Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Shalafae Archives - Forging

In which we learn how Morrigana's soul-eating swords were created.

The Lord Shalafae stared at his three guests, measuring them, tasting their nervousness on the heated air of the forge. They remained quiet, only the father of the group daring to meet his crimson eyes. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" the albino Sidhehan asked.

The father, a dragon warrior who would have been a whelp during their race's emancipation, spread his shoulders, not wearing the elven shape well. Shalafae smirked to himself as he realized the warrior kept trying to shift his wings, and waited for the dragon Arleshtyn to speak. "We've come to pledge ourselves to the Princess Morrigana."

Allowing himself the faintest gleaming of pleasure, Shalafae leaned against the work table behind him. Dragons are loyal to a fault, he thought, brushing a loose strand of hair from his cheek. "Her mother is still rheksha, if I am not mistaken."

"Leyisha is," the warrior confirmed, his older son, Maurith, shifting in the heat.

"Then why not pledge yourself to her? Having given up her daughter, I'm sure she'll need support." The albino winced internally at memories of his dragon concubine. She had served her purpose, but had left flaws in his girl that he was finding difficult to erase. Shalafae had no concerns for Leyisha's difficulties in leading her clan, and less concern for the woman herself.

"But Morrigana is the one," blurted the youngest, his brilliant eyes flashing. He was pale-skinned with dark hair, like all the Takishidar when they shifted to elven form, his forearms criss-crossed with scars. Shalafae was surprised by the fierceness in the young dragon, and felt the stirrings of destiny around the warrior.

"Rhaeyhaes, silence!" barked the father. The Sidhehan lord turned to face Arleshtyn, raising an eyebrow. "Your pardons, my lord. My sons and I have always been gifted with visions. We know that Princess Morrigana needs our strength, not her mother."

"What of her father?" Shalafae ached softly.

The warrior smiled. "Her father has her, does he not?" There was a suggestive tone to the dragon's voice that let Shalafae know Arleshtyn was privy to many visions. Including decisions that hadn't been confirmed yet.

"That he does," Shalafae said softly, thinking of her liquid silver eyes, thinking of the fierceness of her skills as she learned to fight. Shalafae couldn't see her failing his final tests.

Hence his presence in the forge, working black steel with Chaos spells.

"How is it that you three would pledge yourselves to her?" Shalafae asked, rising to pace to the raw blade resting in an acid bath. The metal that would be the crossguards and hilts awaited work, tossed carelessly onto the shelf above the bath.

"We will give her everything," Maurith responded. Shalafae glanced over his shoulder as the dragon stepped forward, shoulders stiff as if he could flare wings not present in this form. "Princess Morrigana will need our strength, and we shall give it freely."

"Everything?"

Three heads nodded. "Everything that is ours shall be hers."

"And you're certain she's worth it?" Shalafae stroked the edge of the acid bath, measuring the three again, making plans. He'd known his daughter would have guardians amongst her clan, warriors who would stay with her despite the tasks she would be set to, yet he'd never expected they would present themselves to him.

The father puffed with pride, his aura flaring in the sweltering forge. "We are certain. She will be everything that is Takishidar. Her name will sing through the universe forever."

Shalafae paused, letting his fingers caress the surface of the acid. His flesh tingled where the powerful liquid began dissolving the first layer of skin, but the pain only sharpened his senses. All signs had pointed to this daughter being the one he was looking for, the tool he would need to reshape the universe, but he'd thus far held back from naming her his sword. He wanted her to pass his tests before he let himself make plans pinned on her wings.

But this family, from her own clan, were already sure of her status. None of his other experiments had been vouchsafed by prescient strangers, or caused him to start forging swords. He'd never acted with this much surety, or seen so many signs. Smiling slowly, the Sidhehan had to allow himself to believe in Morrigana's destiny.

"To be her guardians will take your lives," he told them, turning to face the three dragons. "Your deaths will be painful, and your guardianship thankless. She will never know of your dedication, or your sacrifices." Shalafae locked eyes with each of them in turn.

He waited, letting the pause grow, letting them contemplate what he would take from them.

Rhaeyhaes spoke first, his youthful passion coloring his words. "Anything for Princess Morrigana. If she never knows we protect her, she'll be that much stronger. There is nothing you can do to turn us away from her. We are hers to command." The young dragon's eyes sparked with passion, his cheek flushed. Shalafae felt power radiate from the youth, strength and magic filling the air.

Crimson eyes turned to the other two. "Does he speak for you all?"

"He does. Dying for the princess is an easy service. Do your worst."

The Sidhehan smiled. "I'm pleased to hear such pride and conviction. You are worthy of my daughter." The trio relaxed, though they still bristled with determination.

"How may we give ourselves to her?" Maurith asked.

"By finishing her swords with me."

***

The dragons worked passionately with the former emperor, proving themselves capable assistants. Rhaeyhaes was highly dexterous, and he spent most of his time crafting the crossguards, working the black steel as if he'd been born to it. Arleshtyn was accomplished with Chaos magic, and helped fold layer after layer of power into the length of the blades. Dragon fire burned hot, keeping the forge stoked to near near impossible heats.

In a matter of weeks, rather than months, the black steel swords were ready. Shalafae stood with the three Takishidars, proud of the work they'd done. The swords were clearly a pair, but not twins. Both had four feet of razor sharp blade, including sharp-edged blood channels. Both ate the light as only Chaos-infused metal could, making the viewer's eye ache.

The similarities ended there. The blade on the left had been fitted with a soaring dragon for the crossguard, the edge of the wings sharpened to a thin blade. Onyx gems glittered from the eyes, the mouth open in a gout of flame that licked along the blade. The tail wound around the hilt, the spiked tip circling the pommel.

The other sword was surmounted by a coiled and looping dragon. The mouth snarled around a point of steel at the pommel, eyes glittering with obsidian. The wings arched to one side for the crossguard, the tail looping to a razor point on the other side. Rhaeyhaes had detailed the hilt with inlaid bits of leather, creating the supple look of scales.

"They are impressive," Shalafae told his assistants. "I am certain she will love them."

"They lack life, though," the father told him.

Wisps of white hair danced in the heat of the forge as Shalafae turned his head. "What do you mean by that?"

The dragon turned, his shoulders spread wide. "I know of you, Lord Shalafae. You are infamous, and I know you relish it. I know of your swords, and I know how they devour souls to power you." He stepped to the swords, caressing the one on the right, tracing the loops and coils of the crossguard. "I felt the spells you laid in this metal. You intend for the princess's blades to be like yours." Shalafae met Arleshtyn's eyes blankly. "But they must be given life in order to feed."

Shalafae joined him by the sword. "I'm glad my daughter will have such an intelligent guardian."

The dragon's eyes glittered, and he readied himself for his next task. "Faithful for eternity."

The albino lord lifted the blade, proud of how light they'd made it, keeping the dragon's gaze with his own. The father nodded once, then Shalafae plunged the sword deep into the dragon's heart. Arleshtyn stiffened with pain, his eyes wide and teeth gritted, but he made no sound. Shalafae clasped his shoulder, holding the dragon as he drove the sword to the hilt, scalding hot dragon blood pouring from the wound. He could taste the dragon's life as it pulsed and flared, attempting the fight the spells woven through every molecule of the sword.

Then Arleshtyn's eyes closed in resignation. He stopped fighting, and sagged against the sword. Shalafae heard the dragons keening mentally, felt all their auras pulse with death. The sword drew on Arleshtyn's soul, welcoming it into the metal matrix, giving him a new home. The dragon father groaned painfully, his hands beginning to shake, blood staining his lips.

Still Shalafae held him, the hilt growing warm as the first sword slowly gained life. Arleshtyn collapsed to his knees, his mouth falling open, the last of his lifeforce feeding Morrigana's sword. The albino lord briefly wondered if a similar scene had played out during the forging of his own swords, then removed the blade.

Dead and already cold, the father slumped in a heap to the floor. The sword pulsed in Shalafae's hand, and he could hear the faintest whisper from Arleshtyn as he settled into his new role. The lord reverentially set the soul-blade aside.

Maurith stepped forward, not glancing at his fallen sire. "Faithful for eternity," he said in a hushed voice. He wasn't as stoic as Arleshtyn, and Shalafae could see him shake with fear. The dragon gritted his teeth as Shalafae lifted the inert sword, and closed his eyes. Shalafae didn't blame the boy; after all, he'd seen what happened to his father, and what was about to happen to him.

Shalafae sheathed the sword in his heart in a swift movement. The dragon youth gasped, stiffening, his eyes flying open in surprise. Blood immediately rose to his lips, and Maurith shuddered as his heart thundered around the hungry steel. His hands rose to the hilt, and Shalafae waited for Maurith to try and pull the sword back out.

Instead, the dragon pulled the blade deeper, the razor edges of the crossguard cutting into his pale flesh. He keened low in his throat, the vibrations rattling through the sword to Shalafae's hand. Maurith's pain vibrated in the room, causing the Sidhehan's skin to race with goosebumps. Maurith's lifeforce jumped to into the ensorcelled sword, filling it swiftly, giving all of himself to Morrigana's weapon.

Maurith expired with a sigh, falling back, his eyes closing as Shalafae pulled free the black sword. A glorious trumpet resounded inside his head, and the lord felt confident in the choices for the souls of his daughter's swords. Imagining the look on her face when presented with the magnificent living blades, he set the second sword beside its mate.

"What of me, dread lord?" Rhaeyhaes asked softly. The youngest dragon didn't look at the corpses of his family, staring intently at Shalafae. The ancient lord could feel the dragon's heart keening, and tasted sorrow despite Rhaeyhaes's best efforts. "How shall I serve?"

"Go back to the clan hold. Wait there. Grow strong. One day, Morrigana will need support, and you must be alive to do so."

Rhaeyhaes's nostrils flared as he nodded. Dying for the princess had been easy. Shalafae hoped the boy had the strength to live for her.

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