Friends & Family Chapter 1.1: Stealth and Seduction

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1.1

High above Valec the Fallen, nestled into the sheer cliffs that defined the northwest edge of Barata, seven angry sentry fires burned along the ramparts of the fortress the humans called "Jaladurga." And somewhere in the shadows beneath those wind-whipped fires, human eyes peered through slots in the stonework. Soldiers stared into the moonless night, searching the black waves of the Northern Sea for foes.

Valec smiled as he pictured the imbeciles futilely scanning for enemies in ships much, much larger than the kayak that carried him across the sea. Yet he was a foe far more dangerous than a whole fleet of warships loaded with warriors. And soon, the entire regiment, smug and secure inside their impenetrable fortress, would be dead.

Arrogance. The great hubris of humanity. It was a weakness Valec could count upon. Human minds might be too powerful for his runic magic to control, but there were other ways to defeat these children of the Earthmother—even before the great red dracosi, Deamhan, rained fire and terror from the skies.

Still, Valec's approach was not free of danger. His race was so long-lived that the lesser creatures of the universe believed the Nephilim immortal. But like all living creatures, he would meet his death one day. He was not impervious to time, and he certainly wasn't invulnerable to the blades and arrows of these humans.

So Valec had minimized his risk. He had taken precautions to guarantee his invisibility on the open water. Black seal skins covered his kayak. His paddle was made from ebony. A black, hooded cloak concealed his milk-white skin.

The nephal had bent the Earthmother's forces to his purposes, as well. Unlike the inland waters of the Cheval-de-frise, the warmer waters of the Northern Sea were already free from ice. Thick wads of fog condensed from the cooler skies and rolled across the surface of the tepid sea like a gathering of ghosts, masking whatever traveled beneath them. The overcast skies also obscured the stars. And Valec had planned carefully, choosing to travel beneath the new moon. Even if the sentries were able to see past the fog, he would still be safe. The nephal and his boat were a black dot atop a black surface on the darkest night of the month.

Only a careless sound could warn the humans of his approach. So Valec proceeded cautiously, repeatedly dipping each paddle tip into the water without a splash until his kayak drew alongside the cliff. The current pushed him into the rock face again and again, but the seal skins did their job and muffled any noise the collisions wanted to make.

Hand over hand, Valec groped along the rocky crags and pulled the kayak forward. He poked his fingers into every nook and cranny until he finally found what he was seeking. A perfectly round hole cut into the cliff. The hole was slightly larger than his fist and perfectly smooth on the inside, the work of a master mason.

Valec thrust his boy-sized arm into the hole, glad the Vamanan, the creators of this keyhole and what lay behind it, were a race of beings who rivaled him in size. If they were any taller, he would have failed. But when his bicep grazed the outside edge of the hole, the hand he had inserted finally touched something cold. He wrapped his fingers around his discovery, a metal bar, and twisted to the left.

A quarter turn later, Valec felt something click. He withdrew his arm and waited. Soon, two phosphorescent-blue lines, one slightly smaller and inside the other, curved before him on the cliff face. The glowing arch they made was ten feet tall and ten feet wide, and between the two lines, a line of script written in one of the long-lost languages glowed orange. The nephal pressed his hand against the wall and whispered, "Ath-chruth!" He laughed as the letters shifted into a text he could understand:

I am the sputtering sliver of light

The flame holding back the eternal night,

The cool sip of water from a cupped hand

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