The Balance of the Rose - Cover

The Balance of the Rose

Copyright© 2014 by R22CoolGuy

Chapter 6

Karith/Tanith awoke sometime after midnight in a cold sweat. Getting out of bed and trying not to wake anyone else she entered her sitting room and sat down. Something was off, not quite right. She felt weird and bloated and irritable, all at the same time. She felt... , no it could not be that, could it?

Standing up on shaky legs she made her way over to a side passage and down to the end where a large locked door stood. She moved her hands in an intricate pattern and the door opened. Entering the room she noted the heat radiating off of the sand and smiled. When she reached the center of the large cavern she shifted to her true self and began shifting the sand around. Finally satisfied with her efforts she curled up in the mound of sand and rested.

Several hours later she gently stood up revealing two large leathery eggs, one platinum and one polychromatic. The second egg had different hues depending on where she stood in relation to it. A hybrid to be sure, and she wondered what it would be when fully grown.

Karith/Tanith very carefully moved sand over the eggs, knowing it would keep her clutch warm until they hatched. She moved away from the nest and shifted back to bipedal form and stared in awe at what she begat. She closed and sealed the cavern door and hurried back to bed hoping not to disturb anyone.

Karith awoke in a cold sweat, not immediately knowing where or, for that matter, who she was. She was entwined in her bed linens, and it took several deep breaths for her to get her heart rate under control and realize where she was.

"Tanith? Are you still here, separate from me?"

"Yes, but not for much longer. Already I am losing the distinctness of myself. Soon we will be as one, which is how it should be."

"How it should be?" Karith asked, confused. She delayed the real reason for addressing Tanith in light of Tanith's response.

"Yes, it is not normal for two distinct personalities to cohabit the same body."

"You make it sound as though the fact that I am you reincarnated is normal, but our distinct entities are not."

"It is not without precedence. There have been times in our history where a dominant queen has returned in spirit. I believe that during the first-born wars that the Great Queen Ith returned in the form of Queen Erith. In doing so, she sealed the victory for the race of Wyrm against our hated enemy, the Guthard."

"So, this has happened before?"

"Yes, do not fear that I am taking your 'self' away. It is more like we are mingling our essences, but it will be you at the end, with a little of me too. I believe that the reason that this has happened is because we are similar or that our souls are similar, and also because of Mann."

"Our love for him brought us together and merged us into one," Karith stated, while absently nodding her head.

"What was the real reason for calling upon me?"

"We have children - eggs - and they were abandoned?" Karith asked, the original emotion she felt upon waking from the dream had been tempered by the information Tanith had given her.

"Yes and no. I did indeed clutch two eggs, many years ago, but they were not abandoned," Tanith's mental voice projected calmness and reassurance. "They were completely safe and are normally untended."

"I am not sure I understand. Is that how we procreate?"

"Traditionally speaking, yes, and to answer your next question, no, I do not know how you were born. Our race normally produce their offspring as eggs, and when they hatch they are imprinted with the knowledge of their mothers at the time of laying. We do not normally raise our young like humans do, not that we do not know our parents, for I knew my mother but I was not actually raised by her."

"How do they survive as infants?"

"Ah, now I see the confusion and your initial duress. Wyrms hatch as wyrmettes and do not take another form for several years. We can fly as soon as our wing membranes are dry. Our initial sustenance is supplied by the egg yolk but as soon as we are able to we take flight and hunt. Wyrms usually live their lives in our normal shape unless we take a mate that is not Wyrm."

"And you are sure that I am a Wyrm?"

"Yes, everything within me tells me that you are. Even your name is traditional."

"How so?"

"I told you that as an eggling we are imprinted with our knowledge; that includes our names. Female names end in 'ith' and males end with 'rn'."

"But you do not think I came from an egg?"

"No, I said I did not know. There is a difference. You will have to ask your father. There have been instances in our past were our young were bipedal infants and did not shift to Wyrm shape until many years later. It may have something to do with the will of the mother or some type of perceived threat."

"Why do I have no imprinted memories? Why do I not know the things that a Wyrm should know?"

"Perhaps for the same reason that you were not in Wyrm form at birth. Your memories are blocked. Powerful Eldritch was used to do this."

"By my mother?"

"Perhaps, but it matters not. When we become one you will have my imprinted memories, the memories handed down from my mother. With that knowledge you should be able to unlock your other knowledge."

"You said that male Wyrms' names end in 'rn'. That means Tarn is a Wyrm? How is that possible, since you come from a faraway place?"

"I honestly do not know, no more than how you are Wyrm as well. Our race must have populated more than one area. He has great power, so be careful. You are still an infant, even after we merge."

"What do we do?" Karith's voice held panic in it.

"We be careful and we wait. Mann will find us. Now, try this; reach inside of you and feel the bond we share with him. Feel its strength and the love there."

Karith followed the instructions, and sure enough, she felt the invisible bond between her and Mann's souls. She drew strength and love from the bond and felt better than she had since being abducted. She finished her mental conversation and determined that she had all the sleep she would get. Rising from the bed she took care of her morning ablutions and was about to get dressed for the day when Tanith interrupted her.

"Before we go out there are things I wish to show you while I am still separate. Some of them you already know or have seen before. You need to practice with a sword every day to keep yourself sharp. More importantly, you need to practice with Eldritch."

Tanith shared her memories of sword forms and exercise, specifically how she worked with Aaron, or, in deference to Karith, Mann. She demonstrated the practice of techniques for storing and accessing the flow of Eldritch as well, exercising her magical muscles as well as her fighting muscles.

Karith spent several hours practicing the techniques that she was shown until she felt that, while she certainly had not mastered them, she could reproduce the forms and exercises correctly. She also practiced the techniques for strengthening and focusing her use of Eldritch. She put the same concentration unto Eldritch practice as she did with sword and body practice.

She had just finished her new morning routine when she was enveloped in a loving embrace of power and emotion. She was flooded with Mann's intensity and visibly staggered back until she had control of her own emotions.

"My God! His strength and power! It is almost overwhelming."

"Yes, he has become stronger and more focused. His power is affecting me as if it is fusing us..." Tanith's mental voice faded away.

"Tanith? Tanith?"

Karith searched her mind and soul and could sense no separate entity. Tanith was gone, possibly triggered by Mann's touch on the bond, fusing them into one. As predicted she began to get little trickles of an old memory, memories of her previous life. Her soul was whole and wholly hers, Karith was just not completely sure which her. Not that it mattered much, she had continuous memories from both life times. She was Karith, wholly and completely, and she was equally Tanith. They were united as one, and as one they loved their mate and would protect him with every ounce of their being.

Karith finished dressing for the day and marveled at her reflection in the full length mirror. Her reflection was subtly different, not enough for the casual observer to see, but she could and she expected that her father could as well. She surmised, correctly, that the transformation melded her and Tanith's looks into one. She studied her reflection for a few more moments until her stomach grumbled and left her room in search of breakfast.

Ciril and Damijan reached the inn on the border of the Duchy of Milan, the last known location of their two brethren. They searched the area and after finding nothing of import, continued on the road entering the lands of the Duchy. The trail they were following abruptly ended in the middle of the road. A detailed searched revealed no trace of either Gregor or Henrik in the surrounding area. The two sorcerers pondered their options and decided their best course of action was to return to Castle Wallachia and report their findings to their master.

Mann was up at daybreak and after a quick cold meal he broke camp and packed everything away before mounting Thorn and continuing on toward Milan. He rode off after ensuring that nothing was left to mark his stay. The tree canopy continued to extend well over the road on either side creating a tunnel through the forest. The trees began to thin out as the road opened up dropping down into a wide valley, still traveling in a north-easterly direction. He passed farms, orchards and vineyards as he continued to travel toward his immediate destination. He planned to find a caravan heading north through the Alps and hire on to accompany it.

Milan, the capitol of the duchy, was situated in the northwest portion of the alluvial plain of the Po Valley between several rivers and was at the crossroads of the overland trade routes from the Central Alps to places south. The city prided itself as the center of quality luxury items, including wool, silk, and armor. Rule of the duchy had passed to Austria some fifty years prior and it was not uncommon to find Austrian nobles frequenting the area. During the height of summer, members of the Austrian royal family routinely vacationed in Milan.

The city was built on the flat plain of the Po Valley behind fortified walls surrounded by dry moats. The entrance to the city was across a stone bridge and through two large gates that were manned day and night and were closed at sunset each day. A regional governor from Austria now oversaw the day-to-day running of the formerly independent principality.

Mann made good progress and arrived at the city's gates in the mid afternoon. There was a steady flow of traffic into and out of the city as he made his way toward the bridge. Several trade caravans had made camp on the grounds just outside of the gates and impromptu open-air markets had popped up selling the wares from both Italy south of Milan and places north across the Alps.

Mann picked his way through the throng of people and entered the city searching for an inn and stable. He stopped and got directions from one of the city guards stationed at the gates and continued on toward a recommended inn. As he passed an alleyway on his left he thought he saw a flash of metal but shrugged it off until Thorn abruptly stopped. His mount threw its head up and down and backed up several steps. The horse turned to the left and started down the alleyway. Mann tried to turn Thorn around but the horse was having none of it. He then heard sword play ahead and to the right and prepared himself as Thorn navigated the alleyway.

Thorn turned the corner and the alleyway opened up into a large courtyard with several doors. At the far side of the courtyard a small battle was underway. A young man brandishing a sword protected a young woman huddling in an alcove surrounded by six attackers. Four dead bodies littered the ground behind the attackers. He swung his leg over the saddle and slid down Thorn's side and slowly approached the altercation, drawing power.

"Is this a private affair, or can anyone join?" he asked, drawing Caledor.

"This does not concern you," one of the assailants responded, turning toward Mann and pointing at the dead bodies. "Leave before you join them."

His voice was somewhat muffled due to the crimson scarf wrapped around his face just below his eyes. All of the assailants were likewise disguised. They were uniformly dressed in grey pants and shirts as well as grey cloaks. Some type of organization, Mann mused as he continued to draw more power.

"Help us!" the young woman called out. "They killed our escorts and want to kidnap me!"

"Well, now it does concern me," Mann replied, smiling a feral grin. "I am a pushover for a damsel in distress."

"Get him!" the spokesman and apparent leader ordered his men.

Two of the assailants turned and attacked Mann who pulled his dagger and blocked the downward hack of the attacker to his left. He swept Caledor upward to his right cleaving through the second attacker's sword and chest, severing his spine. The second assailant crumpled to the ground screaming, while Mann altered the direction of Caledor's swing and brought it back downward to his left catching the first attacker at the base of his neck, decapitating him. Mann stepped forward drawing more power as the body dropped the ground.

"Next," he announced nonchalantly as Caledor burst into golden flames as its runes began to glow with a silver light, feeding off of Mann's power. "Come, I am hungry and you are holding up my supper."

Mann noted that the young man, mid-teens probably, was doing quite well in keeping his assailants at bay. The alcove was a natural defensive position, allowing no more than two attackers in at a time, and keeping the superior numbers from flanking him. The young woman held a dagger and knew how to use it, striking for blood anytime anyone stepped too close. Mann smiled when he heard a scream signifying that the young woman had struck again.

Two more of the would-be kidnappers turned and attacked Mann. This time they attacked together, spreading out and coming at his flanks. Mann slashed his attacker on the left with the dagger, across the throat with a downward backswing. The dagger lodged in the collarbone and Mann released his grip as the falling body began to pull the dagger away. He turned toward his attacker on the right even before the other body hit the ground. Bringing Caledor up to block his assailant, he pushed the attacker's sword away and punched him in the nose. The kidnapper staggered back from the blow and died when Mann thrust outward with Caledor skewering him in the chest.

"Four down, two to go," Mann laughed as he approached the last two.

The young man dispatched one of the two men remaining, leaving the spokesman for Mann. He attacked with a sweeping slice of his sword which Mann quickly turned aside. The leader stepped to his right, too close to the young woman, who lashed out with her dagger, slicing him deeply across the calf. The man screamed as he stumbled forward to his left, where Mann finished him off with a thrust of Caledor to his heart.

Mann nodded to the two young people and turned to retrieve his dagger when he heard the sound of many feet as a small squad of men entered the courtyard of the alleyway and fanned out.

"Hold!" the man in front commanded as they approached Mann who slowly turned and faced the new threat.

"Benito, it is all right. He is our rescuer," the young woman called out, standing up and pointing toward the masked men. "These men attacked us and this man here prevented ... only our Lord and Savior knows what."

"Are you alright, your highness?" Benito asked bowing before the young woman, as his men searched the dead.

"Yes, thanks to Alexander and our rescuer," she replied and turned toward Mann. "My name is Maria Elisabeth, Archduchess of Austria and this is my cousin, Alexander."

"My name is Mann, your highness," Mann replied bringing Caledor's hilt up to his chin and then sweeping the sword down to his right side, blade down and tip out. "I hail from Savoy."

"Your highness, one of the masked men is Corvin," a guard announced looking up from a body.

"Corvin?" Alexander asked incredulously. "I do not understand?"

"He betrayed us, Alexander," Maria interjected. "Whose idea was it to go shopping today? Whose idea was it to visit an out of the way shop? He set this up to kidnap us or worse."

"But why?" Alexander asked rhetorically. "He was my personal assistant."

"He may have been a plant, your highness," Benito added and turned to Mann. "I am Benito, Captain of the Guard, and we are in your debt."

"Speaking of which, how did you know where to find the Archduke and Archduchess?" Mann nodded and asked.

"We heard the fighting, well, the screaming, echoing off of the walls," Benito explained. "We came running, fearing the worst. I thought it strange that they did not use a carriage and went out looking for them."

"That was Corvin's suggestion as well," Maria announced, disgust obvious in her tone.

"Your highnesses, we need to return to the confines of the castle," Benito implored. "It may not be safe here."

"Not without the bodies of our guards," Alexander stated, firmly.

"Signore Mann, will you accompany us?" Maria asked.

"Yes, your highness," Mann nodded, sheathing his sword. "I will see you back to your castle."

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