The Shepherdess

An epic fantasy flash fiction series written while participating in The Prediction, a weekly online flash fiction challenge. Curious? Join us here, and write your own story inspired by & including 3 randomly selected words. 🙂

Shepherdess (1)

It was a good, easy life, and damned if Haera didn’t deserve it. Bracing her booted foot against the ground, she leaned back against the hill and brought bread to her mouth.

Moses immediately put his hooves on her shoulder, his slitted eyes fixed with anticipation.

“Gabari’s Tits,” Haera swore.

The goat head-butted her and released a confident bleat.

“Shepherdess!”

Haera looked up, her fingers shifting towards the bound sword beside her, but it was only Lucas, a village boy.

“Shepherdess! Take up your sword! The Twelve are here!”

If only the child understood the ruinous import of his plea.

 

Four (2)

They watched her, their faces a mix of emotions, lined up like the letters of the alphabet. Baenar leered, his foot on the back of Elias, the innkeeper.

Elias’ wife, Trina, hung from Caeradin’s muscled arms, a hopeless look on her tear-streaked face.

“What is this, then?” Haera asked, sword resting casually on her shoulder.

Moses, intensely eyeing Baernar, braced himself beside Haera’s leg.

“You’re being conscripted,” Ashanai said.

“I left that life,” Haera said. “I’m done.”

Ashanai laughed and tossed four bloodied ribbons at her feet.

Moses jumped back, bleating.

“Faas, Ilain, Jaie, and Kallisto are dead.”

 

Countered (3)

It was a trick, wasn’t it? A measure of Ashanai’s dark humor? Indeed, as the tall woman laughed, her lips drew back to expose her teeth. If she’d been anyone else, Haera would have mistaken the grimace for a smile.

“When?” Haera asked, her voice calm like a windless sea.

“Does it matter?” Caeradin asked, Trina still dangling from his arms, forgotten.

Dathasha, sitting with her Icethorn cat on the bench outside the inn, cocked her head, blind eyes  finding Haera. “They obfuscate our visions. Rip free the Wheel. Counter all the good we’ve done.”

They had never done good.

 

Strings (4)

For all their terror, the people of Shylan Lake didn’t once wail or plead as the Twelve stood among them. Prayer-filled eyes looked to Haera for preservation. Their trust was misplaced, but today, it seemed Gabari, the True One, was paying attention, for it was only the Temperian, the industrial machine that ate souls and killed gods, that could pull Haera from her isolation.

“Fine,” Haera said, looking past Ashanai to the onyx face of Esdras. “Pluck your strings, you old spider.”

Esdras stood up from his chair, hooded eyes glinting. “Your sword looks thirsty, Godslayer.”

“Enough chatter. Let’s go.”

 

Coincidence (5)

If only it were coincidence and not Ashanai’s manipulations that brought the quad of bandits upon their night-cloaked camp. It took all of Haera’s strength and will to force her sword back into its leather sheath, its deranged laughter echoing in her ears like a banshee’s croon.

NO…MORE, Heara growled. Blood speckled her arms, her chest; it stained her soul.

“I’ve missed you, Sister,” Caeradin grinned, clapping her on the back, a blow that would have driven a sturdy man to the ground.

Ashanai, a sprig of sage caught between her grinning teeth, nodded, pleasure glinting in her eyes.

 

Liberation (6)

Eyes knowing, Moses nibbled on the edge of Haera’s satchel as she scrubbed blood from her arms.

“We should have stayed in Shylan Lake,” Haera said, sitting back on her heels. She stared at her callused palms, seeing red though she’d washed it away.

“Feeling guilty?” Esdras asked, silently appearing beside her.

“No, that’s why I left. Killing feels good, righteous, and it doesn’t matter who it is.” She slid a glance sideways, catching Esdras’ black eyes. “You want a butcher.”

“Yes. Without you, the Temperian will swallow Advanteria. They’ll liberate every soul. No one will be reborn. Permanent death.”

 

Westbound (7)

Esdras procured a shield job on a westbound caravan, which Haera quickly decided was a mistake. Broad-hipped and blue-eyed, every cart driving merchant was a woman, and Caeradin and Baenar’s lewd jeers began immediately.

Disgust growing with each catcall, Haera was surprised and impressed when the merchant women halted their horned mules and descended on the men with obsidian blades and acid tongues.

Confounded, Caeradin, and Baenar fell silent. Afraid to be given a coward’s mantle by grinning Ashanai, the chastised men disappeared into the scrub-topped hills ahead.

Mood lifting, Haera was content to ride in their wake.

 

City of Feathers (8)

The City of Feathers was as overwhelming as Haera remembered, a riotous clash of color, pungent smells, obstreperous birds and chromatic flora. Green and budding things dripped down every wall and tenaciously crawled across the ground. Trying twice to eat a merchant’s peacock, Moses was now firmly tucked beneath one arm.

Dathasha, vexed by the noise, had attached herself to Haera, hand on her back as she wove through the ardent crush of people. “Will this recede?” Dathasha gasped, her voice strained.

“No,” Haera said. “The Ketha pride themselves on eternal commerce. The night market’s even worse.”

Dathasha groaned.

 

Stones & Whispers (9)

Kennalyn sighed dramatically and leaned back on her chaise, blue-lined eyes flicking from Haera’s stony expression to the confused face of Dathasha. “You could have at least brought the blond one, sweetheart. Been a while since I’ve tasted a Northerner.”

“Caeradin?” Dathasha asked, brows lifting. “But he’s—”

“Not why we’re here, Ken.” Haera, holding tight to Moses, gestured at a heavily painted wardrobe against the far wall. “The Soulstones, still have them?”

“All eighteen.” Kennalyn grimaced. “Finally taking them off my hands? Don’t procrastinate then; damn things have been whispering every night.” Her eyes sharpened. “It’s happening, then?”

“It’s begun.”

 

Keeping the Peace (10)

Tucking the Soulstones inside her vest, Haera shut her mind against their whispers and led Dathasha back to the Golden Wren, a pleasure lodge on the city’s eastern edge. The main hall was loud and overcrowded with the arrival of the entire Kethan Deathguard. Dressed in black and bristling with weapons, the wary peacekeepers were watching the Twelve as they flirted and gambled with the other guests.

Esdras uncovered his head and waved Haera over to a corner booth.

Sitting, Haera released Moses. “They’re being reckless.”

“They deserve some innocent fun before we break the world. Where did you go?”


Eyes (11)

Haera shielded her eyes against the bright sun and watched the City of Feathers recede. Beside her, Dathasha beamed like a child, head back, and arms extended. Likely she was pleased to be sailing away from the riotous clamor of the Kethan market.

“It scalds, doesn’t it,” Dathasha said.

Haera looked away from the beryl water. “What does?”

“The gods’ voices. Is Hestair among them?” To her luck, Dathasha’s enunciation was incorrect.

Mind carefully going blank, Haera resisted the urge to touch the Soulstones as they warmed inside her vest.

“Careful, Dathasha. We do not need their eyes on us.”

 

Favor (12)

The ship stalled beside the Lady’s Island as a carillon announced the priestesses’ midday meal. Eyeing the limp sails and glass-like water, Caeradin gave a petulant sigh and slumped over the railing. “You’d think they’d send us a little wind,” he griped, glaring at the emerald towers.

Haera crossed her arms and watched a white-robed priestess cross the tiled courtyard by the water’s edge. The woman did not look in their direction. “They want a favor.”

“What?” Caerdin straightened, brow furrowed.

“Why else would the wind die? The Sisters seek our service. Mail delivery most likely. Look, a scull.”

 

Gift (13)

It was the Abbess herself who climbed aboard, her green eyes sharp as glass beneath her fitted hood. Caeradin affected an air of tranquility that fit him poorly, but it didn’t last. A long stare from the priestess returned the sullen look to his face.

“Disregard the child,” Haera said, ignoring Caeradin’s furious hiss.

The Twelve, emerging from the hold, took up postures of interest.

“You journey to the Temperian.” The Abbess held out a slim wooden box.  “This will help.”

“You offer us your dregs?” Caeradin sneered.

“A deathstone.”

Dathasha gasped. “I thought they were destroyed!”

“All but one.”

 

Marked (14)

Esdras set the deathstone box on a shelf in the captain’s cabin and crossed his arms, eyes grave as he turned back to Haera. “They’ll kill us for this.”

“We were already marked,” Haera said dismissively, nudging Moses away from her unfinished dinner. The goat gave her a turpid look, which she met with an unimpressed roll of her eyes.

“You notice the Abbess sent no priest with us.”

“They treasure their souls.”

“You don’t?”

Haera laughed. “You think I still have one? That any of us do? We share the Temperian’s arrogance. They’re not the only god killers here.”

//

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