by Champion


Dresil had been very young, not long past the age at which a sentient creature begins to notice its own existence, when she was expelled from the world of her birth. Her people lived underground in a vast network of caves. No one in the world above new how extensive these were. Some of those who wished to be considered wise would don grim expressions and inform whoever would listen that the caverns of the Rasdil only stopped where they met the sea. Others, with the aim of being counted wisest of all, would argue that this was a foolish assumption; there could be no doubt that the Rasdil had even managed to burrow beneath the ocean. Everyone hoped that Heaven would see fit to flood them for their impetuousness.

Whatever the truth, no inhabitant of the overworld - fairy or otherwise - could lay a justified claim to it. The Rasdil were mysterious; new creatures in an old world. Encounters with them were rare, though in some parts of the world they seemed to be becoming more frequent. The creatures were shaped, vaguely, like a fairy or a man. They were covered in a thick carapace, like an insect, and all four limbs ended in long, three-fingered claws. For this reason, they were easy to avoid if seen. They were colored darkly, but were shiny in a way that seemed to wrap the colors of their surroundings around them. Unnaturally strong, the Rasdil could leap several times their height into the air, though for the most part they tended to slink along the ground. They were fierce in combat, and would usually attack any moving thing they came across. If significantly outnumbered, or if opposed with magic, they could be killed, though it was never easy.

Though they never sought to communicate with the wise creatures of the overworld, The Rasdil were clearly not animals. When they killed a fairy or an animal, they would not eat the flesh. To the fairies this meant that Dresil's people were murderers. In the last year, expeditions underground had been launched with the aim of gauging the Rasdil problem. Blood had spilled, but little had been accomplished. Following the raid, the Rasdil began appearing aboveground in larger numbers, and the attacks had increased. It seemed to many that a war was brewing.

Hostility between the fairies and the Rasdil were not yet at their peak the day Dresil's mother left her lying on the forest floor, not far from the mouth of a cave that could have lead back home. Dresil knew it was because she was blind; an illness had claimed her eyesight after only a few months of life. For the most part this was not a problem. Except for special areas in which they grew luminous lichen and the fires used for various purposes, the Rasdil lived in darkness. However, unlike other creatures that lived belowground, they could see well when there was light.

That day, six years ago, Dresil's mother had borne her to the surface. She informed her daughter that it had been decided that she would not be of use in her adulthood. Her blindness would prevent her from carrying out her primary purpose, and her imperfection tainted the race. She would not be killed, as the gods seemed to frown upon the killing of a child. Instead, she would be left to starve or be slaughtered by the enemy.

Dresil tried to protest, but words gave way to sobs. She felt her mother put her down. She tried to fight it, but the elder Rasdil was much stronger than she. Dresil felt her mothers footsteps turn away from her. She tried to follow, but her mother moved too quickly, and finding paths through the thick woods by feel took time. The noises faded. She had crawled in the same direction for hours, until exhaustion and despair brought her down.

Dresil had lain there on the ground for a long time. Many hours or a few days; long enough to feel dead, but not enough to truly die. Sometimes she felt numb, and sometimes the sadness returned as intensely as it had ever been. It was during one of these bouts of emotion that she first felt the soft pressure about her. At first she thought her mother had returned, but her sense of smell told her otherwise. Fear gripped her and she tried to escape, but she was too weak to put up much of a fight. This creature that held her seemed so strong, even stronger than her mother had been.

Anna had just turned 15 the day she found the juvenile Rasdil in the woods. At first, she approached it curiously, unsure of what it was. She was only a few feet away when she realized that the object on the ground matched the description of a tunnel beast. She knew she was in danger: others could be about, and this one itself could be a threat. She would have taken to the treetops immediately and gone for help - they weren't far off - but for the posture of the thing. It was laying flat, limbs splayed out. It looked so pathetic. She couldn't imagine it was doing anything but dying. Slowly, wings bent up to take her away at an instant's notice, she reached toward it. She touched it, and it seemed to notice her. It turned, slowly, weakly, and reached toward her. The second she picked it up, however, it had tried to escape.

Something else happened too. Anna was remarkably gifted in the spirit arts, even among fairies. Coming in contact with the creature allowed her a vague impression of its mind. She knew at once that it was Wise, but the most noticeable thing that she read was its fear, and beneath that, a wellspring of sorrow. She held on even tighter; the creature needed help, and if she let it down it would get away. Pushing off with her legs, took to the air and headed quickly to where the rest of the party would be. Meanwhile, she did her best to calm the creature down.

Dresil felt herself being carried aloft, and though she didn't understand what was happening, it did nothing to ease her fear. The creature carrying her began to make noises. She didn't know it was a language, but it didn't sound frightening. It sounded like the trickle of water, or breathing of a sleeping animal. The strange hands ran over her in time with the sounds. She briefly stopped struggling, and found that the grip loosened a bit. She wondered if, maybe, she'd be okay.

The village council had debated what to do with the creature that the young Anna had found in the woods, though were unanimous in their condemnation of her lack of caution. At first, some vocal members of the council argued that the creature should be killed. Eventually, however, interests representing the Wiseman of the village and the military leaders had banded together, arguing that the creature could be useful. They did not know much about the Rasdil, and this was an opportunity to learn. Anna was to be held responsible for the creature and its actions. If it could be taught to communicate with the assistance of the spirit arts, it would be asked about its past; if it couldn't, they would have learned something about the intelligence of the Rasdil. In any case, no one without authorization was to attempt to perform any spell or charm on the creature. Furthermore, the council could decide to have the creature killed at any time in the future, if it was determined to be a threat.

With the movement of Time many changes had occurred. Anna was no longer a little girl; she had grown strong in both body and spirit. Dresil had changed even more. The day she was found, she was the size of a small dog, but now she weighed more than the largest man in the village. But the biggest change of all was that a relationship between the two had developed. Anna had raised Dresil throughout her short childhood; she found foods for her to eat, and that lead to trust. Over time, Dresil began to understand much of what Anna said. She began to replicate the sounds she heard; and though it was a terrible parody of fairy speech, gestures helped clarify things. As did spirit contact. It was forbidden for Anna to use it, of course, but how could she resist the temptation? Dresil was like a child to her, and later a friend. Both were disliked among many in the village: increasingly so as murders of fairies by Rasdil became more common. As such, she spent most of her time with Dresil.

One of the main goals of Anna's forbidden spiritwork was to try and find a way to restore her friend's vision. Fairy magic could do a lot to clot cuts and re-grow tissue, but eyes were a complex organ, and it took the best healers a lot of time and energy to heal. It complicated matters that the nature of Dresil's blindness, as well as much about her physiology, were unknown. Still, Anna spent a few hours every day with her hands placed on Dresil's head, meditating and trying to find a solution. Eventually, she found it, though not in the expected way. One day, as Anna was on the verge of declaring the task impossible, Dresil pulled back and told her that she was too frustrated to get anywhere. Anna had always known that when she was reading Dresil, her friend could also get impressions of her. The Wisemen taught that it was a necessary side-effect, and something to be wary of. But never before had she considered that it might be useful. Instead of pushing her mind into Dresil, she began expanding with pulling the Rasdil's mind into herself. The idea was that if Dresil could get far enough in, she could share Anna's sensory information.

It took months of trying to make it work, but one summer day it finally did. They had been in the woods at the time, near a small waterfall. It was one of Rasdil's favorite places; she always enjoyed the sound. It was fitting, then, that it was the first sight that greeted her since she was an infant. She got only a brief glance before her mind snapped back into her body, but it was enough to make it one of the most important events in her life. After months of more practice, the two young women got better at the spiritwork. Anna debated telling the council, as it was a significant new discovery, but she did not trust their reaction. Her mistrust would prove justified.

Everything changed the day that news came from the East. The Elf kingdom of Quelthros was under attack by hordes of Rasdil. By all appearances it was an organized assault. Some feared it was the symptom of a war between gods.

The Council's first decision upon convening an emergency meeting was that Dresil was to be confined indefinitely. Several militiamen were sent to deliver the order to Anna, but when she arrived at her home she, and Dresil, were gone. Upon hearing the news, Anna had guessed what was about to happen. They had left for the woods.

Dresil crawled through the brush, Anna on her back. The configuration allowed them to maintain physical contact, which was necessary for the second sight spiritwork. As Dresil couldn't fly, they were confined to the ground anyway. They didn't have much of a plan about where to go, but they had agreed that it had to be far away from the village. They were still too close to feel safe, and they had to expect hunting parties would be sent after them.

Something moved to their left. Dresil froze. Anna snapped her head in the direction of the sound, ready to react. Another noise came, almost nothing, just a soft rustle. Both stared, through the same pair of eyes, in the direction of the sound.

A movement flickered, and before Anna knew what happened, she was knocked backward. No; Dresil had leapt forward. So had the Rasdil that had been the source of their noise. The two met in midair, claws tearing. They fell to the forest floor, and Anna could do nothing but watch in horror. The two combatants looked so similar that she didn't know where to aim a shaft of spiritlight, and even if she did, they were moving too fast.

Ten seconds later and it didn't matter. Dresil, though blind, had been stronger. In a fight like that, all graceless attack, that was what counted.

Anna ran to her friend, but before she could say anything, her attention was diverted by more sounds from the forest. More Rasdil were coming, maybe dozens of them. Dresil was already crouched again. Anna jumped on, and Rasdil began to run. They knew each other well enough, and their spirits were close enough, that they didn't have to speak. Protect. Justice. Together they ran back to the village.



Final Score: 39.5 out of 50

Raven's Comments:

You've come up with a neat story world here, Champion, and the ideas of Anna and Dresil's unlikely friendship and the "spiritwork" bond between them are cool ones. The story ends prematurely, though, with the central conflict unresolved: Will Dresil find acceptance among Anna's people?

I also would have liked to see more "showing" and less "telling" -- the story has a lot of exposition that could have been better revealed through dialogue and interaction. (See my notes on Steve's story for more comments on showing vs. telling.) It would have been nice to get to know Anna and Dresil better through watching them up close, listening to their thoughts and words in response to the people and events around them, rather than having it fed to us through an impartial, third-person narrative. This story could have been a lot richer if we had been given more time to get to know the characters and watch their friendship unfold; this, combined with some technical errors, kept the story from getting as high a score as it might have otherwise. You have a good measure of natural talent, though, Champion, and I hope to see you continue to develop your craft; given some time and practice, you could put together something really special. I hope I get to see it. :)



Copyright 2004 by Champion. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.

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