to keep moving and hope there's a way out near the Queen's Chamber. That there is a Queen's Chamber," Silver exhaled softly.
"There must be a Queen's Chamber. Why else would there be so many stories about her?" Artesia asked, a plea in her voice. She could see her brother's lips pressed together, how pale they were. His brown skin had nearly faded white.
"Story's grow bigger. As big as they need to be," Silver finally explained softly.
"We need her to be really really big," Rain whispered.
"When the god's daughters began to cry, she made them laugh when she showed them the otters, and that made the Otter River, and when the god's sisters started to fight and covered the land with ashes and hot wind and burning clouds, she tricked them into burning each other and sang so sweetly that the giant birds came and their wings blew away the clouds..." Artesia rattled off, her eyes wide open and dry, "She can do anything. She can make the Free Aruthran's understand that we can all live together. She can make them go back to their own lands. And stop this war."
Silver glanced back at his sisters with a wan smile. They heard miracles. He knew that they were speaking legends of ancients trying to explain how natural disasters had shaped their land.
"She gave wise people magic and showed them how to make it do good things, so Hartla the Elder knew how to create a damn from a crumbling hill and then Riila the Beautiful could turn the hurricane away long enough for her people to escape..." Artesia went on, almost eagerly, her voice starting to gain power.
"Shh," Silver whispered, "I don't know if our voices can carry back to the chamber."
Artesia covered her mouth with her hands.
"There's another bank," he told them some time later, and quietly struggled to climb out of the chill water. He dropped to his knees, shivering violently. His sisters stared at him, uneasy, Artesia biting her lower lip.
"We have to keep moving," he finally gasped, taking a blanket they brought to him. He struggled to his feet, and leaned heavily to the wall.
"I'll tow the boxes. Keep walking, Silver, please, keep walking," Artesia whimpered. He nodded, giving her a wearied smile.
He had to keep walking. His captors hadn't spoken a word of their parents to him. He feared that he was all the girls had left. And they were all he had.
"This must be it," Artesia whispered.
They stood at the threshold of a dark cavern, the light of the carbide lantern picking out crystal faces. Sometimes, they beamed the light from face to face before her hand moved, and the light died. She looked up to Silver, realizing that he was nearly dead on his feet. She reached up to take his hand. It was chill and lax.
"We just have to make a fire and let him warm up," she hissed to Rain. Silver heard, but he was past protesting. He could only let his sisters lead him into the darkness.
The water still followed along bank, rolling into the wide space as a narrow and shallow stream, clear as glass when the light illuminated it. They could hear a soft droning of water sluicing from the stream into an unknown depth.
The chamber felt large, the lantern could do little to show them its actual size. Artesia stopped abruptly just as her brother started to collapse. She helped him to his knees, then to his side.
"Sit with him, try to warm him up," Artesia whispered to Rain as she pulled the crates to the ground once more. After several moments, she managed to start a small fire. She quickly dipped up a pot of water, and set it to heat, adding dried and powdered meat to it.
It seemed to be forever, but finally Silver was able to sit up and drink the hot soup, wrapped in all of their blankets. His hands still shook, he was still pale and gaunt.
The fire didn't shed much more light than the lantern did. Artesia looked around often, uncertain. If it was the Queen's Chamber, then... why wasn't she helping them?
They slept finally, and it seemed like it was for a very long time.
Artesia woke abruptly, her eyes wide. The very silence seemed to be a roaring in her ears, the darkness was as complete as if she was blind. She shook herself, patting around for the lantern and carbide pellets, only to stop.
There was light. A little. Something sparkled in the darkness, but she couldn't tell if it was just out of arms length or a thousand miles away. Artesia felt the carbide pellets under her hand and quickly fed them into the lantern, lighting it a moment later. She held it up.
The stream was in a beautifully lain bed, she could see now. A rich blue mosaic of stone guided the water through a channel cut in colorful pink granite. She gazed at it, then lifted her head, walking closer to the sparkling.
Warm red veined stone was cut into gracious folds of cloth. A person sitting. She held the lamp higher and could finally see the warmly smiling visage of the Great Queen gazing down upon her. Artesia startled, then stared all the more. The statue's eyes were milky crystal and emerald, and glittered in the steady light like living eyes.
Something about her reminded Artesia very much of her mother. She slowly climbed into the statue's lap, and felt very small once she had. As if she was younger than Rain again, and curled comfortably in her mother's arms.
"I would not wed Thurian of Orsa, the Wanderer, for he would take me from the fields and skies and have me watch over his bleak kingdom which died each year it tried to live."
Artesia froze as the woman's voice spoke. She looked up at the statue, but it hadn't moved. Yet, the rich and soft voice still filled the chamber, humming with potential.
"Though he was handsome and wealthy, he was mad, insane, seeking power where it was not his to have. And though the others pleaded that I appease him, I knew I must not. I stood alongside of my people and said I would not placate the mad man."
"Others? Your people...?" Artesia ventured slowly, looking around for the source of the voice.
"Others like me. Celestial, but not gods. Some were gods. They said I must stand with them and marry Thurian and temper his rage. My people were the mortals of this world. But they were not like you, little one. What they did, what we did, made it possible that you may be."
"...Oh. I... Thank you?"
"I was imprisoned here, as punishment. For I chose mortals and not the Celestials."
"...But you made the Otter River, and you cleared the sky, and you taught us magic...?" Artesia whispered, wide eyed. The voice was almost silent. Hesitating.
"You could not know that."
"We tell stories about it all the time, about how you tricked the foxes that pull the moon and how you put a bit of the sun in a basket and brought it us to teach us to cook and..."
"You cannot know that," the voice whispered, incredulous.
"But we do."
The silence was louder, like a distant rush of water.
"Hold your hands out, little one. Cup them as if you would dip water from the stream," the voice murmured. Artesia did as she was asked, and watched in wide eyed wonder as a pearly droplet of light formed and fell into her cupped hands. It felt warm and gentle, like a bit of sun warmed fluff.
"Drink of it."
A bit perplexed, Artesia glanced up to the statue, which remained as stately and still as it had been, then lifted her hands to her lips. She sipped at the droplet, then slowly drank. It tasted of sweet milky water. When she had finished it, nothing remained in her fingers.
"Stroke your hands through the air. Feel the energies there. Find those which will bring you light to his dark and cheerless place," the woman's voice offered several moments later.
Artesia's brows knit. She held out her hands, and moved them. She remembered the dances that they learned went with the stories, how the way they moved their arms and hands would help tell the tales, and paused.
There was a feeling that was illumination, and she gathered it into her hands. It sprang free, and the chamber was brilliant under a light as bright as day, seeming to be without a source.
It was beautiful. The chamber was a huge dome, painted heavenly blue, birds inlaid in colorful stone upon it. The stream ran across the chamber in its mosaic bed.
"I thought this would be a dark and miserable prison. Why is it so beautiful?"
"Maybe they felt bad? Because you shouldn't have to marry someone you don't love, and it's not fair for anyone to blame someone else's insanity on you. It wouldn't have helped if you married him. He would be still be crazy and still want power, except he'd also have you to torment. That's not right," Artesia pointed out quietly.
"It was ever a failing of the Celestials, seeing the consequences of actions. I hear voices."
Artesia froze, her heart thumping in terror. She turned to see her brother and sister still laying on the floor and weakly tried to call to them.
"No. In my head, my heart, I hear them. Calling for victory. Why?"
"Oh. I. I don't know. We have always told stories about the Good Queen Skyling."
A slight and chill breeze exhaled through the chamber.
"I was never a queen, my child," the voice murmured, curiously bland, "It fell upon me always to make peace, and this is why my people were so angered that I refused Thurian."
"I wish you could make peace now, because ... There's ... New people came to Aruthra, and now they're killing people, they're hurting them, they're destroying everything..." Artesia whimpered, hugging herself.
"Then we must begin to make peace."
Just as the words fell into silence, there was yelling, running feet. Artesia squawked, the light fading into darkness. She could see Silver stagger to his feet, holding Rain, and could only hope he was able to get behind the statue.
Lights preceded the men, rushing in and then moving aside to allow two men within. To Artesia's relief, she couldn't see Silver or Rain, and hunkered into the statue's lap as best she could.
Captain Whyser glared over the beautiful chamber, his pale gray eyes narrow and chill. He glanced over to the General, a tall, stout man with icy black eyes and vivid red beard and hair.
"That's one of the Dartsson brats, General Hashlan."
"How can you tell, all of these Aruthra brats look alike. Little ground squirrels," Hashlan snapped, stepping closer, "Hold those lights up, men."
A deep silence fell as Hashlan walked towards the statue, staring in wonder.
"Ahh. It is true. It is true! The Warrior Queen Skyling is here! She was imprisoned here to keep her from joining with her beloved Thorian of Orsa! Look! Look upon the goddess! She has indeed granted us victory over the Aruthran Pretenders!"
A photographer pushed forward and began taking pictures, the flashes lighting off constantly. Whyser stared at the statue, then ticked his gaze to Artesia. The girl sat unnaturally quiet.
"You can tell the Dartsson children easily. Governor Dartsson's husband's one of ours. Boy's got green eyes, girl's have amber," Whyser reported with a shrug. Hashlan spat into the pristine stream.
"Filthy. We have laws against such abominations. If it wasn't for those so called leagues of civilian protectors, I'd have every one of these mixed blood pigs rounded up and slaughtered. Get that horrid little beast off of the statue of the Warrior Queen, we shall have it sanitized."
The feminine voice thundered through the chamber, sounding from the lips of the child on her lap. The men startled, some dropping to their knees, others grabbing up their rifles. Artesia sat straight backed upon the lap of the carving, her hands upon her knees. Her eyes gleamed green as the statue's eyes began to pick up illumination.
"You are no worshippers of mine, General Hashlan, you are the pretenders to this land and throne," Artesia spoke, but the powerful voice of Skyling boomed from her lips, "I am no warrior, I refused Thorian's hand, I stood with the people of this land rather than to grant him my power."
"Kill her!" Hashlan barked, red faced and furious, snatching out his pistol and callously firing directly at the girl even as his own men hesitated.
Nothing happened. He fired twice more, the bullets vanishing before they reached the girl, then turned to his uneasy men.
"What are you waiting for, I said shoot! Shoot her! She is mocking our beliefs! She is mocking everything we are!"
"But sir... We could damage the statue..." one man ventured uneasily. Swearing, the General snatched the rifle from the man and cracked him over the head with the butt. Then he turned to draw a bead on Artesia's forehead.
Before he could draw the trigger, Artesia's hands lifted. They described a pushing motion, and with that motion, the men were thrown violently to the walls. They scrambled for their feet, terrorized, and Artesia's hands moved once more. This time, all of the pistols and rifles were ripped from their grasp, and gathered at the foot of the statue.
"You... You... You've corrupted the goddess, you filthy little tramp!" Hashlan bellowed, staggering to stand before the statue, panting in fury.
Artesia's head tilted, an altogether too sophisticated amusement flickered to her childish features, a droll humor tugged at her lips.
"And you are a fool, General Hashlan. What sort of a moron does not realize that when a goddess's voice begins to pour from the lips of a child, bad things will surely happen to those trying to harm that child?"
Hashlan jerked back, startled.
"We are your worshippers! Free Aruthrans! They have turned you into nothing more than children's stories! Prattle and pap for the amusement of their brats!"
"And if you knew even the slightest of me, you would know that there is no honor or glory so wondrous as to live on as a joyful light to a child's heart," Skyling responded, level, through Artesia's lips, "I have never heard the stories which burn in your heart of me. I have never taken to battle. I haver never called champions to war, save against disease and disaster."
"Then we shall make you serve as you should have served Thorian!" Hashlan bellowed, snatching a strange device from under his coat. It looked nothing so much as a peculiarly delicate set of brass knuckles, save small points of silver danced with aetheric energy, brilliant blue. He moved his arm, describing a wide circle, and the energy grew into a sparkling cloud.
"This is how we took down the bloody Stagport house and this will put you in line, too!" he snarled, rushing for the statue and girl.
A single gunshot rang out.
Hashlan stopped cold, his eyes wide. Blood ran down from his chest. In trying to touch at it, he turned the aetheric weapon upon himself. A loud electrical buzzing sounded, and a thunderous explosion flared bright white.
When Artesia could see once more, she could see Silver standing beside the statue, a pistol held out and smoking. The rest of the men were shocked into silence.
"Your choices are narrow, General Whyser," Skyling announced, her voice rumbling through the chamber, "Pull out. Return to the homes you had taken in the boundaries between the Aruthran nations here. Pray they accept peace. Return to wherever you came from to come here. Or continue your battle and be defeated to the man. You will receive aid from me only in pleas for peace."
"Then give us the Darttson children. They will be our only shield, now that the aetheric weapon and General Hashlan are gone," Whyser demanded coldly.
"They are not mine to give."
"We will be destroyed, the North and South Aruthrans have been roused to war against us when we took Stagport, we cannot return to our homes, we will have to flee across the sea and return to Cayona!"
"These are details which should have been examined far more closely before you took arms at Hashlan's call. A single weapon, a single leader, that seems a very foolish cause to go to war over," Skyling chided, disinterested.
"There was more! But it scarce matters. Our very goddess will throw us to the wolves," Whyser hissed.
"The wolves, General Whyser, whom you yourselves, whistled up."
"Yes, we did, we know that, is that what you're waiting to hear?!"
Whyser startled to hear Artesia's voice. She blinked several times, her eyes returning to a warm amber color.
"Too many people have already died. It's time to stop it. I don't know why you thought Skyling was a warrior, I don't know why we thought she was a queen, but it doesn't really matter. We can talk and maybe it won't make everything better, but at least we'll be talking and the fighting can stop," Artesia told the man slowly. After a moment, Whyser exhaled and nodded.
"You have to apologize to my brother for hurting him," she added sternly, glancing over to Silver. He remained stock still, pistol still held ready. When Artesia spoke, he lowered the weapon.
"...I am sorry," Whyser told him evenly, "And you were right. I had no business questioning the messenger when I had been summoned."
Silver nodded once.
"Forgiven. Are our parents all right?"
"Your father was unharmed and remains with his doctors. Your mother put up quite a fight, but, her wounds are tended and she is being held in her suite."
"Then we better get back, because it will only take her a week at most to have broken out of there, disabled all the weapons you thought you captured, and have a resistance organized," Silver noted dryly, turning to take Rain's hand. He winced and staggered as he wearily shoved the pistol he'd taken from the pile of weapons into his own holster.
"Here..." Artesia whispered, drawing her hands together, then turning them palm out to Silver. He startled as a flickering of green energy flexed over him. He blinked several times, then moved his bad arm. He started to laugh, reaching to hug the girl to his side.
"I guess that part of the stories stays with us? The magic Skyling gives to us?"
"I guess," she grinned, "Come on. We have an awful lot of work to do."