Hrafn breathed deeply and enjoyed the savor of humid air. The atmosphere of his planet rarely defrosted past something frigid and brittle. But now that the little world had breached closer to the white sun Bjarndyr, the icy and frozen land he called home had finally thawed.
Tying back long locks of lavender hair and wiping the sweat from his brow with his outer shirt, Hrafn inhaled once more and appreciated the mid-warm season. His world, Bjarnstar, would not stay close to the sun for long. In fact there was very little time to prepare the crops for harvest. A hardened permafrost would slick over the planetary outer layer once the world’s path left close-orbit.
As warlord of this world, a title called Drottnari by his people the Bjarnstarnin, Hrafn took these seasons seriously—knowing when to drop his cloak and crown to pick up a scythe. Otherwise they’d be left indebted to the neighboring planet and galaxies to provide food and stores essential for survival. Not that his ruling council would agree, the pompous group believed themselves superior, a filthy crowd for the most part raised on jeweled spoons and easy life. One would think with a planet where sixty percent of the population was military, like himself, the people offering him advice would also live their lives by the blade and shield. Not so.
Risen like maggots through the warm ground, these were the elites of trade and artisan crafts—nothing inherently wrong with that—however these merchants' reputations garnered favor only by the money in their purses...
A shout startled him and a few of the others out honing the fields waved at him, pointing to the sky. Squinting, Hrafn took half a second to observe before he yanked his scythe from the dirt. His wings flared out, three pairs of brilliant raven plumage lashing in the crystalline sunlight.
A pair of golden wings belonging to the body of his closest guard, his friend and comrade Trunadur, fluttered to balance themselves. Trunadur swung his sword around the curve of the scythe, snarling as he attempted to knock the staff from his hands. Hrafn’s blade hooked around the offending scimitar and unbalanced it. As he took in the sight of his attacker, his crimson-grey gaze narrowed. He smirked in bemusement. With a huff, Hrafn hiked his grip further on his weapon and yanked it back from the sword’s reach. Practice ease guided his grip as he spiraled the staff around his back to gain momentum for a forward swing.
A crazed look haunted Trunadur’s azure glance, and he knew that this was no spur of the moment spar or friendly jest. He slashed the scythe forward, calculated and calm. His guard hopped back from the attack, wings sending him upward into the air again after the briefest of touchdowns.
“Don’t make this harder,” Trunadur growled. “Look they have eyes on me, so you need to listen—”
Laughing, Hrafn took little heed. Flaring his wings, he spiraled himself into the air away from his friend. Retreat was necessary at this moment. He knew who had sent Trunadur to attack and why. Ruthless and arrogant, only one group would force the guard to brazenly attack in broad daylight.
He soared over the world he called home.
What would have once been pale and lifeless under a coat of the purest ice, the planet now danced to life in hues of lilacs and pinks. Foliage grew just above the ground, a shy and fuzzy moss known as akkaelyd. Hope had led to farming and cultivating the plant growth to make medicines for the soldiers, that alone was enough to have them working day in and day out. They often utilized surplus akkaelyd as food stuffs, kindling, and animal feed. Once the ice returned and the light of the white sun was driven away though, the military and merchants again would take primary care of the world, hiring themselves as bounty hunters, personal guards, traveling craftsmen, and outbound merchants to rekindle the status quo of their economic system. Even Hrafn himself took on jobs as a guard-for-hire for other diplomats, his king-like status making him a trusted bodyguard for the other rulers living on the worlds on the opposite side of their sun. And sometimes, even further past their sun system into other parts of their galaxy that followed the pioneering paths of the traders.
The landing dock to the castle appeared and the winds of the high mountain crags buffeted his body.
Hrafn’s lesser wings tucked tight to his sides while the larger pairs—one pair closer to his shoulders and the other at the other to his waist—fluttered at different intervals and kept him righted in the aggravated headwinds.
He heard Trunadur yelling in the distance. There wasn’t much time.
His eyes narrowed and he flew higher, surging past the palace walls and blockades. In no time at all, he approached the high arching windows that displayed the throne room. He’d stared at these windows from the inside for decades, watching Bjarnstar live beneath his rule. Windows that had survived millenia of preceding Drottnari, windows decorated from the finest stained glass. Windows that held depictions of their people's history. Windows that were three times, if not more, his age.
That did not stop his path.
Distantly, he was aware of his body breaking through the glass, erupting into the marble throne room as a conflagration of colored shards rained from the sky in his wake.
Startled shouting roared to life.
His feet skidded across the ground, the sharp points of his talons scraping over that marble, his scythe twirled elegantly.
He landed, facing the council that had been lounging in their cushioned chairs.
Their robes were made of the finest velvets, and they looked every part as primroyal as he looked rough-and-tumble. Where their cloaks folded and pleated from sitting, his tunic and trousers were stained with dark mud, torn by kneeling on the ground to pull rocks from the dirt. The heels of his boots clacked on the tiled ground as he paced around them. His wings and tail feathers fluttered in agitation.
Waving his weapon back and forth, Hrafn watched their frightened and calculated gazes. He smiled. What hypocrites.
Elder Ein stood, face turning red with outrage as he swiped his hand through the air. “Hrafn! What is the meaning of this?”
“I would not waste my time with an explanation you should already have.” His brow lifted as he tilted his head and flashed a fanged smile. “Draw your sword, Elder.”
“This is ridiculous! You are the Drottnari. Act like a mature adult.” Arri, a fellow soldier armed with a spear dangerous enough for even him to eye warily, stood and slammed their fists against the wall. “How dare a ruler turn on his own council.”
“How dare a council send a ruler’s own right-hand to murder him.” Hrafn counted three armed members. The others were too lenient and too unprepared for the fight.
“We warned you of the consequences for refusing a war declaration on the planet Meotl,” Ein continued, his heavy brow furrowing with outrage. “Looting their high city would have been the best way of providing means for our people. But what did you do? Continue with the farming season as you always have. Hrafn, you are not some child to misunderstand your own failure here.”
Hrafn grit out, “Our people are not some second-rate pirates to raid planets wantonly. We are a great and powerful militant race. I will not have you spoiled and fat merchants tarnishing our reputation of genuine protection. That is my decree as Drottnari.”
Ein and the other elders bellowed in outrage.
Arri lunged forward, a piercing shriek following the attack. Immediately, Hrafn brandished his scythe, the metallic clash ringing through the throne room. Strength echoed as it sent a thundering shockwave, and some of the council members fled. Ein, Arri, and two younger members stayed in place.
“Soldier to soldier, you will not win,” Arri snarled. “Not someone as weak willed as you.”
Blow for blow, song and shrill warbled through the air as he and Arri evenly matched one another.
They were an amazing warrior, the only one on the council he would even consider an equal. Together they had trained long since their youth, fighting on many battlefields as comrades in arms. But the life of an advisor and Elder made Arri hungry for the sort of might one could not find with a weapon in hand. They longed and thirst for a kind of strength that neither he nor any of the council members could provide, and this resulted in the enormous brutality of their iron fist.
Arri trained the troops and oversaw the success of Hrafn’s guards, any fault among their students yet to be discovered. In all of their years, Arri had perfected the way to terrorize the flaws from the soldiers and turn them into highly cultivated warriors. Cold. Cruel. Brutal. Without a reason to fault Arri’s results, Hrafn had provided accolade after accolade for their success, perhaps just as the council wanted.
The high-pitched squeal of Hrafn’s scythe resounded through the air as it lurched forward into Arri’s offense, the hooked blade having some advantage over the long reach of the narrow spear-blade.
Lip curling over fangs as their two pairs of wings ruffled, Arri snarled. Hrafn refused to accept such intimidation tactics. Arri may scare the fledglings, but when he’d pulled someone out of blood and muck—saved someone from foe and wound— he no longer feared them at their most fierce.
Ducking beneath Arri’s slash, Hrfan rammed the butt of his weapon between their ribs and Arri stumbled back, collapsing on their tail feathers, breath wheezing as a hand flew to their sternum.
“You will stand down,” Hrfan demanded, hooking his scythe behind their neck. “And every one of this council will be reprieved of station immediately. I will no longer tolerate fiends in rule over Bjarnstar.”
He should have paid attention to Ein.
Sudden white hot pain seared through his shoulders, fire branding through every fiber of his back as Ein's falchion withdrew from Hrafn’s upper right wing. The limb hung mangled and nearly sliced in half, strands of meat and skin clutching desperately to the bone. Broken skin and sinew severed enough to cripple any flight.
Arri slammed their body into Hrafn’s, sending him reeling across the throne room. He stumbled and regained his footing only to just barely dodge Ein’s short blade.
Blood seeped past his lips and his tongue flicked over the wound on the inside of his cheek where he’d bitten during the impact. Moving to the defensive, he spread his grip on his scythe.
“See where your pride places you Hrafn,” Ein goaded. “Dead beneath our heels.”
“Not dead yet,” he bit out.
Arri’s loud battle-cry reverberated through the throne room, bouncing off the walls as they rushed forward with a high arched attack. Sparks of dizziness flew through Hrafn’s mind as he threw more strength into each blow, he could feel deeper and deeper need for concentration with each blow he brandished. He could out brute them any day, and in a skirmish like this, he needed only to rely on his advantage of raw strength over their swift agility. But the injury to his wing drained far too much blood and energy. Arri's spear wielding forced him to the defensive—they were quick and relentless, moving faster with each attack. This would be the end.
But as quickly as the fight began, it ended.
Mid-swing, the back of his outer shirt yanked back—someone lifted and towed him out of the throne room at an alarming pace. His yelling outrage and agony made him twist and brand his weapon with carelessness. Damn him not being able to fly right now. He would rather drop at his own behest than be dropped by some cowardly Elder.
“Hrafn, enough!” Trunadur’s voice shook. “I’m taking you to the Star Warp. You will hide on Meotl, they will not find you there, not in time at least.”
“You’re helping me?” Hrafn hissed, stilling.
“In no world am I pleased with attacking my Drottnari…my closest friend,” Trunadur muttered, keeping a firm glance ahead. “They threatened the other guards and staff. My mate. I knew you would not fall even to the best of my attacks. But I did not anticipate you head-on rebuking.”
“I did not chastise them enough.” He winced and gasped out in pain. “They damaged one of my primary wings.”
A whizzing through the air was their only warning before a bolt suddenly collided into Trunadur’s backside. He yelped as they both dropped through the sky, managing to crash land onto a hard outcropping the Star Warp teleportation dock. Hrafn hobbled and pulled his friend to his feet, the both of them stumbling to make their way to the Star Warp that waited just within sight now. Above them, three elders approached faster, their wing beats frantic and rushed.
A growl ripped from Hrfan’s mouth. “Cowards.”
“No time.” Trunadur’s breath labored and he staggered to the control panel sitting innocently on the other side of the Star Warp’s platform. “I’ll punch in the coordinates.”
“You are coming with me, I will not leave you behind.” Hrafn grabbed his shoulder.
His friend shoved him onto the platform with what little strength he had left, and the warlord landed on his broken wing, screeching in pain as the bone crunched further beneath his own weight. His body spasmed.
“Good luck, Hrafn.” Trunadur smiled, his fingers quickly typing in coordinates—
A spear shot out of nowhere and buried itself within Trunadur’s head, straight through temple to temple and into the control panel. The machine droned in disarray, fire and smoke flaring from the damaged controls and dialpad. Landing, Arri kicked the corpse aside and hurried to disengage the teleportation. The other two members, Ein and a younger merchant, rushed the platform now engulfed with spiraling rays from the radiating transporter.
Hrafn shouted as he disappeared, light swallowing him whole and sending him spiraling through space.
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