Monday, 03 October 2011 04:21

"Guards to a Goddess" excerpt from "Imperial Odyssey - The War of Twelve"

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Chapter 3

Guards to a Goddess

            Harp stood outside a large metal door, waiting. The massive hallways of the palace dwarfed him as he silently stood in their midst. None of the beautiful paintings, nor the impressive sculptures, or even the age-defining architecture affected Harp. Only the door and what lay behind it captivated his thoughts.

            He did not know why he stood outside, or why on this particular occasion he was afraid to enter. He had always been welcomed, and even considered it his home. But something was holding him back, something Harp did not quite understand. A strange nervousness took hold of him, pulling him away from the joy he would find behind the door. Forcefully he closed his eyes and took a step forward, acting as if he stepped onto the gallows. Harp extended an uneasy hand and pushed open the thin metal entrance, lightly scraping his fingers against its cold frame.

            The Queensmen was greeted by the firm melody of a beautiful piano as his feet pressed against the soft carpet of the room. Its sweet, succulent sounds drifted through the air, floating gracefully with each note and lingering for what seemed like a lifetime. Primavera quietly eased away Harp’s doubts, reviving his confidence with its tender lullaby. The crisp song, slow and beautiful, engulfed the room in a blanket of sweetness. Its exquisite tone was nothing short of a privilege to hear. He gradually inched into the room and found a seat on a small couch, turning his eyes toward the grand piano dominating the corner.

            A young lady with perfect posture sat on the bench of the piano. Her golden hair flickered to the center of her back, drenching her shoulders in a perfect cocoon of silk. Her frosty blue eyes focused intently on the sheet of music before her, picking out each note as she went along. Her fingers gracefully danced over the keyboard, effortlessly commanding it to her will. Although she touched the keys ever so lightly the powerful tune of the piano could not be questioned.

            She was wrapped in a bright green blouse, decorated with a white fringe. Transparent green gloves climbed down from the tops of her arms to the very tips of her fingers. A green and white skirt hung loosely from her waist and fell past her knees. Her legs were covered with candy apple boots ornamented with a set of spikes. Her entire outfit of green and white flowed flawlessly with every movement of her body, beautiful, alluring.

            The last note of the song was struck, ringing in the air for several moments. The young woman sat still on the bench, staring at the music as the last note faded into history. Her expression dissolved from joy to emptiness as she gazed at the completed song, gawking like a helpless infant.

            Slowly and silently she raised herself from the bench and turned toward a door-less archway hidden behind Harp. She quickly walked past as if she didn't notice he was sitting there. Silently, he watched as she walked, disappearing into the archway like the Shadowy Figure. He waited for a moment before lifting himself from the couch and following her.

            As Harp walked through the archway he found himself standing at the end of a thirty-yard archery range. At the very end of the range was a lone target no larger than a sheet of paper. The red bull's-eye, which was about the size of a fifty-cent piece, was barely seen at such a distance. Small orange lights illuminated the entire range, but only enough to see the target, adding to the challenge of such a difficult shot.

            The young lady sat on her knees, kneeling down to a black case shaped like a half moon. Eagerly she unfastened the latches securing the black shell, opening them one by one. When the last latch popped open the young woman reached inside and pulled out a bow, lifting it like a prized heirloom.

            The bow stood four feet tall and was made of wood. It had been painted bright green, matching the young woman's bright clothes, and outlined with a gold fringe. The word “Arrow” was carved into the thick black handle and painted over in white. The string of the bow was made from a high-tension wire not commonly found in archery, effortlessly bending back the wooden weapon.

            Sitting next to the bow was a green, leathery quiver, filled to the top with arrows. Each arrow was painted green with bright white feathers and a white arrowhead. Unlike the bow they were all made from a lightweight metal, clanking together with a metallic ring as she clutched the strap.

            The young woman slowly rose to her feet, clinching the bow in one hand and wrapping the quiver around her shoulder. She walked to the end of the archery range and peered down at the target. After examining it for a moment, she reached over her shoulder and snagged an arrow. Drawing it from her quiver she fixed the arrow to the string of her bow, snapping it in place. With a steady arm and an outstretched finger, she aimed downrange at the target.

            The young woman clenched the string with two fingers and pulled back, keeping perfect posture and aim. After holding the string for a moment she released, sending the arrow flying downrange. The small spear whistled through the air as it sped off towards the target, moving like a bullet. In less than a second it had cleared the thirty yards and planted itself in the center of the bull's-eye. The impact was so fierce Harp heard the echo of a loud thump reverberate through the range.

            “Long day?” he asked. The young woman shook her head.

            “I was up at five like normal. I heard you were back from the mission, but I knew you needed time to prepare for your meeting with the Queen.”

            “Arrow,” Harp said. The young lady turned her glittering blue eyes away from the target and looked up at Harp. As they met a small smile grew across her face. “I missed you.” Her smile exploded and her blue eyes filled with happiness once again. The gills on her neck flared as her breathing increased, sparked by pure delight. She blushed, embarrassed, and turned away to face the target.

            “Did you come down here to flirt or did you have purpose?” Her voice filled with playfulness. Carelessly she reached around her shoulder and gripped another arrow. This time, in somewhat of a rush, she strung the missile to the bow and pulled back. Taking half the time to aim, she released her second shot. The arrow soared through the air, whistling as it flew to the target. The arrow landed in the bull's-eye, just as the first.

            “Nice shot,” Harp complemented. Arrow shrugged her shoulders and looked back at him.

            “It's not like you haven't seen me do that before,” she said, unimpressed with her own skill. One last time Arrow reached over her shoulder and grabbed a last projectile. This time, faster than her two previous shots, Arrow quickly snapped the shot to the string and pulled back. Quickly, she released her third shot and sent it flying downrange. This arrow found its mark perfectly just as the other two, burrowing into the tiny red circle in the center of the target.

            Arrow shrugged her shoulders as Harp stood in amazement. It was a display of her natural skill, something Harp felt was a unique gift. It was one of the many reasons he loved her...one of the many reasons he would die for her.

            She turned away and marched back to her case. Kneeling gently on the ground, she carefully took off her quiver and placed it nearby, easing it into its resting spot. She lowered the bow inside as if it was a precious gem, and tenderly lowered the lid. As she clasped the latches shut, Arrow looked back up at Harp and smiled once again.

            “I'm glad to see the mission hasn't taken my Harp away from me." Harp couldn't find the words to respond, so instead he extended his hand outward for her to grab. As soon as he felt her hand in his, he quickly pulled her to her feet, leaned down and kissed her. The warmth of her lips was something he had longed for every time they were separated; her gentle touch was the key to his happiness.

            As the two embraced, Arrow met Harp's eyes with question. “You never answered me,” she said, sarcastically forcing an adorable look of annoyance. Harp thought for a moment of how his reply might sound. He himself didn't want to believe it, but either way it was the truth.

            “We're going to chase a legend,” he finally responded with a sly tone. Satisfied with his answer, Arrow wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him again.

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