Rider of the Roc- A Fallen Story
This was going to be included in Mark of the Fallen, the second Fallen novel. It was too long but I like the idea of knowing something about Celeste before all of the tragedy.
Rider of the Roc: A Fallen Story
Pontus, Near Euxine Sea
(Modern Day Turkey near the Black Sea)
She cracked her knuckles and narrowed her eyes against the sun as the crowd gathered around the dusty circle that acted as a training floor. She held up her hand, shielding her eyes as she watched the other girl move in from the opposite side of the circle. She was taller by more than two feet, with long curling blond hair that was pulled away from her beautiful young face. She wore the gold breast plate that all of the warriors wore, her legs encased in dark trousers, a long sword belted to her hip.
The little one wore no armor. She only wore the dark trousers and a dark tunic belted at her tiny waist. Her own dark hair was pulled back in intricate and delicate braids; her cherubic face was blank as she stared with those unnerving blue eyes. She tilted her head curiously as the blond slowly withdrew her sword and took a defensive stance. The weapon -less girl smiled shrugged and took her own stance in preparation for battle. She watched, a hint of amusement curling her lips, as the taller girl slowly approached, circling to her left. He approached was reminiscent of the way one might approach a deadly animal. Though she watched, the little one never moved, she just waited. When she girl charged her, darting swiftly and silently at her, she easily dodged what would have been a deadly blow to her chest.
On nimble toes, the little one danced away as blow after blow flew at her in rapid succession. She spun around so that she stood behind her attacker, giggling; she gave the girl a swift kick in her rear. The blond fell face first into the dirt to a chorus of giggles from the crowd.
She sprang to her feet, her pretty face creased in anger as she advanced again, swinging wildly. The sword’s blade barely skimmed the little ones cheek, seconds before she struck. She grabbed the tall woman’s wrist as she thrust the sword forward. Thrown off balance and startled by the motion, she was pulled closer to the girl who swung her elbow up into her nose. Stunned, she dropped her weapon and grabbed her nose as blood streamed between her fingers. She watched in stunned silence as the child picked up the sword and handed it to her. She stared at the bleeding woman with large, innocent eyes and waited.
The endearing look on that lovely little face piqued her anger and in a fit of rage she charge, striking the child across the cheek with the sword, leaving a gapping gash. There was a collective gasp from the crowd as the girl crumbled like a sack of potatoes, lifting her hand to the bleeding wound. She stared at the fresh blood on her delicate fingertips, stunned. She turned, those bright blue eyes so dark now that they were nearly black, and snarled at the woman standing above her. Swallowing hard, she dropped the sword and took a nervous step backward. The girl rose slowly, wiping the back of her hand over the already healing wound, spreading the blood across her cheek.
“Calie-“The blond began but the rest of her words were lost as she hit the ground. The girl, Calie was on her chest, her boney knees pinning her shoulders to the ground. She was surprisingly strong for one so small. She narrowed her eyes, her face within inches of the woman. She smiled, exposing long delicate fangs, and gently stroked the blond curls.
“I could rip your heart out without blinking an eye, never forget that.” She growled and the blonds’ blood went cold. “I will take your head off next time, little one.” The blond returned the growl, her own dark eyes narrowing in defiance.
“You do not scare me at all.” She bit, though they both knew that to be a lie. Calie placed tiny, but strong hands around the woman’s throat and gave a squeeze. She watched with something close to fascination as the woman kicked and struggled for air. She tightened her grasp, watching as the blonds’ face turned a bright red as she fought to breath.
The crowd began to mummer as the two, locked in silent combat lay still at the center of circle. At the far end, the crowd parted as a young woman with startling auburn hair and silver grey eyes made her way to the front. She narrowed her eyes for a moment, taking in the woman struggling beneath the little girl and her eyes widened.
“Calie that is enough!” She barked and the girl glanced at her briefly. “Calie, that is an order from your Queen.” She shouted and the girl loosened her grip.
“Try to harm me again and I will not be so gentle.” Calie said close to her ear. “This I promise you, little sister.” She gave the girl a feather soft kiss on the cheek before rising.
“This demonstration serves as a lesson to you all,” Hippolyta spoke in a commanding voice to the novice warriors surrounding the circle,” Size does not always win in combat. Cunning and strength can be a sharper weapon than any sword in battle.” She looked at the girl smiled. “Thank you Calie.”
As Calie walked away, her back straight, her head held high, Sanapa sat up and watched her. She joined the Queen, bowing her obedience before following her away from the training ground.
“I swear on the Goddess Nemesis,” she thought “I will see her dead.” Gathering her things she stormed off in the opposite direction.
Calie sat at her queen’s feet as a maid brushed her hair thick jet hair into shining waves. “Calie, you must not let things like that happen.” The queen was saying as her own servant prepared her for her bath.
“Lyta, she struck me on purpose. She wanted to harm me.” She said matter of factly. For one so small, she had the air of an old soul. Sometime Lyta forgot that she was much much younger than Calie. Just looking at her child like feature, once could easily forget the centuries she had already lived.
“I understand that Sanapa is jealous of you-“Calie snorted.
“She hates me.” She corrected and Lyta conceded that argument. This was a conversation they had daily. Ever since Hippolyta was made Queen on the Amazons, Sanapa, one of her generals, had waged a war of wills against little Calie. Always jealous of Calie’s closeness to the queen, she had tried her best to undermine their relationship. Calie had been council to several queens before Lyta. Their bond was made even closer because they were cousins of sorts. Calie was the daughter of Nemesis, Granddaughter of Nyx, Hippolyta the daughter of Ares. They were both born of the divine, a bond that could not be broken easily.
“But she is one of my most trusted warriors.” Calie stared at her queen with sharp intelligent eyes.
“Hippolyta, that girl will cause your downfall if you are not careful .Her vengeance against me will tear this village apart.” She said and Lyta paused before stepping into the heated water of her bath.
“You are so sure that Sanapa would betray me?”
“Yes. You keep your eye on her, Lyta. She is not to be trusted.”
Lyta eyed the girl, a smile playing at her lips. “You will make a great queen one day little Calie.” Hipolyta made her way to the steaming bath her maids had prepared for her. Calie snorted her derision,
“I am no Queen, Lyta. I was born to be a warrior. You will see after my trial. “ She said and left the room. Lyta looked after the little girl who was already older and wiser than most of her council. Deep down, she knew that Calie was correct. As small as she was, she was more valuable as a warrior and strategist than she would ever be as a Queen. Calie was finally having her warrior’s trail at dawn, it was the e last step before a novice was allowed into battle. Many queens had promised Calie she would be allowed to fight, but all had backed away out of fear. Fear of Nyx’s wraith is harm befell Calie, fear that she would become too powerful a leader, fear of what would happen if others knew who Calie really was. All except Hippolyta who could see that this girl, this tiny girl, was destined for greatness. She just needed her general to see that.
She sat at the bow of the ship as it bobbed gently across the water towards the tree covered island which was there ultimate destination. She looked up at the dark shadow of Ares’ temple high atop the stony mountain at the center of the island. The reflection of the moon smiled up at her from the soft waves. As she stared into the depths of the black surface came into view just over her shoulder. She smiled without turning , knowing that she would be there.
“Hello Grandmother.” she said in pitch perfect Greek before turning to face the pale, dark haired woman with swirling blue eyes. Ash she turned, the woman opened her arms to her enveloping her in the warmth of her embrace.
“Hello, my little Calie.” She said, kissing the top of the girl's head. “Ah, you have grown.” She cooed. Calie looked up at her, a mischievous glint in her own glowing blue eyes. This was there ritual , every time her grandmother would appear, she would coo about Calie's growth when both new the girl had not grown in nearly a century. At her advanced age, Calie still had the body of a girl who had yet to reach her seventh or eighth year.
“Grandmother, I have not grown in nearly four decades. What are you doing here? The others will see you.” She whispered. Clicking her tongue, she sat beside the girl in the ships rail as it bobbed smoothly along the water.
“You think I do not know to appear without the mortals seeing me? I am the night, for heaven's sake. I came to give you drink. You will need your strength for what Hippolyta has planned for you.” She said and Calie shook her head.
“Grandmother, I have been fed by Lyta.” Again the dismissive click of a tongue.
“You will need your strength dear one. Please, humor your old grandmother. Now, here,” she ran a fingernail over her wrist, thinly slicing the delicate pale skin. As blood pooled from the wound, Calie licked her lips. Lifting the wound to her mouth, she drank deeply. As she feed, Nyx stroked the girl' dark hair and smiled.
“You are very special, my dear Calie. There are things you will do in this world that no other will do. You are a gift to me, never forget that. No matter what befalls you in this world, remember that you are more precious to me than anything else in this world or the next.”
Once the girl finished feeding, she sat up and looked into the eyes so similar to hers and smiled. Their eyes and dark hair were the only things that linked them as kin. Nyx had pale luminescent skin, where Calie's was the color of burnished gold. She had the regal features of bother her Greek and Egyptian ancestors which gave her a very unique and ethereal look.
“Remember that Calie. I will protect you as much as I can, but there are something’s you will have to learn on your own. Like this trial tomorrow. Your task will be difficult and no other has been given such an arduous task. You my little goddess are the only one capable of accomplishing it. Understand?” She nodded and Nyx held her face, gently kissing her forehead.
“You rest now my sweet one. “ Calie obeyed, laying her head in the gently folds of silk that draped her grandmother's lap, closing her eyes and drifting off into restful sleep.
Sanapa stood back and watched with something close to contrition as Lyta and some of her guards assisted Calie into her specially made armor. Her breast plate was red, where the others wore gold. She wore nothing on her arms or legs, opting for the short leather skirt the warriors wore in battle and her quiver and bow were of the softest dark leather she had ever seen.
The women giggled and chatted as they laced Calie’s sandals around her thin calves. Her sword belt and sword were secured to her thin hips and her hair was braided and pulled away from her face. She was also given a small leather satchel of food and drinking water, that as secured to her waist.
This was the way all novices were prepared for their tasks. Only there were usually more than one. Sanapa’s group had been of eight, only six survived the trapping of a gryphon. Sanapa still bore a scar on her arm from that ordeal.
When it had been decided that Calie would be given her test at full fledged warrior, she would go in alone. If sent in with other novices, she would dominate the task. It would not be fair to the others. Instead, Lyta and her sister Antiope had crafted a task that only someone with Calie’s abilities could have any hope of completing.
“Now,” Hippolyta was saying, her hand on Calie’s narrow shoulders before she boarded the tiny boat that would row her ashore. “You are to climb to the peak of Ares’ temple and retrieve a tail feather from the Roc.” As if it knew Lyta has spoken its name, the colossal bird cawed loud enough to rattle Calie to her bones.
She kissed the girl on both cheeks and took a step back. In turn each of the twelve members of Lyta’s guard repeated the action s, until Sanapa, the final member of their party stepped forward. The smile plastered on her lips was forced and artificial, her eyes cold as she kissed Calie on one cheek then the other.
“May the Gods be with you, little Calie.” She said. “May they curse you to hell.” She whispered into Calie’s ear before moving away from the girl.
Calie pulled the small boat to shore and tied it down so that it would not drift away on the current before looking up at the looming task ahead. The path to the temple was over grown and full of barbed bushed and low hanging branches. She glanced back at the waiting ship, then up at the sun still rising above the clouds. She needed to get as close to the peak before the heat of the jungle made it unbearable. Sighing heavily, she surged forward.
She had not remembered the path to the temple being this over grown and hot. She looked down at her legs where scratched bled and healed constantly. Feeling tired already from the stifling heat, she drew her sword and hacked through the thick underbrush and moved forward. At this rate, it would be nearly mid day before she reached the rocky path at the peak of the mountain. Doubling her efforts, she moved with her god-like speed through the trees. She had not been told that she could not use her special abilities, she thought as the break in the trees appeared.
Sweat beaded beneath the breast plate and loose strands of hair stuck to her sweaty face as she sat on a rock to drink cool water from the leather pouch at her waist. Sitting on a rock, she stared the ahead at the temple. It would be another hour up rocky terrain in the unbearable heat before she reached it. As she rested, she stared at the peaked roof of the temple. From where she sat she could see the lunch creeping vines that wound up the pillars supporting the roof and wondered if those vines could support her slight frame. As she contemplated that possibility a slight movement caught her eyes. A bird, she thought. Smaller than the Roc, but bigger than a normal bird. As she watched another flew into view, then another, soon there were at least a half dozen plump birds flapping and flying around the temple. They did not disturb the Roc and it paid no attention to them either. One of the birds soared into the air, the gold of metallic feathers catching the sunlight and Calie cursed. Stymphalian Birds.
“Of Course.” She mumbled as the bird floated back down to earth. “Because one gargantuan killer bird is not enough.” The man eating, bronze beaked birds were special pets of Ares. They were big and mean, with sharp feathers they could launch as accurately as she could an arrow. The feathers were as poisonous as they putrid droppings. They were not supposed to be here she thought, they had migrated to Arcadia. But of course Ares would enjoy pitting his birds against her. It was his pleasure to assist in a task. He always obliged his daughters with such magical monsters.
“Damn you, Ares.” She grumbled and if she had not know better, she could have sworn she heard his deep hearty chuckle in her head.
She reached into her leather pouch and found grapes and dates. Sitting on the rock in the heat, she watched those blasted birds and planned her strategy. If nothing else, she did inherit her parent’s strategic minds. She watched the birds until she heard something rustle in the bushes at her back. She turned slightly, her eyes darting to the head of a rabbit moving to the edge of the woods. He wiggled his nose and she realized her smelled her lunch and come to investigate. She turned her eyes back to the birds, a smile spread across her face as a plan quickly formed.
Over an hour later, she took off up the steep rocky path to the temple, four plump rabbit’s held tightly in one hand. It had not taken her anytime to track and kill the rabbits once her plan had formed. She smiled to herself, even as sweat pooled at the small of her thin back. She tugged uncomfortably at the metal breast plate, but the smile never left her lips. She was going to do this and she was going to become a full fledged Amazon warrior. No more novice trainer, she had seen hundred of girls come and go, and now after centuries of being among the warriors she would be one.
The sun was lower in the sky as she approached the temple, watching as the birds seemed to frolic around the temple. The temple itself stood near a cliff and faced the sea. She watched a four of the birds hung around the entrance as two others drifted lazily overhead. To her they looked like some weird cross between a dodo and a turkey. Heavy, white- bellied and ugly with a buzzards beak and a beady ugly eyes. Their jowly faces were in sharp contrast to the beautiful delicate glint of the golden feather, some of which littered the ground around the temple. Another idea sparked and she tossed on rabbit toward the cliff, hoping she hadn’t tossed it hard enough that it would go over the edge. When the furry body hit the ground with a thud, she winced as all six of the birds attacked. She quickly tossed the rest of the rabbits and several broke away from the throng to feast on this new additions.
Moving a swiftly and as quietly as a mouse, Calie carefully scooped up several of the discarded feathers before moving to the back of the temple where thick vines twisted up marble walls. She stared for awhile, then looked at her sandal clad feet. They were already cut and bleeding from her trek, getting up the wall would be impossible with the sweat and blood slicked leather. She made quick work of untying them; she wound the ties around the soles and tucked the shoes into her belt at her back. The feathers she had collected carefully jointed the arrows in her quiver.
Exhaling, she reached for the vines and began her slow and steady climb to the roof. As she struggled, she cursed Ares, Hippolyta her grandmother, the birds and the Amazons for such a difficult task. “Only you can accomplish this, Calie.” She mocked her grandmother’s tone. “May the Gods be with you.” She echoed in Lyta’s light and airy voice.
“Do not be an unkind child.” She heard her grandmother’s voice as clearly as if she were beside her. “You are doing very well.” Nyx said with laughter in her voice. Even though she could not been seen, Calie knew that she was there, watching. She would not assist, she would only observe. Calie could picture Nyx’s young lineless face, her smile wide and bright, and the slight lift to one dark eyebrow.
“Yes grandmother.” She mumbled. “But when I am done, I will gladly kick Ares in his rear.” She said and redoubled her efforts to get to the roof.
When she reached the eaves of the roof and managed to pull herself up, the sun was already beginning its descent, and she could see in the distance the moon beginning to peak over the horizon and her heart raced. That’s when she heard them. The shrill cries of the birds as one, then another landed on the roof no more than three feet away. Slowly she reached into her quiver, drawing a feather out. They stared at her curiously, the bronze of their beaks still stained with the blood of the rabbits and possibly other meals, she realized.
One of the birds, the large of the two rose, and she could see feathers lifting, he was going to launch them at her. She let the feather fly, striking the bird in the tender unguarded flesh just beneath his neck and it dropped like a stone. Rolling down the side of the roof, it landed on the ground below with a resounding thwack.
She waited for the next inevitable attack, instead the fat little ugly bird flew over the edge after his fallen brother. Calie moved as close to the edge as she could without tumbling over herself to see the feeding frenzy below. The others were eating him with a fervor they had not given to the rabbits they’d devoured earlier. Sick to her stomach she moved back to the peak of the roof and for the first time, saw the nest.
It was nearly as long and wide as the roof, made of soft moss and twigs. She had not paid much attention to it before because she was too focused on those fat golden buzzards, but now she stared in awe at the sheer size of it.
The Roc lay in the center of the nest, its head buried beneath snowy white feathers. She slowly approached, her sword drawn. Leaning over as far as she could, she gave the bird a poke. It did not even flinch. She could hear the flapping of wings as the birds returned to the roof and without a moment’s hesitation. Calie dove head first into the nest.
She peered over the edge every so often, watching as they paced back and forth, but none coming close to the nest. They were afraid of the Roc. Not that she could blame them, she was terrified. They paced and cawed, but none of the five remaining birds made any move to come closer. She could, she supposed, kill another, but she had no time. The sun was fading fast and she needed a tail feather. And once she got the feather, how would she get down and back to the boat in time.
She was so deep in thought; she had noticed that the squawking had stopped. She looked over the edge of the nest to see that they were gone. When had they left? Why had they gone? She need not ponder that question any longer as she felt movement behind her. Turning slowly, Calie looked into the large dark open eye of the Roc.
He was awake. And he was watching her.
Lyta looked up at the sky, the moon was rising and Calie had not returned. “Perhaps her task was too hard.” Sanapa was saying. “Even the mightiest soldier can fall in battle.” She said.
“Quiet, Sanapa.” Antiope barked, as she placed a comforting arm around her sister’s shoulders. “She still has time, Lyta.”Antiope assured. As she spoke, her own heart dropped as the Roc rose, cawed loudly and took flight. It rose higher and higher into the dusky sky then circled the island. It was majestic with its snowy white feathers, soaring through the sky with ease.
“Is it flying rather low?” Areto, Lyta’s second in command asked.
“Yes,” Antiope agreed. “It is. It is coming at us.”
“Raise the anchor!” Lyta screamed and the crew began to move swiftly preparing the ship for sail.
“Hoist the sails!” Lyta was yelling as the Roc landed in the water a few feet from the ship. It was wider and longer than their vessel and Lyta could feel her heart in her throat. “We are all going to die.” Sanapa mumbled. “I told you that child would be the death of us!”
The Roc titled its head as if it were listening to something, then lifted its head proudly and cawed softly, its large dark eyes scanning the ship. The women on board prepared for battle, drawing weapons, until the bird lift a wing extending it to the ships rail almost like a bridge. The boat pitched down and they all scrambled to stay on their feet as a head appeared at the neck of the bird. She stood with her hands on delicate hips and said something that only she and the bird understood, it nodded its head as if in agreement and the crew slowly lowered their weapons.
“I did not have time for a tail feather. Will an entire Roc do?” Calie asked with a giggle and the ship’s crew roared