About to cross the hallmark of 1/4 of 100,000 words.
Sirius - the Golden Sun in the heavens, reached its zenith in cerulean skies over the Isle of Irothis. A thick mist rolled onto the shoreline from the Black Sea. An endless cycling of the waves came crashing through the translucent white shroud.
Ara readied himself, his stance poised for combat. His bare feet sifted through granular sands, soaked through by the endless tides. He listened to the rhythm of the waves crash onto the beach.
Golden sunlight gleamed in his eyes, so intense that he needed to rest them behind the shadow of his own shield. He gently shut them, listening for the moment to unleash the serpent’s bite.
A subtle sound of wet sand crushed underfoot warned Ara before the keen cry of a sword cleaved through mist and air. Ara pivoted on his left foot and side-stepped a hacking blow.
Eyes opened against the light, Ara parried a fluid counter with his steadfast shield arm. He lashed out, his practice sword grazing his opponent on the shoulder.
‘Decent, brother!’ A familiar voice roared with laughter. ‘Better than your last strike!'
His elder brother's shadow fell across his peripheral vision.
Ara’s world became a whirlwind from the tackling charge that followed. A great city built in the reaches of mountainous Irothis came into view before his gaze lifted skyward. As he landed on his back, his eyes settled over the deep sapphire waters of the Black Sea.
Ara squeezed his eyes shut from the blinding light of the sun. When he next opened them, Aslan stood triumphant over him.
Ara recalled how familiar the gleam in his elder brother's amber eyes seemed to be. Almost as if standing in front of a sheet of glass. His short raven black hair - a balance between kept and unkempt, matched Ara’s.
Aslan loomed over him like a young lion reared up on its hind legs. He stood poised to strike Ara down should he attempt to come back to his feet.
Ara heaved up a thick spray of sand with the rim of his shield instead, forcing Aslan on the back-foot. He scrambled out of his makeshift grave of coastal sand. A particularly strong wave crashed upon him in that moment, almost planting him back into the earth again.
Ara struggled against the foaming waters threatening to pull him back down, but managed to remain afloat until the moment the wave broke altogether.
Aslan had already recovered from the spray of sand, already locked in the motion of striking his younger brother square in the neck.
Ara slid through the wet sand away from the rapid lunge. Aslan stormed forward with a flurry of quick-paced attacks. Ara parried half of them with his shield and denied the others on the length of his wooden sword. Before his elder brother could change the pattern of his attacks, Ara pounced in the moment his opponent retracted his sword.
Ara lunged and thrust the unsharpened edge of his sword into Aslan’s chest directly where his heart rested. Aslan surprisingly did not shirk from the blow, unfrightened of losing to his younger brother for the first time. The moment before the strike hit home, an invisible force seized the practice blade in Ara’s hand and snapped it in twain like a child’s toy.
Ara realized that Aslan had discarded his own sword to arrest Ara’s winning blow. The practice sword was sundered in twain, the strength behind the breaking force enough to turn Ara’s momentum away from Aslan and straight into the largest wave he had seen that morning.
The curling wave smacked Ara square in the chest and threw him off his feet. Pulled under the foaming waters, Ara cursed himself mentally as the wave broke and receded back into the sea.
Ara did not realize he had his eyes screwed shut until the waters had completely receded from the beach. He gently opened them to find himself sprawled back first amidst the endless sands of the beach. Once more, Aslan stood over him, triumphant, but with an apologetic smile on his face.
Aslan shook his head and shrugged. ‘You just had to leave one opening before you finally struck me down… and of course I must survive to maintain my reputation. Sorry, brother, but I applaud your effort. You came nearer to triumph that time than any other practice bout we’ve had.’
‘amphetamine parrot…’ Ara sighed, then chuckled mildly. ‘My triumph stolen by an uncaring wave.’
Aslan chuckled with him. ‘Face it brother, you defeated yourself. Like you always do when you’re facing me. You overthink fighting me too much.’
Ara suddenly jerked himself upright as a gentle wave broke over his ankles. ‘How does a wolf overthink fighting a Lion? Father was right to grant you that name on the day of your birth, brother. You’re indomitable. I’ve never seen any other youth even come near to defeating you.’
Aslan cracked a knowing smile at him. ‘If you cannot find a way brother, there may be no other I know that ever will.. There must be renowned warriors out there with a keen interest in my coming of age… if my younger brother cannot find weakness in my form, I’d wager they could. I need someone I trust who can defeat me, so I can continue to learn and not become complacent. Lest these foreign challengers defeat and perhaps strike me down where I stand.’
Ara shook his head. ‘I wouldn’t want that for you brother, no matter how much I’d like to see you humbled. I shall match your skill one day, I swear on my honor.’
Aslan nodded. ‘And still you hold greater skill with sword and shield than any would-be rival of mine. I’ll be honest, you’re still my chief competitor despite your record. Keep trying, I know you can do it.’
Azat, their father of legend, called out in the authoritative voice of a mentor with a lesson in hand. He approached his only sons, wrapping a hand around either of their shoulders to pull them into a close embrace. ‘Ara, my lone wolf. Your elder brother speaks to the truth of the matter.
'Your elder brother’s strength has always been his martial prowess and unmatched courage. It has always been your strength, Ara, to discern truths from foolish falsehoods. That is equally important in methods of combat, battle, and warfare as much as the skill one wields their weapon of choice. You need only a little more practice to put that to your advantage when you couple both aspects to become a great warrior.’
Ara shook his head. ‘What falsehoods would gain me victory over a lion?’ He gestured toward Aslan with a point of his chin. ‘It’s an impossible task, father.’
Azat bellowed with laughter, then shook his head. ‘Lesser warriors with brittle minds will often think that of someone physically imposing. Contrary to what they may think about their impressions extending their lifespans - it is quite the opposite.
‘Ara, a warrior can never better himself and become greater by shirking from challenges. You should be honored, my youngest son, for you’ve been granted the harshest trial of all. Upon a day, I believe that you will exceed even Aslan. You need only awaken that hidden potential, that spark of divinity within you that was granted by your mother…
‘Though Aslan defeats you with impunity… I always have only seen you rise, then strike again. You’ve more endurance and perseverance than any youth I’ve seen. Only Aslan would have more if he did not exert himself to the limits of his ability, mind, and body again and again.
‘... but enough of my ramblings. How about one more bout, before we break for a meal?’
An unfamiliar voice called out from farther inland, on the outskirts of the great granite sprawl scattered over the mountains in reply. ‘As good of weather as any for the practice of swords and physical strength. Is it not as any of you would say?’
Azat released his grip on his sons and all of them turned to address this mysterious voice. Ara searched the outskirts of Irothis for the voice’s source. His hazel eyes halted upon a slim figure, garbed in warrior robes of obsidian, burgundy, and crimson. The nameless warrior waited patiently with his hands behind his back, half leaning on the pillar of a great arch that led farther into the city. His face, obscured as it was by distance, was hidden underneath the shadow of a white cloak.
Aslan arched his brow in the stranger’s direction. ‘Do you know this one, father?’
Azat shrugged and contemplated, but his features were locked in a morbid grimace. ‘Ara… Aslan… return home, back to the manor.’ He commanded suddenly. ‘Do not fear, I believe I know this man… an old friend from bygone days. But I must speak with him and alone, if you would.’
Aslan clapped Ara hard on the shoulder. ‘Come brother, let father and his acquaintance have their peace… though it will only bring dark tidings, I’d wager.’
Azat swiveled his head in Aslan’s direction. ‘Stop belly-aching and go home. Dark tidings come to us all, Aslan, it matters not the time or day, or the frequency in which they occur. One day you shall understand that for once.’
‘Alright, alright!’ Aslan sighed. ‘Ara and I are leaving.’
Ara did not protest or refuse, but left his father alone on the shores of the Black Sea. Aslan and him raced back to the manor overlooking the Western Straits from the high cliffs of Irothis.
As home drew ever nearer, Ara felt a sinking suspicion well up in his chest that his father had not heard the last of this strange visit.