A New Journey — Derek Barton 2021

Last year I started a series of writing prompts on this blog that were later collected and published in the 12 Months of Hell & Horror Day Planner. There was one story, The Flight of the Dirithi, that took on more of a fantasy theme than the modern horror theme of the other tales. Yet like many of the other stories I’ve had occupying my thoughts and demanding to be written, this The Flight of the Dirithi nagged and prodded me to be further explored.

So…we shall together explore and travel the path beside this young Dirithi as she runs for her life and freedom. As she escapes to her destiny…

This first part will be the introduction I wrote last year (with some edits) then with a small addition. I want to add to this story every couple weeks — maybe a 400 to 500 word addition. I don’t want to promise more as I am deep in the development of the third book in the Wyvernshield Series. I’ve been promising this novel now for a long time and it wouldn’t be prudent to disappoint everyone again. I’m excited to get the story out to you too and I’m just as anxious to see the epic conclusion!

***Awesome Concept Art by Wonhong Kim, ArtStation

FLIGHT OF THE DIRITHI — 1.28.2021

Jueneva shook awake but didn’t raise her head off the cottony bed pillow. Another shrill scream pierced the silence of the early morning hours. She didn’t recognize the source, but thought it might have come from Yabina’s hut. A second child’s cries from another hut farther away joined the first, ending in sobs. 

More shouts, deeper in bass, came from guards near the southern wall.

Cries of alarm sprang out all over the village. Jueneva squeezed her eyes shut, praying to wake from this sudden nightmare. Her breath burst from her. She hadn’t even realized she was holding it in. Her chest hurt from the effort.

“Jueneva!! Come! Come, child.” The last shred of hope she had faded as her eyes opened to see her mother, Ckala standing in the doorway to her room, her arms out and beckoning to her. In one hand, she gripped a thin, leathery pouch. A backpack straddled her shoulders, filled with their travel clothes and road rations.

“We know what this means. It’s over, nothing can be done now but hide. We must hurry,” her mother pleaded over the crash and clatter of men battling nearby.

 Horses pounded the dirt paths as they charged past the front of their stone home.

“Kreszecs! The Kreszecs! Run. They have found us.” Other shouts echoed the call. The horses went deeper into the village, the messengers warning others in the bare light of dawn.

Jueneva grabbed her blanket and wrapped it tightly over her shoulders and head. Silent tears traveled down her cheeks. She thrust her feet into her leather thong sandals at the foot of her bed.

Father, brother…lost? They’re gone?

“Hurry up, we’ve got to get to the bridge,” her mother said as she grabbed Jueneva’s hand and hauled her down the hallway. “If we should get separated, head there and wait for me in that bed of tanglevines. If I haven’t come by sunrise, go under the bridge and find the three black stones. You’ll recognize them on sight. Dig through.”

“Where are we going, mum?” Jueneva grew even more scared at the sound of her own shaky voice. It had somehow diminished in the night, shrunken to the frightened pleas of a toddler.

“It’s not important where we are going, only that we get away from here. Please, run!”

Outside the door to their stone house, the air filled with shouts for help mixed with the screams for mercy. The sounds of battle echoed in from the wood gate house along Harner Road. Horses whinnied in fright, metal clashed with metal, wood cracked and splintered. Women begged while children shrieked. Thick and gravelly voices growled back in foreign, violent tongues.

Others were running as well, making for the bridge at the back of the village. It crossed over a minor rivulet of the Corafin River to the other side, bracketed by heavy pine tree woods.

The trek there lasted an eternity. Most of the refugees bolted over the river and into the surrounding forest when they arrived. Her mother took her and bypassed the bridge entrance, climbing down the short but deep embankment. Surefooted, her mother made a direct run at a pile of three, smooth black river stones. She let free Jueneva’s hand, used both hands to part the rocks. Underneath was a strong fishnet, covered in wet leaves and mud. “Help, Juenie. Grab the other end so we can drag it away.”

When they did so, the shallow mouth to a tunnel appeared. Immediately she realized the only way to go inside was to crawl on hands and knees. Terror gripped her heart. It would be pitch black inside and who knows what might have made the tunnel its home.

Ckala rummaged through the backpack and removed a silver box. It popped open revealing a smooth gold stone, glowing with an amber aura. The stone barely gave more light than a wax candle, but it was enough.

“Let’s go.” She plopped down on her belly and began to squeeze inside, ruining her traveling blouse.

Not one to be squeamish about mud or dirt, however, Jueneva balked. It felt wrong, dread coiling around her neck like a hangman’s noose. She would not leave her mother though, so she willed herself to enter the earthen grave, defying her instincts.

Inside the light illuminated enough only for her to see the soles of Ckala’s sandals as she crawled ahead. Moments went by without a word between them. In the silence of the river tunnel, her dead father’s and brother’s faces appeared in her mind’s eye. Fresh tears and sobs choked her, stopping her from trailing after.

“Shhh. Shhh. child, we’ll be alright. Shhhh.” Her mother tried to calm her.

Jueneva shook from cold as much as from her emotions. Water dripped down her back from the tunnel’s ceiling as foul stenches burned her nose and made her gag. This was not a proper life. What horrid fate did she wake to? Nothing was going to be resolved.

When the sudden grief eased some, she had to ask, “Mum, why?”

“What?”

“Why? Why are we always hunted?” Jueneva was nearing her twelfth-moon cycle. All her memories revolved around them being on the run. It wasn’t normal. She noted by her fifth-moon that other families could put down roots and live in seeming peace.

Her mother stopped and twisted to look down the tunnel at Jueneva. The pain in her eyes spoke volumes.

“I never wanted this type of life for you, sweet-tears. There is a curse lying in your veins.”

“What does that mean? Did Da and Je’steo–“

Her mother shook her head violently. “No! Not now. We grieve another sunrise. Not today! We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing. The Kreszecs will never stop hunting us.”

“I do not understand.”

“Someday it will be clearer to you, but for now, we have no time to work it out.”

“No!  Tell me the true reason we are different. Please! I have to know!”

 The words came slowly and whispered in the dark like all dangerous secrets. “You are Dirithi.”

Dirithi? Dirithi! A half-dragon offspring. The last heirs of dragon blood. Not human, not dragon. Shapeshifters.

“No more talk. Come!”

The single word consumed her and bellowed like a tempest inside her skull. It explained so much and yet conjured so many more questions.

They took up the hike again under the river. The winding tunnel went deep underground and paralleled the rapid stream.

Finally, faint dawn light shined through the exit. As her mother crawled out, she graced Jueneva with a broad, relieved smile. Seeing it light up Ckala’s face, her own smile crept out as she stood on her feet, covered in grime.

An arrow whistled through the air, catching her mother in the shoulder, rocketing her backward, tumbling to the ground. Another arrow hit the ground between Jueneva’s sandals.

“Svaklan, I told ye they were predictable. Right where I said, right when I said. No?” A man spoke in an ugly, thick accent but spoke with robust confidence as he came down the embankment on the back of a brown horse. He had a crossbow in his arms, an arrow already loaded and trained on her.

Ckala didn’t answer the man’s taunts, only shook her head in stubborn defiance. Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Another man with a pair of long ponytails gliding down the back of his head, nodded and grinned through his thick black beard. “Aye, m’lord Kosoth. Ye do have the sight.” He strode over and placed a heavy, gray-furred boot on Ckala’s chest as she remained prone and panting from the pain.

“Indeed,” the Kreszec Arch Lord said as he rode his horse up a few feet in front of Jueneva. He then followed up with a mock bow. “All these wasted years, but here we are, the end of our storied chase. The Gryatt is mine and will be returned after all.”

Kosoth looked down at Jueneva, meeting her wide eyes and terror-filled stare. “Aye, ye do have but good reason for fear. The deep darkness ye will bring under my command will be of legend. The power I’ll have will be even more!”

Ckala slapped the ground at her side, getting Jueneva’s attention. “No! No! Jueneva, remember above all else, you must survive at any cost and grow stronger!”

Before the bearded Svaklan could react, her mother thrust the small leather pouch into the air and struck it hard against a pine sapling along the muddy riverbank. As a gold and silver talisman dropped from the pouch, Ckala screamed, “Akkei Maliss!”

A blast of fire and wind erupted, an intense magical pulse throwing all apart from each other.

Jueneva laid on her back inside the tunnel, her breath stolen away.

What was that? Was it from that talisman? 

“…remember above all else, you must survive at any cost and grow ever stronger!” Ckala’s words repeated to her.

After several moments, she could breathe normal again, and she struggled back to the tunnel entrance.

She was ill-prepared for the sight before her.

The horseman lay pinned and struggling weakly under his beast, while Svaklan laid motionless on his stomach partially in the water. The stream pulled and nudged at him, trying to take his body away downstream. Her mother’s form was twisted and wrapped around the base of another larger pine. Motionless.

But at the spot where the talisman had been appeared a mammoth watery circle. The talisman had been invoked and a silver, glass-like portal now stood towering over her.

It had to lead to one place…

“Akkei Maliss!”

 In the distance, breaking branches and baying hounds could be heard. Other Kreszecs must’ve followed after the sounds of the magical explosion.

More words repeated softly inside her mind. We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing.

To herself, she whispered, “I’ll go where my enemies will fear to follow.”

Per the legends passed down by the tribal elders, the world of Akkei Maliss was a world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where even the snow fell black…

This was a world where alone as a Dirithi, she would learn to survive and grow ever stronger.

She nodded to her mother’s form and whispered final words of love. It was time to act. She marched slowly but with determination and resolve into the portal to Akkei Maliss.

And she vowed she would return one day, and she would reign supreme once and for all.

******

Jueneva’s eyes opened, but her vision was clouded and blurry. She found herself lying face down, chilled stone bringing on a series of racking shudders. Rolling slowly over, she rose onto her elbows, her teeth chattering. A single rivulet of blood dripped from her nose and over her lips. As she wiped it away on her muddy sleeve, her vision gradually cleared to show her a series of intricate, marble stone tiles littered with dark purple glass fragments all around her.

The tiles were aligned into a circular paths, surrounding a small patch of gray, dead grass and weeds. The ivory, black-streaked marble dais she laid across had large, gaping cracks as well as missing patches of stone foundation. The damage could have only come from a massive land quake.

In the heart of the grass stood a twisted, metal framework, standing at least ten hands high. Some of the purplish glass shards remained in sections of it. Soot and ash buried everything else around her. She stretched out a hand to confirm her suspicion. It was as the legend spoke of — the dais had a thin blanket of icy black snow mixed with the ash and soot.

Jueneva remembered her determined exodus into the portal, but had no further memory afterward. Painful stiffness in her back and neck reminded her of the terrible explosion that threw her into the river tunnel, freed her from the Kreszec men, but also took her mother’s life. Before any tears could start, she clenched her jaw, straightened her back and took stock of where she had entered Akkei Maliss.

The dais sat in the middle of an enclosed circular chamber. Parts of the ceiling had given way long ago with rot and vegetation. Howling winds could be heard outside the holes in the roof, but only an occasional flurry actually entered. Long hanging vines grew along the walls and the ceiling, competing for space with multiple sections of charcoal icicles. Faded portraits hung on the walls at odd angles among torn cloth tapestries. Lines of an unknown language were engraved in painstakingly thin etchings and covered every inch of exposed wall. At the back of the chamber was an overturned wooden desk and several broken benches. Opposite to the desk, she spotted twin silvery unlit braziers on both sides a closed, barred door.

Wherever she was, it seemed it had been a site of importance. Perhaps even a place of religious origins.

Jueneva leaned over and lifted one of the larger pieces of glass lying among the gray grass. The surface was smooth and reflective like the surface of the quarry pond near their village. She held it up in awe before her face.

She threw it away with a sharp gasp. The glass’s image had lied to her eyes, her hand reflexively pulling one of her mussed ponytails before her face.

Her once blonde platinum locks were now a deep blue hue, nearly black in shade. Again she plucked a shard from the ground to see that her eyes were now completely black, no white or iris staring back at her. Little white spikes bristled at her jaw line near her neck and ears.

Dirithi… the cursed breed.

This new harsh reality, the brutal truth of who she really was did bring the unwanted tears. She sunk back to the ground, hugging her knees into her chest and buried her face. Never had she felt so naked, desperate and alone.

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