Phantom Host

Axina: Our Blood\'s Nobility

The morning came bright and cold. Winters domination was gaining strength here in the southern fringes. They set out at dawn to hunt. It was a group of five people, and Axina accompanied them. She was on edge with excitement. For the first time in her nine-year-old life, she was allowed to go hunting with her maestro father, her chief grandfather, and her warrior uncles.

The Amaryllis Forest surrounded their city from all sides. The party entered the forest through the south. The grass sparkled on the ground covered with thin snow like the short silver hair of a boy. The stiff blades of grass crunched beneath their boots as they treaded through tall fluxsoot trees that were kept sparsely populated in the areas surrounding the city. Axinas eldest Uncle Brodin was leading the way as he kept his short battle spear ready at hand. He said that the forest was teaming with predators of all kinds. He warned Axina to remain on guard for there were predators that could shift their shape. Theyd hide in nature, waiting to jump you when you
e distracted. Theyd quickly take a bite out of you and then run away even before you start feeling pain.

It wasn safe for ordinary folks to go wander into the forest unprepared. People entered this forest only on a dare, never to return, and hunters, skilled and greedy enough to risk death for the profit of exotic and delicious meat that could only be found in the woods. The city had farms to raise enough livestock. So, the meat of the forest was a luxury, not a necessity. Then there were groups like Axinas family, who ventured into the forest without fear. Jungle beasts would have to put in extra effort to bring them harm, for they were people with influence over the supernatural.

Following uncle Brodin was Axina with her father, Damiyen Cornog. Axina looked up at him. There was a grave expression on her fathers oblong face. His white eyes were grim. Unkempt black hair hung around his drooping head, waving with the cold gust from the south. Father looked solemn. Axina had seen him this way only when he was with his men, conversing about operations of the Last Light. She wondered why he looked so serious on a hunt that was supposed to be recreational.

Behind them was her grandfather, the city chief Abbrahan Omrion. He was a man of over sixty years of age, and he smiled through his beard when Axina looked over her shoulder. She smiled back in response.

”Look Axina, Autaxium is moving again, ” grandpa said through his smile while pointing up at the sky.

Axina looked up. The planet Autaxiums shape was visible in the sky like a half-spherical dome, its other half fading into the blue. There were three crossed rings around it. The rings glowed a bright yellow. There were serpentine extensions attached to the rings, and sometimes they moved like the antennas of a creepy centipede. The enormity of that shape in the sky never failed to fill her with wonder. For a moment, she couldn tear her eyes off it.

”Don lose focus on the trail, my love, ” grandpa said softly. ”Thick roots are abundant here, waiting to trip you up and break your nose. ”

Axina blushed and returned her eyes to the ground.

”Why do those arms move, grandpa? ” Axina asked.

”Im afraid no one knows, ” grandpa said. ”But what are the basic reasoning for the low creatures like animals to move? For defense, to attack, or to gather food. I can imagine such a giant object ever needing food. And it moves so slow it couldn possibly attack anything. ”

Axinas eyes widened. ”So, it is defending itself? ”

Grandpa smiled. ”Someone has yet to figure that out for certain, my love. ”

Axina glanced up at the sky again. The antenna-like arms had stopped moving, frozen around the planet as if they had never moved at all.

”Father, what did you mean by animal? ” uncle Nathn said from behind grandpa. He was the youngest son of Abbrahan, and walked at the end of the line with his middle brother Johnath. Both carried bows and quivers on their backs.

”Yeah, you couldn possibly suggest that that entire planet is a living being, an animal, could you? ” uncle Johnath said with disbelief in his tone.

Grandpa had an odd look on his face as he glanced up at the planet Autaxium.

”It must be, ” he said. ”It couldn possibly be the work of people, could it? ”

A silence dawned on the marching line as they made progress through a jungle that grew thicker by the mile. Tall bushes were becoming common, and dense enough to block the path. Uncle Brodin had begun cutting them down with his battle spear to make way. He made it look effortless with his broad shoulders and thick arms. The bladed end of his spear was glowing red hot so that the bushes fell with a sharp ”sizzle ” from a single touch. Uncle Brodin was burning his bright to make it happen.

Axina fell back with Nathn and Johnath while grandpa moved up and walked with father.

”Have you been keeping up your archery training then? ” Johnath said smiling down at her. ”Or have you forgotten everything I taught you? ”

”I forgot nothing! ” Axina said. ”I practiced every day! ”

”Oh, have you now? ” Nathn observed her hands and said with pretend dismissal. ”Your hands tell me you
e lying. They look like the hands of a pampered princess. ”

”Im not pampered! ” Axina said defiantly. ”I did practice every day! Ill prove it to you when we find something! Then youll see! ”

Her uncles smiled, exchanging glances with each other. They knew that their sister had made Axina wear gloves during practice. Spirited or not, Axina was, after all, a princess.

”Oh, youll show us, will you? ” Johnath teased.

”How to miss the mark? ” Nathn added.

Axina groaned angrily and said, ”You guys are impossible! ”

Johnath and Nathn laughed.

e just happy you came to visit our little hovel, kiddo, ” Johnath patted Axina on the head. ”I thought youd forgotten us. ”

A gloom fell on Axinas face.

”I wanted to, and often asked if I could come to visit here, ” Axina said in a low voice. ”But father said we couldn go to places outside Anthurium whenever we wished. He said it was too dangerous. ”

Her uncles looked away suppressing their sighs. Anthurium was a town located far east of Amaryllis city. Thats where lord Cornog was from, the man with whom theyd wed their sister. The town of Ant

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