Saturday, March 25, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Clan of Outcasts" Season 2 Part 3: "Swiftly Tilting Odds"

This week, the most-nominated character was
Denahlia Firron, "The Hunter"
Season 2, Part 3
"Swiftly Tilting Odds"

Aurelle fiddled with a series of blue orbs in the darkness. She heard the fanfare, heard Beren's strong voice as he gave his coronation speech. Leaning against the cool surface of the tauranium case, the illusionist reflected over the massive changes that had happened in only the last few hours. On a whim, she splayed her palm, allowing a ream of parchment to unfold in her hands. As she listened to the new king's words, she imagined a pen inscribing them onto the paper. A pen appeared, and the words manifested themselves. She reproduced the entire speech on the parchment.

Beren spoke of his father, King Balwyn, ruling over the Realm fairly and justly; of how he didn't just believe in equal shares to everyone, but an equitable dignity afforded to all, whether Gifted or merely skilled in an area. With strong, ringing confidence, Beren repealed the unjust Outcast Ordinance, declaring all Gifted persons as once again accepted members of society. It was the King's hope, he said, that this balance should be once again restored to the Realm.

"Hello?" A muffled voice bent the silence.
Aurelle gave herself a little shake, smoothing her long white hair. Who had spoken?
A metallic clank resounded from the orb before her. "Is anybody out there?" Damaris yelled.

Aurelle laid a cautious hand on the cool surface. "Damaris?" She called. "Are you..." She almost said "extinguished", but it wasn't quite the right word. She fumbled over a few others.
"The fire is back inside me," Damaris replied. "Does this thing have a door?"
"Yes, hang on." Aurelle reached for the handle on the hatch, and pulled it open.
The young urchin popped out, his bare feet slapping on the cold marble floor. He stopped and stared in astonishment at the blackened remains of the throne room.
"I did all this?" He gasped incredulously.

"How did it start?" Aurelle asked.
Damaris shrugged, picking at the threads of his loose vest. "I was just trying to light the candles in the big—" he gestured upward, but whatever fixture had once graced the vaulted ceilings now lay among the ashes and soot on the floor. "The chandelier," Damaris said instead, "and the fire just kept getting bigger and hotter, and I couldn't stop it—" he stared at his palms and shuddered. "What happened? Is there something wrong with me, you think?"

Aurelle wagged her head. "If that's so, there's something wrong with both of us. I felt the same thing too, probably about the same time your power got out of hand."
"A surge? Really?"
Aurelle shrugged. "I'm an illusionist, Damaris; I've never been able to make my illusions into real things," she gestured to the round case behind them. "So yeah, definitely new."
"But now what is—"
"Shhhh!" Aurelle suddenly shoved him in the chest with a warning.
"Ouch!" Damaris cried, more from surprise than pain. "What was that—"
"I said quiet!" Aurelle hissed.

A spine-chilling screech echoed off the towers of the castle, and the beating of wings shuffled over the turrets.
Damaris instinctively hunched against the protective curve of the tauranium orb. "What is it?" He asked.
The cry rang out again, from somewhere overhead.
Aurelle looked upwards to the massive stained-glass window. "It sounds like a—"

The window shattered, and a large winged creature barreled into the room.
"DRAGON!" Damaris yelped, bursting into flames yet again.

"No!" Aurelle whirled on him. "Get in the orb!"
The flaming boy did just that as the dragon landed on the floor. Aurelle faced it. She would know those yellow eyes, the cool green scales, anywhere.
"Erlis!" She cried.

The dragon opened her claw and dropped a bloodied bundle of robes. A glowing blue talisman tumbled out, and Aurelle caught a glimpse of white hair, matted with blood. Her knees buckled.
"Korsan!" She cried, looking up at the dragon. "What have you done?"

"My dragon did exactly what I wanted it to," said a high-pitched voice.
Aurelle stiffened as Erlis bent her head down to allow Queen Zayra to disembark. The demented woman was still dressed in her gold and white silk, though it hung in soiled tatters around her body now. She pointed at Aurelle.

"KNEEL!" She commanded.
Aurelle's body folded of its own accord.
"That's better," Zayra mused smugly. "Now where are the Princes, and what have you done to MY throne room?"

Aurelle grit her teeth. "This isn't your throne room!" She hissed. "It belongs to King Beren, because he wears the crown of King Balwyn!"
Pain erupted on the side of her face as Zayra struck.

"IT'S MINE, DO YOU HEAR ME?" The Queen screamed. "IT'S ALL MINE! I DESERVE IT! I WANT IT BACK!" She straightened from the outburst and set her sights on the door. "And if those boys think they can keep it from me, they are very much mistaken!"
She swept from the room, leaving Aurelle with the bloodied body and the dragon.


"I've just heard a voice calling for help, and I think it's Erlis!"

Jaran frowned, "What? I thought she turned into a dragon!"
Jade shrugged. "Maybe she looks like one, but she is still herself inside."
Beren still stared at her. "I can't believe I'm seeing this," he muttered. "What did you say you were?"

Jade turned to him. "I am what's called an Abnormal. There are a few of us left. Unlike a Gifted person, who would still be very much human without exhibiting their Gifts, an Abnormal is one who cannot exactly hide what we are." She flexed her shoulders to gently flap her wings. "We also do not have Gifts in the sense that others do; we can mimic them, and affect them, but they do not belong to us like they belong to you."
"So..." Beren stammered. "Why—how did you become a fairy?"

Jade sighed. "That was because of my brother, the one I've come to warn you about. He placed a curse on me when you ran away Beren, that until you returned and took the throne like you were supposed to, I would remain fairy-size and unable to use my full powers."
Jaran huffed. "So you just brought him back to get your powers and your," he gestured to her, "size back, is that it?"
"No!" Jade reached toward them. "I really do want to help! Beren is meant to be king of the Realm, and as king he will—"

"Well, what have we here?"
The cold voice resounded from the doorway. Beren and Jaran whirled around.

"Who are you?" Beren demanded.
"How did you get up here?" Cried Jaran.
Queen Zayra blinked. "Oh, you mean the guards?" She waved a casual hand. "I simply moved them out of the way, of course." Her eyes narrowed. "Just like I am going to move you two out of my way!"
"But I am king!" Beren stammered in protest.
Zayra raised a dubious eyebrow. "Oh? But I am Queen." She sauntered forward till she was nearly in his face. "Kneel before me," she whispered.

Beren felt as if someone kicked his legs out from under him, while a weight bent his shoulders.
"Beren!" Jaran cried, but he saw the pain on his brother's face. Beren was trying to resist, but could not.
"That's better," Zayra murmured. "Now I'm just going to take this crown—"
"Oh no you don't!" Jaran sent a burst of electricity to the metal surface, which in turn repelled Zayra's touch.

"Ouch!" Zayra shrieked, flinching and drawing back. She scowled at Jaran. "HOW DARE YOU! GO TO YOUR ROOM!"
Jaran had walked outside the door and heard it slam behind him before he realized what the mad queen had done. He turned around and pounded on the door.
"Jade!" He yelled, "Do something!"
Zayra, meanwhile, had turned her sights on the Angel.
"You are beautiful," she breathed. "What can you do?"

Jade stayed exactly where she was. She knew Zayra's thrall could not affect her—but she also knew that one wrong move toward the unstable woman could spell danger for the young man currently groveling on the floor.
"I cannot affect you," she said slowly. "I mean you no harm. Please, just leave this man in peace—"

"In peace?" Zayra snorted, beckoning Beren up to his feet again. "This man is in my way! If I can't command you... maybe there are other ways!" She twirled her finger, and Beren turned his back to her. He now faced the balcony outside his room.

Jade recognized what was about to happen. "Beren, no!" She reached for his arm. "Don't do this! You have to fight it!"

He was shaking as he stumbled forward, step by step. Tears coursed from his eyes, but the thrall was too strong. He reached the edge of the stone ledge and spread his arms wide.
"STOP THIS!" Jade screamed at Zayra, but the queen gave a mad cackle.

"This is my Gift," she said sweetly. "I need power, and I must take it from the people around me. I cannot stop who I am." She gestured to the king. "Off you go!"

"NOO!" Jade whirled just in time to see Beren drop into empty space, heading for the ground some twenty yards below. Barreling out of the doorway, she folded her wings for maximum velocity, heading straight for him a three times the speed of his unresisting fall. Finally, she wrapped her arms around him, catching him securely just a few yards from the ground. It was barely enough time to get them both upright again, but she managed it. Beren's head sagged.

"Beren!" Jade gasped, holding him by the shoulders. "Beren, speak to me!"

He blinked, and a fog lifted from his eyes.
"Jade?" He murmured. "What hap—" he finally realized where he was, and frowned in confusion. "How did I get out here?"

Jade pointed up, to where the white-garbed figure stood at the top of the west tower. "She did it," said the Angel quietly. "She threw you out."

Beren blinked, feeling for the crown still on his head. "But why?" He mused.

"I AM QUEEN!" Zayra thundered.


Edri marched next to Justin, wrestling to keep focused on her step. Now that they were reunited, Edri wasn't sure who she should trust or fear more: Justin with his new Gift and dangerous new friends, or the Twin Regents who walked still with serene dignity, even in their chains. As a soldier of the White Castle, her rationale tried to convince her that she still owed her fealty to these two prisoners—but after the horrible things they did, after what they made others do, was that truly the best course of action? Had they not betrayed the very standards they pretended to uphold? Had they not gained their status through trickery and falsehood? Wouldn't it be better if she maintained loyalty to the true King of the Realm—King Beren?

"Yet wasn't Beren the one who got Justin killed, back when he was Harlock, the Castaway?" the small voice in her head observed. "What sort of a leader does that make him?"

Edri glanced at the changed man walking beside her. "Justin isn't dead now," she reminded herself.

"Yes, how convenient," replied the voice. "Just when they need to secure your fealty, they bring back your loved ones. Honestly, do you really think it was done in your best interest?"
Edri stopped and shook her head. This wasn't her own psyche speaking!

"What is it?" Justin asked, seeing the frown on her face.
"I just—" Edri looked around, and there were Lady Javira's eyes fixed on her. She scowled. "Stop it!"

Kaidan came to his sister's defense. "Stop what? What is she doing?"
Now Velora whirled around with a growl. "We need to keep moving! What's the problem?"

Edri pointed at Javira. "She was in my head!"
Javira gaped with wide, innocent eyes. "I was? How is that even possible?"

"Oh, shove it, sweetheart!" Velora seethed at her. "We all know how you and your brother conned the whole Royal Council with your shenanigans—We're all Gifted here!" She tugged at the cloak around her shoulders. "Stop trying to escape. You're going to the Castle and there's precious little that's going to change that outcome!" With that, the Alpha Wolf turned heel and continued marching, dragging the prisoners along with her.

Edri dared not think of anything but exactly what she was doing in the moment, for fear either of the Twins would try to infiltrate her mind again.

Abruptly, Justin stopped in his tracks.
"Wait!" He cried.
Velora held.
"Now what?" Kaidan started to grumble, but just then, a body charged right for Velora. She jumped aside, and Justin stretched out his hand and caught the assailant.

"Rayne?" He gasped. The last time he'd seen the officer, Rayne had been too drunk to comply with an assignment, a sort of self-inflicted forced leave. "What are you doing—"
A movement beside him caused his concentration to falter, letting Rayne dip close to the ground. A black-clothed, pink-haired woman busily dismantled the bonds holding the Twins captive.

"Stop!" Edri yelled.
"HUNTER!" Velora let loose a bestial howl, and lunged at the would-be rescuer.

Both women crashed to the ground. Velora bared her claws, and the Hunter clenched her fist, driving for the sensitive parts where the armor didn't quite cover.
"Edri!" Justin cried.
She looked up. He had Rayne in the air again. Justin nodded to the Twins. "Watch them, and don't let them try anything!"
Edri nodded. She knew her duty, and she would perform it faithfully.

Velora and the Hunter fought long and hard. Velora was fast, and she had tough armor and claws on her side, but the Hunter was nimble, and had much experience with defending herself in tense situations. Plus, Velora realized that there was some other mysterious advantage the woman had, for as they fought, she could feel blows landing where an average assailant wouldn't think to strike. The Hunter could exploit the least little crack, the smallest hesitation. Velora threw all her strength into marking the Hunter with her claws—only for those small, nimble fingers to connect at the clasps, and by the time Velora jerked her hands back, the claws remained in the Hunter's hands. She cast them aside.
"Now we're more even!" She panted, gearing up for more fighting.

Velora snarled and bolted up a tree, using the slight advantage of height to launch an attack on a weak angle she'd identified in the Hunter's defenses. Her fist connected with the rib cage, just below the shoulder blade, and the Hunter reeled with a pained cry.

"That's fine," she sneered, yanking a narrow dagger out of its sheath on her thigh. "I didn't need my claws anyway!" She slashed at the Hunter's exposed side as she whirled away.

The Hunter came around with a dagger of her own, holding it in a ready grip that worked for both defense and provided excellent offense as well. She ignored the bleeding wound and took a stab at Velora's side. The Wolf arced, and the blade glanced off the side of the breastplate. She bared her teeth. "You'll have to do better than—"

The Hunter didn't give her a chance to finish. The blade continued around to the other side, slashing at her ankle in a steep angle that slid right under the armor plates protecting her shins. Velora roared and slashed at the arm holding the knife—only for her target to shift yet again while she was mid-movement and catch her unawares on an opposing side. This time, the blade sunk deep into Velora's torso, and the breastplate flopped loose, not doing much of anything.

The Hunter grinned. "Consider this payback for all the times you made a fool out of me in these very woods!" She clouted Velora over the head, sending her reeling and bleeding.
Velora struggled to breathe after that last blow. It had traveled so deep, she couldn't wonder but it had probably hit something important. Her ears rang and her vision faded temporarily as she sank to her knees.

When she recovered, she lay on the ground, her armor removed and Justin leaning over her. Edri watched, sulking, from afar.
"... Sorry, Velora," Justin was saying.
She frowned and blinked. "What?"

The three of them were alone in the forest. Their prisoners, Rayne, the Hunter—had vanished.
"I tried to stop them," Justin explained. "The Hunter was doing something weird to you when you looked into her eyes. She took your armor off while you just stood there, and then she knocked you out and made Edri and I stand still or something while she released the Twins and made off with them and Rayne. All we heard was a ringing noise while they ran away, and when it stopped, they were already long gone." He hung his head. "I'm sorry."

"Whi..." Velora could feel the air rushing out of her with every sound. Her body was shutting down from the devastation of her wounds. "Which... way?" She gasped.

Justin glanced deeper into the forest, the way he had seen their enemies go. "West, I think," he said. "So, to the harbor." He paused to consider, "Do you think they would try to flee the Realm?"
Velora had to pant three times to get enough breath to say, "Yes."

She saw Justin look down at his hand. She hadn't felt it, but there could be no doubt that the blood dripping down his wrist from his palm was most assuredly hers. She could feel the hollowness of her chest, the cold of her extremities that bespoke her impending death.
"Can you move?" Justin asked, his voice sounding garbled and far away.
Velora stared at him, struggling to understand and reply.

"Velora!" Justin glanced up at Edri. "Edri, you're a healer, right?"

Edri balked, her mind filling with memories of how carefully she worked to hide her Gift from Justin and the others in her unit. "I don't know what you're talking about," she responded coldly.

"Yes you do!" Justin snapped. "You're Gifted, I've known that ever since we first met in the barracks! You saved that Gifted man from the lion because you could heal his wounds! Well," he pointed to Velora, "she is dying, and she needs a healer! Please, Edri!" He added begging to his request.

Edri saw how desperate he was; she also saw her chance at doing what she had been trying to do all along. If the Twins were headed to the harbor, it was no use following them anymore.

"Fine, I'll do it," she agreed slowly, "but on one condition!"
Justin's face creased with concern and agitation. "What is it?"

Edri stood her ground. "First you must bring me to the White Castle where I can reunite with Queen Zayra. Then I will heal your friend."

The Clan of Outcasts Series:
Episode 1: "Upgrades"  
Episode 2: "Strategic Maneuvers" 
#4: "Legends"  (Korsan)
#13: "Trust Me" (Jade and Troy)