Late last year, we published the first two parts of an original story from our very own Kristian! If you're unfamiliar with Kristian, she is the host of our very popular 'NerdPod' program and also a regular on the 'Fierce & Flawed' Podcast. We remain honored and humbled that she has chosen to share her stories with the world through our website. If you missed either Part One or Part Two, or simply want to remember where things left off before diving into this installment, go read them now! So, without further adieu, here's Part Three of Talon!
Talon let out Phalanx's reins and felt an increase in the strides of the large gelding underneath him as they galloped toward the hulking, monstrous shadows ahead. Checking their trail, he observed only the city of Roonlan, its 30-foot stone walls dotted with a few guards shuffling back to their normal duties after watching his rapid exit, and the massive, open mawed gate growing smaller behind him. A feeling of surprise and unease crept up his spine in finding no one in pursuit.
Every other breath, he expected some sort of projectile to tear into him, or to hear the shouts of enemies among the faint dust that trailed behind him and the strong horse. In between these pressing thoughts, the future loomed large in his mind, as large as the forest that they raced towards: the Outskirts, a wild woodland crawling with mysteries and the promise of ominous things within, would once again be his refuge as it was when he was young.
When he was young.
For a moment, he recalled first stumbling out of the verdant, dark realm of the Outskirts, like a man having found solid ground after months at sea. Starving, exhausted, and injured from his desperate travel through the vicious wilderness, he had struggled on.
Talon's thoughts continued to drift. He returned to the memories of creeping through the strange city before him, of hiding himself from those who might stop him. His weak body had been guided towards salvation by a force which he could feel controlling him, as if from his soul.
Nothing had seemed entirely real back then, not the ever-present threat of danger, nor the people or things that he moved past; not even the sights, sounds, or smells around him. Talon's own body had not seemed anything more than a dream as he wove through the city along an intuitive path, as if he had travelled here a thousand times.
When his legs shook and he collapsed on the lush, soft grass of a well-kept lawn, the ghostly control left his body. It lingered within his mind, not yet done lending him aid. He had lost consciousness then.
What followed, Talon could never remember clearly, as he had been partially out of control of himself, the presence other than his giving him the words he needed to secure survival. To secure a future. To secure the chance to fight, and to find victory.
Taking a new breath, Talon's mind returned to the present for him to verify that he was still questionably free of pursuers. He remembered just a few hours before, when the guardian voice, ever present but silent for the past years, had alerted him to the approach of potential death. Through his connection with that voice, he knew just what had transpired.
Talon was being hunted. The sensation had almost been a relief to him. Since arriving at Roonlan and being taken in by the Royals and their Guard, a part of him had always been tense, a sense of doom coiled around him. Seeing this day arrive was like a validation of all he knew to be true in the world.
It also meant that his life here was over, and that those who lived here that he cared for were now in desperate danger. He began to plan his exodus, and his farewells.
First, Talon went to the Royals, finding them in their bed chamber. He gave them all the information he dared, so they would be prepared for anything that might happen after his departure. He also gave them thanks, and as he did so, kind yet fierce Queen Adrianna rushed forward to hug him, her long flaxen hair streaming behind her. Rising onto her toes to wrap her arms around him, she cradled his head down into her soft mane. She felt small and fragile as she sniffled and whispered well wishes to him. Her thin arms constricted around his torso uncompromisingly, and he appreciated the motherly affection.
Honorable and fair King Nathan approached them, putting his hand on his partner's shoulder, urging her with gentle words to release her grip. When the Queen relented, her brown eyes red rimmed and face flushed, she smiled at him, kissing her first two fingers and pressing them to his forehead in a gesture of care.
King Nathan had clapped him on the shoulder, tightening and relaxing his grip, and Talon thought perhaps the man's green eyes glistened a little more than normal. With words of guidance, and a prayer for safety and strength, the King had finished his goodbyes without further ceremony, his thick black beard quavering just a bit around the chin, though his voice stayed steady.
Talon had made his way to self-assured and wise Princess Angelica then, and had found her foggy minded from having been roused from her sleep. As with her parents, the Princess was aware of Talon's situation, and quickly snapped to full awareness as he explained that he would have to leave. She had her mother's hair and her father's eyes, her features also a blend of different aspects of her parents', and he tried to memorize them all, as he knew he would never see her again. Her father's high cheeks and pleasantly wide set eyes both glowed in the lamp light, and her mother's full lips and sloping facial proportions pulled taught as he spoke. Princess Angelica was known to be particularly beautiful, but to Talon, she was particularly honest and witty, someone he loved like a sister. The two of them sat facing each other at each end of her bed as he told her what she needed to know. Her eyes grew bright and full with tears. She bit her lip, then shook herself, wiping aggressively at her eyes to clear them.
"I'm going to miss you, T."
Her voice was soft and faltering under the weight of her barely withheld emotions. Angelica was the only one he would permit to use a nickname for him. At 11, when she had met him, she had said, without a hint of shame:
"Talons are for birds, you are not a bird. Tea is for people, so I will call you T."
Talon still smiled when he remembered it. The moment could embody her sense of humor, and her sense of self. She never faltered once she decided on something, because her quick mind made decisions thoroughly and with purpose.
"You have to go see Katherine."
Her tone should have left no room for arguments, but he argued anyways. "She won’t want to see me," he sighed. Out of everyone in the world, Angelica was the only person who had any idea about what really lie in his heart for the Princess' other Chosen Guard, Katherine.
"You haven't made your company her favorite, that's for sure," Angelica jeered, never hesitant to remind him that he treated his comrade in direct opposition to his true feelings, and that she did not approve of it. Talon looked past her slight shoulders, imagining all the animosity between he and Katherine. And whose fault it was.
A small hand covered his, drawing his eyes to the lamp lit girl across from him.
"Go. See. Her."
There was an unspoken "now," in the way she said it. Angelica's voice grew gentle. "Don't you both deserve a goodbye, T?" He knew what she was trying to say. "I don’t trust myself, Angelica," he whispered, averting his eyes. "I think I will just cause her more pain."
Talon heard his own words, and he was flung back into a moonlit room, to whispers, a strong but soft body against his, a kiss, and tears in sharp sapphire eyes. A kiss. Tears.
He flinched outwardly. How much of a damn fool could he be? Katherine had been surprised, of course, by his revelations, and she had been more moved than he had expected. That had called to him, the thought that perhaps she might somehow be saddened by the thought of him leaving, that she might even want him to stay. Then when he had said that the Princess had told him to come, Talon had seen the hurt in Katherine's eyes; heard it in her voice. All he had wanted to do in that moment was finally tell her how much she meant to him, how much he hated the thought of leaving her, of never having another battle of wits, of debating any and all topics, of sharing frustration over Angelica's stubbornness…
Out of all the selfish things I could have done. Cursing himself, he again saw the tear on her cheek, just before he had tasted her lips for the first breathtaking time. He bowed his head low over his mount's neck, the horse's black mane whipping at his face, stinging as he tightened his grip around the reins and gritted his teeth.
He knew he should have stayed away, left without burdening Katherine with the knowledge of his departure. She would have processed his absence; she would have let her anger towards him make his leaving an easy thing to handle. Whatever their relationship was could have faded out of her mind without pain.
But he had been greedy, had wanted one more chance to see her. And then he had gone even further than that. Had hurt her even more. Never before had he kissed a woman without her permission. Talon had disrespected Katherine - who always challenged him; who pushed him to see through new perspectives; who made him a better warrior with her ferocity and skill - like no other. He had caused her to cry. Shame made the air in his lungs burn.
Suddenly, his whole world grew dark, and Talon looked up to see that he and Phalanx had passed into the shadows of the Outskirts. The trees were as many as 200 feet tall, and wider than a castle wall. Each giant seemed to both welcome them and bristle at their entrance, an eerie breeze rocking their branches towards the pair.
Talon looked back one last time, thinking of everything he was leaving behind, and lingering on Katherine. Setting his jaw, he turned forward; pushed his life in Roonlan, and all it had held, away from the front of his mind, like a boulder made of solid iron.
Phalanx blanched, but only momentarily, as Talon urged him on. He knew why the gelding, why any creature, save those born in the Outskirts, felt repelled by the intimidating woodland. He knew why people who wandered in to prove their bravery, or by some unfortunate accident, never returned. It was both the most natural and unnatural explanation he could think of. Magic. And he could not wait to feel its power again.
Again, you can listen to Kristian on both 'NerdPod' and the 'Fierce & Flawed' Podcast. Stay tuned for more original stories from her, which you can be sure to see right here at forthefansmedia.com!
- Kristian (@itsmeKristianG)