The rules this week were to pick two sub-genre from the list and mash them together, then roll the dice to choose two must-haves for the story. A reminder from last post, the word count for these exercises is 1k.
I chose Grimdark Fantasy and Picaresque as my sub-genres. A mysterious stranger and a mythological bird ended up being my must-haves.
The more I fleshed this story out, the more I've decided this will be another full-length, work in progress. Thank you Chuck Wendig. I'm inspired. But, because I'm going to move forward with this story, this post may not seem as "completed" or even as "stand alone" as perhaps I would ordinarily edit to. At least, right now it feels a little more Grimdark and a little less Picaresque.
That said, I've written 5k words today. I don't care if I can't keep my stories straight. Mom, Dad, you have dispensation not to read if you don't want. I know these genres aren't your cup of tea.
I offer the following in response: To Capture A Phoenix
Kestrel Kinskiller loosed her breath first and then the arrow, the bowstring plucking a staccato sound like a dampened flattop-box. The hare met a quick end.
She stepped from the undergrowth, slinging her bow across her back, and careened through the drifts to fetch her prey. Kneeling, she placed a hand on the lifeless rabbit and closed her eyes. “I thank you, my brother rabbit, for your life,” she offered her prayer. “I honor your spirit, your strength, and your sacrifice.”
Something snapped behind her. Her hatchet drawn, she spun around, ready to throw and eliminate a threat. “Easy, little sister,” her brother said.
Kestrel returned her hatchet to its frog. “I could’ve killed you, Otter.”
“Why do you think I gave you warning?” he held out the equal halves of a tree branch, one in each hand. “I didn’t want an arrow up my nose.”
She picked up her prey and slipped it into her game bag. “Were you tracking me?”
He tossed the broken branch aside and crossed the clearing in crunch-less footfalls. His mastery of stealth was the envy of the whole tribe, but she found it irritating. Four summers his junior, she could compete on even ground with him in all things except for sneaking. She was quiet, but Otter was kin to a spirit. “If I was?”
He irritated her more when he played games. “Fine, Otter, don’t explain why you’re here.” She dredged through the snow, shoving passed him with a scowl.
He sighed, “All right, yes I was tracking you. There’s no need to be angry.”
She turned, withdrawing into her hood to shield her face from the biting wind. “What do you want?”
“The clan’s wondering what happened to the bride.”
“The wedding’s a while off yet,” she looked to the sun, still high atop the trees. “And our clan won’t object to the extra food for the feast.”
“You’re hoping the wedding will take place without you.”
“If only.” Kestrel’s chest tightened. “But before you lecture me on this union’s importance, you should know that I’ve already been reminded, by clansmen older than you.”
“No, little sister,” Otter held out his hand. “It’s your last chance. If you want out, I’ll help you.”
Otter never offered what he didn’t intend to follow through on. Kestrel swallowed the knot in her throat. “No, I won’t disgrace my clan.”
Otter nodded and said nothing more. The wind picked up and the scent of new snow triggered the instincts of the forest creatures to burrow deep. Kestrel knew it was time to return.
She readjusted the snowmucks on her feet and followed single-file behind her brother. She tasted it first, on the wind; burning pine and ash. Soon, her brother pointed through a break in the treetops. Dark, billowing smoke curled into the sky and threatened to blot out the sun.
“That looks like it’s coming from our longhouses.” Kestrel gasped.
“And the whole clan is there for your wedding.” Otter ran.
Kestrel kept to her brother’s heels. Outside the clan's split-log walls, a group of foreigners fought clansmen in small pockets. “They’re burning our people alive,” Otter said through clenched teeth as they caught their breath at the crest of the last hill. “They’re burning our people alive and murdering those attempting to survive.”
In a swift movement, she hugged her brother. “Die fighting or return victorious,” she recited the clan’s rally to arms.
“I’ll see you at the Great Spirit’s Council Fire.” Otter said.
He ran, his hatchet drawn in one hand and obsidian dagger in the other, straight into the fray. Kestrel drew her bow and loosed a fury of arrows, each one finding a vulnerability in an enemy to exploit. For a moment, the tide of the skirmish looked to shift against the strangers.
A club - a branch? - shattered against her temple and she plunged headfirst into the snow, her bow lobbing into a drift beyond her reach. The edges of her vision blurred and narrowed as a shadow consumed her sight. The weight of a man fell atop her and the grip of strong fingers caught her neck. Unable to pull her hatchet, she clawed and kicked as she fought for air and against the inevitable rape.
The man’s weight disappeared as a dark form collided with her rapist. Kestrel coughed and rolled from her back, blood dripping from her face. She felt for her hatchet, preparing to fend off another attacker, but she fell. Darkness swallowed her whole.
It was night when Kestrel came to. Every inch of her body ached, but her head throbbed the worst. She rolled to her side and peered through a campfire at a pair of men talking. A familiar voice reached her ears. “Easy, little sister.”
“Otter?” She pushed herself up, first to her elbow and then to her waist. “The clan…”
One of the pair merged into her brother’s form as he circle the fire to be at her side. Otter held his waterbladder to her lips. “Drink.”
She sipped and swallowed against her will. “Otter, the clan…”
His eyes confirmed what her instinct already told her. Gone. Her people were gone.
And there was a stranger at the fire.
“Who’s that?” Kestrel asked her brother as the weight of her sorrow tripled on her shoulders.
“He is the man who saved your life.”
The stranger moved into her line of sight. His strange, round eyes flashed in the firelight. His accent was void of music. “Call me Rhogar.”
“Your people attacked us.” She didn’t have the strength to respond with venom. “You spared me but killed my clan.”
Rhogar exchanged a look with Otter. “My people did not attack you. Those men were my enemy, too.”
“You look like them,” she spat. “You smell like them.”
“Kestrel,” Otter interrupted, “They were after the egg.”
Rage swelled in her heart. “They are without honor. Of what use is a phoenix to them?”