In a world where a girl feels like she doesn't belong, something strange happens...
In the world of Arcwyn, machinery is life. Brass, steam, and lightning are its bones, its muscle, its blood. Invention fills it with spirit, each new discovery born out of joyous curiosity and unfiltered reason. The cities dotting its landscapes thrum with activity, the structures themselves quivering with energy and vigor. Monorails connect civilizations together, allowing intrepid adventurers to go far and see as much as they may desire.
And it was on that world, amidst the grinding of gears and the surging of steam, that a miracle was made so many years ago.
“Darling,” remarked Isla amusedly, watching her only child sprint energetically around their cozy home. “Your daughter seems to have an unlimited supply of energy tonight. Have you been feeding her cookies again when I’m not in the room?”
Joseth walked into the room, looking down his nose at a purchase ledger for their family business. He smirked and set the book down, unable to stop himself from grinning at the sight of his precious young daughter. “Little bear,” he cooed affectionately, “careful now. You’ll bang your knee on the table.” He turned his eyes to his wife, his expression curving at the edges as sarcasm leaked in. “And why is she always my daughter when she’s doing something foolish?”
Isla flashed him a dazzling smile, but before she could respond, a shriek echoed from the corner. Both parents sprang to action immediately, rushing to their daughter’s side. They found Cara on the ground next to an old end table, crying and reaching over her right shoulder to clutch at the upper part of her back, a trickle of crimson leaking out between her tiny fingers. A ragged scrap of cloth hung from a loose nail on the edge of the table.
“Oh, honey, you’ve snagged your dress,” remarked her mother over the child’s wails. “Jo, she’s cut her shoulder.” She glanced around the spacious sitting room. “Bordo! Fetch the first aid kit, she may need some stitching.”
Bordo, their house servant and long-serving family confidant, appeared behind them almost instantly with the first aid kit and a towel in tow, handing the former to Isla and the latter to Joseth. He had always been like that, wherever they needed him at a moment’s notice. He winked at Cara and twirled his moustache before swiftly gliding out of the room.
As Joseth toweled away the blood on his daughter’s back and whispered silly words in her ear, Isla set to work at once, cleaning the wound with practiced care. It was over within minutes, Joseth’s jokes enabling Cara to forget her pain and be steady for her mother. She had always been a tough child, never afraid of pain and eager to overcome it.
“Jo…” muttered Isla, pulling Cara’s dress a bit further down her back and peering intently at her skin. “Jo, what do you make of this?”
Joseth made a face at his daughter and earned a giggle for his trouble. Grinning ear to ear, he pointed out the window at a passing aircraft, which caught his daughter’s attention long enough for him to lean back and follow his wife’s gaze. “What do I make of what?”
Isla’s finger traced a mark on her daughter’s back, directly between her shoulders, seven or eight centimeters below her neck. Her voice fell into the quiet tone used by parents in times of uncertainty. “This… this mark. Does Cara have a birthmark? Have you ever seen this before?”
Joseth leaned closer and brushed his wife’s hand aside. Sure enough, she was right—there was a small brown mark, a shape he’d never seen before. It was clearly a part of her skin, but the shape of it was a bit too perfect, a bit too much like a character or glyph of some sort to be natural.
“What in the worlds…” he muttered, mimicking his wife and tracing it with a fingertip. It was soft and warm; it felt just like the rest of her skin. It was not scarred, inflamed, or marred in any way, which told him that it was not a tattoo or other artificial imprint. It was her skin.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” said his wife, worry in her voice. “I gave her a bath yesterday and that wasn’t there.”
“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” remarked Joseth, resolute. He’d always been the type to believe in signs.
“What are you talking about?” asked the little girl, always wiser to the mumblings of her parents than they would’ve liked. “What’s a birthmark?”
Again, her parents exchanged looks, but they were not the type to lie to their daughter. After a bit of rummaging and positioning, they managed to angle two small mirrors in such a way to show their daughter the mark on her back.
“What… what is it?” she asked them, the anxiety clear in her voice. It broke their hearts to hear her fear, but before it could truly take hold, her father spun her around and placed his hands on her shoulders.
“It’s just a sign,” he declared, his big smile chasing away her shadows. “A very clear sign. A way for the whole world to know how special you are, just like we do.”
His daughter hugged him, and just like that, the fear was gone. Life went on for the little family. The parents worked, the daughter played. Sure, they worried, but as the days went by and Cara continued to sleep and play and scuff her knees, their worries faded. Perhaps it truly was just a birthmark, just a strange little part of their perfect child.
Twelve Years Later
Cara stormed into the kitchen, her fists clenched and her dress ruffled. She was taking practiced, deep breaths, working hard to keep from shouting again. Bordo slid gracefully out of the room, eager to be anywhere but ground-zero for the latest family fight.
“For the last time,” said her father from behind her, waving his cobb pipe around like a conductor’s baton, “you’re not running off with your friends to join some… group. You’re just not. You have work here. You’re needed here. This family, this business, needs you to stay here and help.”
Cara brushed a strand of dirty-blonde hair out of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear in the manner she reserved for her angriest moments. She raised a finger and shook it angrily at her father. “I’m a grown woman. What is stopping me from just walking out?”
Isla followed them into the house, her forehead wrinkled with concern. This fight had been going on for the better part of a year, and she was getting fed up with hearing it. But she saw no way of turning it around, given that the two involved in the fight were the most stubborn people she’d ever met.
“Cara, we’ve been over this… so many times,” she said quietly, setting her delicate little handbag on the counter. “We can’t keep up with demand if you’re not here working with your father. We’ll lose the business, and then we won’t have income. All of these things that we have? Your nice dress, tickets to the theatre, these combat lessons you demanded we let you take? Your name will not pay for those things. Nobility takes us far, but income takes us further. Maybe when things calm down, we can discuss you leaving and going off your own way. But for now… this is just the way it is.”
“Look,” Joseth declared, slapping a hand down on their polished bronze countertop before his daughter could sling another fiery retort. “We know that isn’t what you want to hear. We know that you have… designs for your life, things you want to do and places you’d like to go and see. And we want you to live the life you dream of. But you need to be patient.”
Cara slammed the banana down on the counter, splitting it open and unloading a glob of gooey fruit onto the floor. She glared at it for a moment, huffed, and looked back up to her father.
“You’ve been telling me to be patient for years now,” she managed, her teeth gritted. “But I’ve been… “
Her voice faded. She’d considered telling them about her visions for ages, her dreams of a tiger-striped Leogin hero and his blue-haired, gun-toting companion. In those visions, she was with them, adventuring and making a real difference where people needed her most. Most importantly, in those visions, she could heal, she could protect, and she could fight.
She’d been a young teen when she first learned to summon the light, a shapeless luminescence that she could call up from her hands by focusing her will. But it was faint light, barely able to illuminate her bedroom at night, and sustaining it made her very tired. She found that she could project it onto other things, too, but didn’t understand the purpose.
Her parents didn't know about any of this. She’d never found the words to tell them.
The fight was gone. She sucked down a ragged sigh and nodded. “Sorry. Yeah. I’ll… I’ll stop bringing it up.”
Joseth rested his hands on her shoulders in the familiar way that he always did when he wanted to calm her. He smiled a big, warm smile. “You’re going to do wonderful things, daughter. This I promise you. Your day is coming soon. You will—”
The three of them turned sharply to face the exterior wall, watching as a thunderous noise rattled the windows in their frames. Joseth rushed to pull the curtain, his wife and daughter looming behind him.
“That’s smoke,” he muttered, peering out into the street outside of their house. “Smoke and… something flying through the air.”
More explosions sounded, louder and closer. Isla grabbed her daughter and pulled her away from the window, an arm protectively stretched over the girl’s shoulders.
Joseth rose and stalked across the sitting room and entered his workroom. A few moments later he emerged in protective leathers, a magnificent sword in-hand.
“Stay here, both of you,” he commanded, stepping past his family to approach the front door. “If this keeps getting louder, I want you both to take shelter under the stairs. It’ll be the safest place in the house.”
“What are you doing?” asked Cara quickly, shrugging her mother’s grip off of her shoulders. She pulled a hair band from her pocket and quickly tied her fair tresses back. “Let me go with you! I can help!”
Her father turned back and pointed a finger at her. “No, Cara. You need to stay here. Now isn’t the time to argue. Isla! Keep her here and keep her safe. Bordo! Nobody comes in and nobody leaves. Do what you need to do and keep them safe!”
One Hour Later
“He still isn’t back yet,” muttered Cara, up against the front windows of their home for the third time. “Mom, he’s not back yet. You need to let me go find him.”
“The explosions stopped,” her mother said swiftly. “I’m sure he’s fine, honey. He asked us to stay here and we need to—”
Cara stomped her foot against the ground, and for the first time in her life, she lost control. Something great and mighty swelled within her, and in that moment, she knew that she needed to go out into the city, to find her father, and to help anyone that needed help. Golden light flared at her fingertips, startling her mother into silence. She let out a noise that was something between a groan and a scream of frustration, and the light faded.
“I’m going to find him,” she panted as the light faded. “I’m going to find him and I’m sorry, Mother, but you’re not stopping me.”
They stared at each other for an indeterminate amount of time, but eventually, her mother swallowed and nodded. “I won’t. Go.”
Cara dashed upstairs, swapping her plain dress out for a thick pair of pants, a flannel shirt, a heavy jacket, and her best boots. Running back down the stairs, she brushed past her wordless mother and came face-to-face with Bordo. His servant’s coat was gone, replaced by an elegant mail hauberk, a black leather baldric, and a simple rapier.
“Your father asked that you stay,” he said slowly, his eyes heavy and his voice deep. “I cannot let you pass, Cara.”
She jabbed a finger into his chest, utterly unfazed by his sudden warlike appearance. “Stop me, then. But you know better than anyone here that I belong out there. You taught me the spear, after all.”
Bordo considered her words, smoothing his moustache with his left hand. Finally, he nodded. “Go then. Make me proud.”
Their neighborhood was quiet, but once she made it out into the city proper, it became clear that the safety of her home was the exception, not the rule. Chaos surrounded her, burning buildings filling the air with smoke and destroyed machines littering the streets. People were doing their best to help their fellow citizens, but nobody in the District of Faith was ready for this kind of carnage.
She rounded a corner, dashing out into an open square where people generally congregated on beautiful days. Fallen bodies littered the streets, some crawling for shelter, others unmoving. She scanned the people, looking for her father, but also for anyone that she might be able to assist. Her visions stuck in the back of her mind, a constant reminder of a world in which she could heal the injured and help the downtrodden.
“Into the square!” roared a thunderous voice from around the nearest alleyway. “Fall back, fall back!”
A group of ragged, mostly-injured warriors with improvised weapons and armor spilled out into the square, nearly trampling her on their way out of the alley. At the rear, Cara spotted two shockingly familiar faces: the gunslinger and the shield-bearer from her visions, the latter of whom fell to a knee as his shield deflected a blindingly-fast projectile. He yelped in pain, his free arm clutching his abdomen as dark blood rushed out of his clothes and between his furry fingers.
Without giving it another thought, Cara rushed forward. Her fear and her anger were high in her throat, but something inside her was telling her that she needed to be there, that this was the correct place for her. She focused her will and cast a hand out toward the tiger-striped Leogin with the shield, projecting the light from her hand onto his crouched form.
But this time, the light did not flicker, did not fade. It was not weak and shapeless. It flared with radiance and wrapped around the catlike warrior, shielding him as yet another too-fast-to-see projectile slammed into him. But unlike the first time, his shield didn’t deflect it; the light did.
He gasped and looked back at her just as she reached him. She placed a hand on his abdomen and once more focused her will, pressing her glowing hands against the wound on his abdomen. Radiant warmth entered his body, pulling his broken cells back together. The bleeding slowed and then stopped as his damaged flesh regenerated and sealed. Strength and confidence flowed through him, and eventually, the light faded.
“Who are you?” he muttered, lost in the moment and forgetting the greater danger.
She smiled at him, placing her hands on his shoulders. “I’m Cara. I’m special. I’m here to help.”
“Brizgar!” shouted his blue-haired compatriot as she drew her revolvers and fired several rounds down the alleyway. “They’re coming!”
The three of them dashed aside as three huge, four-legged insectoids surged into the square, each carried by four flittering wings that beat the air around them ferociously. Two of them immediately moved toward the crowd of warriors that Brizgar and his friend had arrived with. The other swooped into the sky above them, circling and spitting more unidentifiable projectiles toward anyone it could see.
“Cara!” shouted a voice from across the square. “Cara, get back!”
Cara cranked her head, spotting her father with another group of makeshift protectors. He had a wound on his arm, but had also forgotten the danger, instead staring at his daughter.
“Dad, stop!” she shouted. “I’m fine! Get home and get to Mom!”
Before he could respond, Brizgar roared and leapt straight up just as the airborne insect-creature flew overhead, the two of them colliding with a deafening crash. Cara’s heart leapt into her throat, worried that her new ally had already fallen. But when they came crashing down to the ground, it was Brizgar that stood tall. He twisted and pulled the insect beneath him, smashing it thorax-first into the stone and tearing it apart.
The other beasts screamed simultaneously and turned, focusing their attention on Brizgar. For just a moment, their movements were almost identical, as if one set of commands were driving both of them.
The Leogin warrior moved quickly, his shield again deflecting two more shots from the creatures in quick succession. They split apart for a standard pincer attack, but Brizgar and his friend were ready; the blue-haired gunslinger unloaded the remaining shots in her revolvers, each round striking true. Just as she finished her quarry, Brizgar hurled his shield with a satisfied grunt. It collided with the last remaining insectoid, slamming into what was probably its face with enough violence to completely bisect it. Goopy bug guts splashed out onto the stones, and the thing died before it even registered what happened.
“Cara!” shouted her father, rushing across the square. “Honey! What are you doing here?!”
Cara pushed her father off and rushed to the nearest injured person. She was distantly aware of her growing fatigue, but something was helping her push through it. “I came to help. I couldn’t sit by anymore as other people got hurt. I can help. Watch.”
She pressed her glowing hands onto the bleeding leg of a merchant she recognized. The bleeding stopped immediately as his flesh flared with golden light and his wound closed.
“God,” breathed her father, crouching down next to her. “Cara, I… I don’t know what to say.”
The Leogin warrior approached her, holding out a hand. “Well met. I am called Brizgar. My friend, the one with the guns, is Akaia. We intend to search the city for more of these creatures and try to help where we can. You should come with us. You've proven yourself a worthy warrior on this day.”
Cara glanced down at the reminiscent energy of light leaving her hands from where she had used her power. Her heart sank a little. Clearly, they were inviting her because of her newfound abilities.
“You mistake me, I think,” Brizgar added, his gravelly voice taking on a softer tone.
She blinked and looked up in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“It's what's in here, that interests me.” Brizgar pointed his large finger directly at Cara's heart. “You have the heart of a warrior and the resolve of a hero. That is who I want on my team.”
Cara wiped her bloody hands on her pantleg and stood, looking first to her father. He stared at her, concern etched on his face, but she already knew that something had changed.
“Go,” he breathed. “I’m going back to your mother. Someone needs to be with her. But you… you need to be out here. You have work to do.”
Hope you enjoyed our new writer Christopher Clark! If you want more stories, let us know! For now, you can expect one every Thursday at 10:00 a.m. (EST) right here on Vindicated Entertainment.
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