Fire Born, Blood Blessed: Book 1
Blood-beings could be chattel or they could be char. There were no other options for them in Agenwold. The four male gods had created these arid mountains as a prison for their sister’s fire-children, the Morsam. The Morsam, in turn, made Agenwold a prison for any male god’s child foolish enough to cross the Pogichan Sea. If blood-beings bothered to think before they fled, they would know freedom did not exist here.
Still, blood-beings ran without regard for their destination.
Vadrigyn os Harlo leaned against the warm mouth of a shale cave, watching her kin toy with their morning prey. The Morsam’s broad golden wings reflected the suns, blinding the bestial Nivurnian as he scrambled down the mountainside, sometimes on two feet and sometimes on four. The Nivurnian’s striped tail and tattered pants showed damage from the heat.
Blood-beings refused to admit the unfiltered intensity of the six suns ringing Agenwold posed a threat to their persons. The turbulent skies over their native nations had shielded them from the truth, yet even when exposed to the facts they clung to the lie.
“Vadrigyn, will you not save that man from the winged monsters?” The Nivurnian behind her spoke with soft deference.
“The entrance to my holdings is no secret. If he wished to be saved he would run toward us and not the sea,” she answered in the foreign tongue of her recently acquired chattel. They huddled in the darkness of the cavern, safe from the suns and bored Morsam. “He is like many of you blood-beings—fragile and willfully blind. He believes he can conquer the terrain, yet excludes the suns from his consideration. He thinks he can run faster than a fire-child can fly, yet he ignores the physical obstacles only he faces.”
An animalistic bray drifted up to the cave. Frustrated keens sounded from the swarm of circling Morsam. Her chattel shuffled back. She returned her attention to the fleeing Nivurnian. He no longer ran. His round furry ears peeked from a ring of boulders. His claws scraped at the unmovable stones to no avail. Another scream and he vanished from sight into a hunting trap—one of hers, to be precise.
The stupidity of blood-beings amused her kin. Her kin’s stupidity provided opportunities for her. She leveraged those opportunities to amass more blood-beings. The cycle endured day after day, year after year. One day she would break free of the pattern, and break free from the mountain. One day she would prove to the gods that the burn of her essential fire was more than destructive, it was evolutionary. It was a fire that cleared away the old and fed the new.
Live. Learn. Burn.
To be achieved one day. Just not today.
“Should you ever flee from me, chattel, I will not give chase.” Vadrigyn tightened the protective vambraces of molded leather, metal, and bones around her forearms. “You will die knowing it was your foolishness that killed you.”
The new chattel retreated further into the darkness.
“I will return when the suns set to lead you down to the mines.” She attached an array of hollowed talons taken from the wingtips of defeated Morsam to her boots. “My other dependents rest while the suns are high. You may find that beneficial, or you may continue to learn from the mistakes of your kind. I grant you the choice.”
Vadrigyn locked her gorget of scavenged metal and edible rocks about her neck, and headed out into the blessed heat. Her flesh eagerly drank the touch of the suns as she scaled the jagged formations protecting the entrance to her holdings. The moment she descended, the first challenge was raised.
“Half-breed, you’ve stolen my blood-sac,” shouted one of the Morsam.
“We own what we can keep,” she countered, approaching the cluster of boulders that masked her rudimentary trap. “You could not keep your chattel; therefore, he is no longer yours.”
“What is to say we will not take him from you, you wingless aberration?” The swarm keened and rattled their armor. Morsam took great pride in the bits of armor they wore, but most Morsam could not say from whence the metal had come. They did not care to know which nation of blood-beings had brought the metal to Agenwold generations ago. They did not care to know why the metal had ceased to come. They cared about amassing whatever existed now.
They chose not to learn. They chose to be ignorant.
More than one of her kinsmen had tried to pry off the band of various metals growing from her left bicep. The scrolling depictions betrayed her mixed heritage, but served as easy bait. She had accumulated enough metal through combat to create mining tools for her chattel, winches for her hunting traps, and modifications to her attire. She did not need a full suit of armor to elicit envy among her kin. That she had her own holdings sufficed.
“Come get your toy.” She leapt atop a large smooth rock and motioned to the idiots above her. The thick metal spikes of her boots screeched against the stone, carving niches of traction. “I will enjoy exposing your weakness in defense of what is mine.”
“Leave her,” sniped one of the swarm. “Dead blood-sacs are of no use to us. Let the half-breed play with the trash.”
The fools made a grand show of stirring up dirt and pebbles before retreating from the challenge they had issued. Vadrigyn brushed off their petty attempts at stoning and snorted. Rigorous and frequent peltings had lost their effectiveness long before she had achieved puberty. She was nowhere near as breakable as a blood-being—neither in mind nor body.
Each ridge in her vambraces was a piece of a Morsam who had challenged her right to live. The ones she currently wore were far from her only pair.
She hopped off the boulder and tromped on a small treadle tucked into the shadow of a stone. The copper winch attached to the underside of the boulder spun, coiling the lynching rope and hoisting the dead Nivurnian from the deep pit. His spotted head appeared first, followed by broad furry shoulders.
He had died in his partially bestial state. His remains would have been more profitable had he died in his fully bestial form with a large plush pelt, but scarcity had taught her how to repurpose everything. She hefted the rest of the massive body out of the pit and sighed.
Char and blisters littered the corpse’s back and face.
His muscles were thick and sinewy. He had a slight paunch, indicating he had been well fed. That meant he was new chattel, still full of dreams of a life on the other side of the Pogichan—a life the Morsam envied because they could never know it. The swarm had permitted his escape for the sole purpose of entertainment.
Chattel had taught her many things. They had shared their languages, their lore, their histories, and their cultures with her. All of those things were as different as the races themselves, yet their stories held a common moral. Regardless of which male god the chattel worshipped, that god had rewarded his children for providing for and protecting the weak. That god had punished those who sought individual glory at the price of others’ wellbeing.
Those notions contrasted sharply with her goddess’s desire. Mother Oriva had created the Morsam with her essence, with her fire. The goddess’s fire demanded domination and destruction. Blind obedience to essential fire had to be the reason the male gods kept all fire-children imprisoned. Therefore, controlling those demands had to be the key to freedom.
Freedom was worth far more than the thrill of slaughtering inferior races.
However, until she could go where she chose whenever she chose, Vadrigyn had to do what she could with what she had on Agenwold. That meant preserving the dead Nivurnian’s head for accounting, curing the flesh, carving the meat into meals for the other blood-beings, turning the fat into fuel to light the caves, and honing the bones into tools.
She crossed the arms of the corpse over her shoulders and climbed out of the trap. A deafening roar volleyed up from the base of the mountain. She paused atop her vantage point and scanned the western base of the mountains.
The Pogichan Sea crashed against the foothills and retreated, leaving behind a ship broken upon the rocks. Pale men in short skirts and women in shorter dresses crawled out of the wreckage. Blood-beings from the watery lands of Jos screamed useless pleas for help as the Pogichan pushed them higher up the mountain. The sea claimed three Jossair men before receding to its banks. The blood-beings’ cries carried up the mountains, alerting every fire-child to their arrival.
Morsam hunting cheers filled the air. Swarms of young and old raced for new prey to add to their holdings.
The Jossairs shielded their eyes against the brilliant light sweeping down the mountain. Panic broke out among them. Clusters of Jossair men assembled behind each of their women. Three of the factions fanned out and ran up the foothills. The others held their ground. Jossair Mistresses shouted commands. Blue orbs of magic grew around the hands of the men.
The Morsam laughed, evading bolts of water magic. The Morsam’s highly reflective armor directed the merciless rays of the suns at the Jossair troops. Two Jossair men broiled on the spot from the concentrated sunlight. The other blood-beings broke formation and fled, making it easy for the Morsam swarms to pluck them off the slopes.
One swarm neglected to track their distance from the mountain.
The sentient sea roared again. Swells gained in height. Foamy caps stretched into liquid claws. The Pogichan snatched three Morsam out of the sky. Immense watery fists crumpled golden wings and crushed armor. The Morsam raged with pain. They fought with blade and talon, yet the superior strength of a fire-child meant nothing to the vast sea. The swells receded, dragging their prisoners below the endless rolling tides.
Swarms hovered nearer the mountain, waiting, watching…hoping.
The Pogichan quieted. Tides mellowed to their hateful lap and lick against the foothills.
Laughter erupted among the remaining swarms. Derision for the stupidity of the felled signaled the end to the momentary entertainment. The swarms returned to their various holdings along the mountains, carrying with them the hapless Jossairs and ignoring pleas in a language none of them cared to know.
“Half-breed,” shouted the largest of the Morsam, breaking away from a swarm. He dangled two brawny Jossair men by their feet. “I demand a trade.”
Vadrigyn gripped the corpse’s wrists with one hand and opened her other hand at her side. Surging essential fire woke the parasites residing within her. The flesh of one palm parted. The Dorgof parasite stretched its singular impenetrable white talon until it reached a length and breadth comparable to a man’s thigh. Its sharp edges gleamed under the brilliance of the suns. Umber venom beaded at its curved tip and dripped on the rock, burning a divot with each drop.
“If I wanted water chattel, Begreith, I would have gone and claimed one for myself.”
“Liar,” her half-brother derided, hovering overhead. “You trade food for blood-sacs. Sometimes you steal from unguarded pens. The latter is less shameful.”
“Padorma,” whispered his captives. They quit their flailing and pointed at Vadrigyn’s left bicep. “We found the Padorma.”
Only the water race called her by that infernal name, and usually just before they attempted to kill her.
The Jossairs’ panicked curses gained in speed and lessened in volume. The metal embedded in Vadrigyn’s skin tingled with the pricks of a thousand tiny frigid spears as the blood-beings invoked their foreign magic.
“Unless you want them to die, Begreith, I suggest you remind them they are no longer in the water nation.”
Begreith lobbed the captives in the air and caught them by their glowing hands, crushing their bones. Chants distorted into a unified shriek. Begreith held the Jossairs to his chest and shattered their lungs with a brutal squeeze. Shrieking faded to gurgles that ended in eternal silence.
The tingling in her arm stopped.
“You accept the trade, then.” Begreith dropped his dead prizes. One landed on her boulder with a crunch, snap, and sizzle. The other plummeted into her trap.
“Hardly.” She grimaced. The stench of broiling flesh turned her stomach.
“Then you should not have made me destroy two of my Jossairs.” Begreith alighted on a boulder across the pit from her. He flared his wings and removed his helmet, revealing vibrant Jossair silks coiled around his hairless head. “Hand over two of your Nivurnians—live ones.”
“One Nivurnian is worth more than twenty Jossairs to me.” She sliced through the broken neck of the dead Jossair at her feet.
Begreith flicked blood spatter from his cheek and tossed aside his helmet. “A trade is a trade, half-breed. Give me my due.”
“Trade assumes two parties are in agreement.” She hooked the tip of the Dorgof into the Jossair’s hair and flipped the severed head to Begreith. “I agreed to nothing. You are the fool who killed your own chattel. If you want to pay me to dispose of your dead, then that is a different matter.”
“You dare demand payment from me, half-breed?” He crushed the head between his gold gauntlets, spraying brain and gore. “For that insult, you will give me four Nivurnians and a half dozen Kethorians for good measure.”
“If you are going to steal from me, the entrance to my holdings is over there.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. His hiss made her grin. “What is wrong, Begreith? Do you have a problem entering the caves? Afraid your wings will be crushed?”
He covered the distance between them with one step. He stood close enough to her that his breastplate smashed against her bosom. She refused to give ground. She met his pale yellow gaze, unflinching.
“Do not think I am blind to the games you play with your chattel,” he murmured. His wings beat, churning the air until the corpse along her back danced with the gusts. “You will not succeed. Morsam can only be ruled by strength and ruthlessness.”
“Rule,” she scoffed. “What reward is there in ruling a prison?”
“You either dominate or you are dominated.” He tilted his wings until they caught the sunlight and burned away the residue of his kill. “This is a truth no pure fire-child can escape.”
“The fire of our goddess flows through my veins at all times. That it burns differently from yours does not invalidate Mother Oriva’s blessing upon my existence.” She curled her lip, exposing a double set of thick fangs.
“Do not flaunt your shameful differences to me, half-breed.” He yanked the Nivurnian corpse from her and flung it to the ground. The body collapsed in a malformed heap, its bones crushed by his careless touch. “Harlo humiliated every Morsam by permitting the blood-sac Ephinnia to swell with his get.”
Essential fire stoked brighter. The second parasite grew from her other palm.
“You will speak of our father with respect.”
He leaned down and touched his nose to hers. “Harlo deserved to die.”
“No more than you.” She whirled behind him, aiming at his unprotected wings. He spun aside, evading her blow. The parasites sliced off the solid gold barbs protruding from his armor.
“For years I have tolerated your existence because you provide entertainment.” He drew his sword and laughed. “It amuses me to watch you siphon from the greater holdings without them realizing their stupidity.”
“It has created envy within you.” She raised her forearm and pivoted under his counterattack. The ridges of her vambrace deflected his blade, but the impact vibrated up her arm and rang in her ears. She thrust aside his weapon and leapt to another boulder.
“Do not confuse my notice with envy.” He brandished his sword and shook his head. “I will admit to being impressed by the power you’ve amassed by becoming the sole provider of food to numerous holdings. But the time has come to make that power mine.”
Lights shimmered, heralding the arrival of onlookers. Morsam always gathered when fire was guaranteed to blaze. They formed a combatants’ ring around the boulders, forcing her to stay on elevated terrain. It was not the wisest place to be when facing an opponent who could fly. If she fell into the trap she had rigged, Begreith would bury her alive.
Wretched way to die.
“You cannot gain that power without my chattel.” She crossed her parasites and caught his crushing blow. Her elbows buckled, but the Dorgof held. His sword did not. Metal broke across the unyielding parasites. The fractured sword tip bounced harmlessly off of her gorget and into the pit.
Roaring laughter poured from the crowd congregating around them.
“Without you, there is no one to stop me from claiming them.” He threw aside his useless hilt.
“Are you prepared to tear apart the mountains?” she taunted through clenched teeth, embracing the pain radiating up her arms from his thwarted attack. “You will have to, in order to reach my chattel.”
The blood-beings she hoarded did more than mine edible rocks. Protecting and providing for the weaker races showed the male gods she was not a wholly destructive Morsam. Essential fire did not control her. She controlled it. Most of the time.
She was worthy of freedom.