Free Fantasy Feature October 2021 | Legends of Lasniniar: Her Rightful Place

Legends of Lasniniar Her Rightful Place coverArinmalia holds herself above the rest of her Wild Elf tribemates. With good reason.

Few can match her fighting and tracking skills. She needs no friends to watch her back or distract her with their tiresome company. She prefers to walk the forest paths alone, with only her own thoughts as companions.

Arinmalia knows in her heart a great destiny awaits her. Something beyond the modest village life of her tribe. She dreams of finding it. She hungers to make her tribemates understand.

She needs them to acknowledge her rightful place.

A stand-alone story from the sprawling history of the elves in the World of Lasniniar epic fantasy series by award-winning author, Jacquelyn Smith.

Now, you can read it for free on this site for one month only. This short story also comes in ebook and paperback format–both on its own, and as part of the Storm Rider Lasniniar Collection.

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Legends of Lasniniar: Her Rightful Place

Jacquelyn Smith

Arinmalia paced, the snow crunching beneath the soles of her leather boots. She did her best to ignore the curious gaze of the young elf who watched her.

This is ridiculous. I have better things to do than look after some snot-nosed brat—even if she is my cousin.

She considered the child that had been left in her care with narrowed eyes. Lodariel was young, but she already carried her spear with a measure of competence. Her fiery red hair, green eyes, dusky skin, and stubborn chin were not unlike Arinmalia’s own, which only served to irritate Arinmalia further. 

She liked to think of herself as a unique creature among the Wild Elves. Lodariel’s resemblance to a younger version of herself tended to spoil that vision.

At least she isn’t a baby, but still! 

Why saddle me with any of the younglings at all? Doesn’t anyone realize I’m above this sort of thing? It’s not as if I care about their stupid feast anyway. 

And of all the children they could have left me with, why did it have to be her?

Lodariel remained silent for a few moments before speaking.

“You don’t want to watch me, do you?” she asked.

Arinmalia stopped her pacing to glare at her. “No, I don’t.”

“Why not? Don’t you like me?” Lodariel’s young voice took on an injured tone.

Arinmalia grunted. “Not particularly.”

Her words staggered Lodariel. “But I’m your cousin!”

“It makes no difference to me. Do not take it personally. I don’t like anyone.” Arinmalia shrugged.

“But why?

Arinmalia flicked her braids over her shoulder in annoyance. 

“It does not matter. You wouldn’t understand. No one ever does. Now why don’t you run along? Go play by yourself and leave me alone. You can tell your parents you were with me the whole time.”

Lodariel’s eyes rounded. “I can’t lie to my parents!”

Of course you can’t. That would make this too easy.

“Well, then maybe you should find someone else to watch you,” Arinmalia said, trying to keep her temper in check.

“There is no one else. Everyone is either helping with the feast, or too busy watching the little ones. You are the only elf who isn’t busy.”

You mean I’m the only one with the sense to stay away from the village while it’s swarming with an army of elves in feast preparation mode.

The feast was a celebration of the elves’ transformation from bodiless spirits of light into their current, physical incarnations several generations ago. 

Being an elf was all well and good, but Arinmalia found it—and her Wild Elf counterparts—rather boring. She knew there had to be something more to life on Ralvaniar. She found the complete ignorance of the other elves to such a fact baffling, but it reinforced her belief in her own uniqueness.

Arinmalia sighed. “Fine. You can sit on that stump and watch while I sharpen my spear.”

She jerked her chin in the direction of the stump and sat on a nearby rock after brushing it clear of snow. She drew a whetstone from her belt and began working the nicks out of her metal spearhead. 

Lodariel seemed to bite back a retort, but did as she was told. The two elves sat in silence for several moments, the scraping of the whetstone the only sound. Snowflakes drifted from between the naked, interlaced branches of the forest. Beyond the Wild Elf village, Melabeli was blissfully quiet.

Although Arinmalia tried to ignore her unwanted companion, she found herself watching Lodariel from beneath lowered lashes as she worked. The younger elf tilted her head to gaze between the branches at the dark, empty sky. She appeared calm, but Arinmalia could sense her mounting frustration. 

Lodariel lowered her chin and let out a long sigh of annoyance that emerged from her lips as a puff of steam in the cold air.

“Do you really expect me to sit here and watch you sharpen your spear until the feast starts?” she demanded.

“You don’t have to stay,” Arinmalia said without looking up. “I gave you a chance to leave, remember?”

“Now I know why you don’t have any friends,” Lodariel muttered.

Arinmalia’s head snapped up. “What was that?”

Lodariel flushed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just… Well, you aren’t exactly friendly with anyone in the village.”

Arinmalia scoffed. “They aren’t exactly friendly with me, either.”

“But they try to be,” Lodariel said. “I have seen it. They invite you to things, and try to include you, but you always turn them down.”

“They don’t really want me to be included. They don’t expect me to accept either. They just invite me to things to make themselves feel better. Not all of us can be the darling of the village like you.” 

Arinmalia went back to her sharpening.

Lodariel frowned, considering. Arinmalia suspected the young elf was thinking of her mother, who was not one of Arinmalia’s biggest fans, even though they were related.

Lodariel’s expression cleared. “Numhura likes you,” she said with a sly smile.

Arinmalia rolled her eyes. “Numhura thinks he likes me. He doesn’t understand me at all.”

“So you really have no friends?” Lodariel asked.

“I don’t need any friends.”

“Everyone needs friends,” Lodariel pressed.

Arinmalia sniffed. “Now you sound just like the rest of them. I choose not to have friends. I do not need anyone’s pity.” 

The words came out more fiercely than she had intended, and Lodariel shrank back.

“I’ll be your friend,” she said in a small voice.

You?” Arinmalia looked up, startled. “Why would you want to do that?”

“Because you’re smart, brave, and a good fighter. I want to be all of those things. Maybe you can teach me.” Lodariel gave her a smile.

Suddenly, Arinmalia found herself standing over the elf child, her spear held ready. “You will never be like me. Never.” She realized she was shaking.

Instead of appearing frightened, Lodariel looked up with her own spear in her hands and a challenge in her eyes.

“I can learn, if you teach me,” she said. “I’m a quick study. Give me a chance.”

It took every ounce of Arinmalia’s self-control not to thrash the young elf where she sat.

But maybe a little object lesson wouldn’t be such a bad thing… It might make her leave me alone.

Arinmalia pulled back, masking her irritation beneath a pleasant smile. “You wish to learn? Very well. Kill me.” She held her spear at her side, leaving herself open.

Lodariel rose to her feet with a frown of uncertainty. “You want me to attack you?” she asked. “What if I hurt you?”

Arinmalia snorted. “Feel free to try. You’re not afraid, are you?”

Lodariel drew herself up. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

“You should be. Now kill me. Or should I send you back to the village so your mother can change your breeches?”

Lodariel rushed her with a savage cry. Arinmalia deflected the attack easily, sending her sprawling.

“You disappoint me,” she said as Lodariel rose, her voice loaded with contempt. “I expected better.”

Lodariel’s eyes narrowed. She approached more cautiously this time, holding her spear in a defensive position across her body. 

Arinmalia waited. 

Lodariel lost patience first, as Arinmalia had known she would. The younger elf made a tentative strike. Arinmalia blocked it, and saw Lodariel wince as the shock of impact traveled up her slender arms. 

To her credit, Lodariel retained her grip on her weapon. She took a shaking breath and tried again.

Several moments passed as Lodariel tried Arinmalia’s defenses. Arinmalia became more amused with each attempt. Lodariel was good, but she was still only a child. Arinmalia blocked her attacks easily.

Lodariel’s spear came in high on Arinmalia’s right, but Arinmalia sensed it was a feint. She prepared herself for the blow she knew was coming from her left. 

Lodariel shifted her weight and the direction of her attack just as Arinmalia had expected, but at the last possible moment, Lodariel turned her attack into a double-feint, slamming the butt of her spear into Arinmalia’s unprotected right side. 

The wood connected solidly with Arinmalia’s ribs, her breath coming out in a surprised gasp. 

Lodariel followed up with another onslaught, this time with the point of her spear. Arinmalia dodged, but not quickly enough. The sharpened edge bit into her side, drawing blood.

Lodariel pulled back, holding her spear aside. “I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes wide. “I never thought I would hit you…”

Arinmalia looked down in shock. It was only a shallow gash, but the combination of Lodariel’s words and the sight of her own blood sent her into a rage. 

Her boot slammed into Lodariel’s solar plexus, sending the smaller elf through the air to land hard against the trunk of a nearby tree. Lodariel slumped to the ground, her spear rolling from her limp fingers. 

She looked up at Arinmalia with a bemused expression as the other elf swung the butt of her spear against her jaw.

Arinmalia stood panting over Lodariel’s helpless form, the point of her spear poised over the younger elf’s chest. 

Lodariel gave her a weak smile. “I guess I lost, huh? You’ll have to show me that kick sometime…” 

Her eyes rolled back in her head.

Several moments passed before Arinmalia was able to lower her spear. She slung Lodariel over her shoulder and headed back toward the village. She knew the other elves would be shocked at Lodariel’s condition, but Arinmalia didn’t care. In fact, part of her looked forward to seeing their reactions.

Maybe this will teach them not to waste my time. If they only knew…

She remembered the rush of complete power she had felt, holding her spear over Lodariel’s heart. She shifted Lodariel into a better position and tried to banish the memory from her mind.

“I told you,” she said to her unconscious burden in a soft voice. “You will never be like me.”

* * *

Lodariel’s parents were predictably upset. Arinmalia had dumped their child outside their hut and left without a word of explanation. No one had dared say a word to her as she stalked away.

Arinmalia had avoided the village ever since. The feast had come and gone. She had spent the time alone in the woods, blissfully undisturbed. 

She knew she would have to return to the village eventually, but she wasn’t in any rush. She already carried a pack of basic supplies, and was more than capable of foraging and hunting for food. She wandered between the trees, enjoying the silence.

The snap of a nearby twig brought her to a halt. She whirled to face the direction of the unnatural sound, her spear held ready. A male elf stepped out from between the branches wearing a sheepish expression.

“I should have known you would hear me,” he said by way of apology. He gave Arinmalia a wry smile.

“Numhura.” Arinmalia reluctantly lowered her spear. “What do you want?”

“I wanted to see you,” he said. “You were not at the feast.”

Numhura clearly had not heard about Lodariel’s injuries. 

Arinmalia looked at him for a moment before responding, covertly admiring his tall, muscled frame. He carried his spear and bow with the easily familiarity of a hunter. His long, brown hair was confined in two, neat braids, and his whorls of face paint highlighted his green eyes, which were completely without guile.

Many of the women of the village were smitten with Numhura, but he was oblivious to their interest. For whatever reason, he had set his sights on Arinmalia. 

She didn’t know what she had done to attract him, but he was persistent. He considered himself her suitor, even though she treated him with cool disdain. He was nice enough to look at, and part of her enjoyed his attentions, but like the rest of the Wild Elves, he was unable to comprehend her or her destiny for greatness.

Arinmalia shrugged. “I didn’t feel like going.” That was true enough.

Numhura looked hurt. “I wish you had told me. I waited for you. If I had known you were not going, we could have spent the time together—just the two of us.”

“I wanted to be alone,” she said, knowing he wouldn’t understand.

Numhura frowned. “But you are always off alone. You are hardly ever in the village.”

“And I like it that way. Besides, why would you want to hang around me, anyway?”

Numhura’s cheeks reddened. “You know how I feel about you.”

Arinmalia rolled her eyes. “Yes, but that still doesn’t explain why you are here. Why did you decide to come looking for me?”

“Oh, right. I wanted to tell you about the battle. A pack of drakhalu tried to enter the forest yesterday. They claimed to be emissaries, but none of us believed them.”

Drakhalu emissaries?” Arinmalia frowned. The blood-drinking demons were not known for making peaceful overtures. 

A sudden chill traveled down her spine. “What did they want?”

Numhura shrugged. “Who knows? Anyway, the battle was spectacular. I killed three of them. You should have seen it! None of the others managed to kill as many.” His face lit up as he spoke.

“But why approach us openly?” Arinmalia began to pace. “They must have wanted something…” 

She couldn’t explain it, but she had the nagging feeling the event had something to do with her elusive destiny.

Numhura gave her an incredulous look. “What does it matter? They are drakhalu—our enemy.” He shook his head. “You really should have seen it. They move so fast! But I was faster. After it was clear we were going to fight them, the first one came at me from the left—”

Arinmalia stopped pacing and threw up her arms. “Who cares? Did you really track me down and interrupt my solitude to impress me with your battle prowess?”

“Well, I—”

“Honestly, you claim to have feelings for me, but it’s as if you don’t know me at all! If you did, you would know better than to pester me with your stupid battle stories. They might make the rest of the women in the village swoon with delight, but they don’t impress me.” 

She gripped her spear, trying to control her mounting frustration. Numhura usually annoyed her to a certain degree, but his complete lack of understanding in this instance drove her wild.

Numhura flinched at her words. “Arinmalia,” he said in a hurt voice. “I only want to be with you. What do you want from me?”

“I want to know why the drakhalu tried to talk instead of attack us—something you should have thought of before you started killing them all like a witless barbarian.” Her voice was loaded with contempt.

Numhura’s expression turned sullen. “I cannot answer that.”

“Then maybe you had better leave me alone. Go back to the village and share your little war stories with someone who will appreciate them.”

He gave her a long, measuring gaze before speaking. “As you wish.”

He squared his shoulders and walked away without looking back. Arinmalia watched him disappear into the trees. His hurt meant nothing to her. Her thoughts were fixed on the question he had been unable to answer.

What had the drakhalu wanted?

* * *

After Numhura left, Arinmalia became increasingly restless. Usually, wandering alone in the dark silence of the forest comforted her, but she could not escape her swirling thoughts. She had no idea why the drakhalu had behaved so strangely, but something deep inside her told her she was meant to find out. It was somehow part of her destiny.

She knew she would never be able to get any of the other Wild Elves to understand. They would be furious enough with her as it was with her abuses of Lodariel and Numhura—the only two elves who had tried to get close to her. She doubted anyone would be willing to listen to her, especially where the drakhalu were concerned.

Arinmalia realized her feet were taking her toward the southwestern border of the wood, toward the Pelo Gali. The bare trees gradually became more sparse, and gave way to the withered plains. Blades of dried, brown grass poked from under a light blanket of snow. The empty sky loomed overhead, disorienting her for a moment without its familiar framing of tree branches. 

She had been outside Melabeli before, but never by herself. She knew traveling alone beyond the safety of the Wild Elves’ borders was dangerous, but she felt no fear—only a flutter of anticipation.

I am meant to leave Melabeli. This is my destiny.

She had never felt so certain of anything. She knew her feelings must be tied to the drakhalu. They prowled the Pelo Gali, which bordered on their territory to the south.

Perhaps I am supposed to find them. They came to the wood under a banner of peace. Imagine if I could make a treaty with the drakhalu! Then everyone would finally see the greatness inside me. I might even become Ruling Lady of the Wild Elves…

For a few moments, Arinmalia lost herself in a triumphant fantasy where all the elves who had ever slighted her came groveling for her forgiveness. She would grant it, of course, but only after they had performed some suitable act of penance. 

A smug grin spread across her face at the thought.

She savored the images for a few moments before banishing them to focus on the task at hand. If she was going to enter the Pelo Gali alone, she would need to keep her wits about her. There was no telling whether the group that had approached Numhura and the others had only been an isolated faction acting independently, or a representative of the entire drakhal nation. 

Either way, the creatures would likely view her as an intruder until she could get a chance to speak with them. She assumed a wary posture, walking across the dried grass and snow without sound and holding her spear ready as she searched the ground for signs of passage.

Melabeli was bordered on the south by the Riltal and on the west by the Riliara, leaving only a small gap of land between the two rivers for the drakhalu to approach the Wild Elves’ wood. It didn’t take her long to find the trail she was looking for, but if she hadn’t known to look, she might have missed it completely. 

Most drakhalu were as light on their feet as elves, leaving few tracks to follow. She darted through the shadows from one faint print to the next, following them south.

Her eyes swept the darkness of the world around her while her ears strained for any hint of unnatural sound. After the first uneventful hour, her nerves were frayed by the constant tension and the seemingly endless open stretch of plain. She was used to the constant hum of forest life. The eerie silence was almost more than she could bear. It surrounded her, stifling her. She resisted the urge to throw her head back and scream, just to assert her own presence.

I can’t keep going like this. I need to take a break.

The thought of turning back never occurred to her. Instead, she stopped and made a makeshift camp. As much as she would have liked to build a fire, she didn’t dare. It would only serve as a beacon to her location. More than just drakhalu prowled the plains. The last thing she needed was to attract a dragon, or one of the Fire Folk.

Arinmalia wrapped herself in blankets and pulled her waterskin from her pack. She took a small swallow. She would have to conserve her water as much as possible. Unless she backtracked, she wouldn’t be able to fill her skin again until she reached the banks of the Rilloda.

She shivered and pulled her blanket around her shoulders more tightly while peering out at the darkness around her. She had never felt so completely alone before. Not only was there no one around, but there were no trees anywhere in sight. The lack of cover left her feeling naked and vulnerable. 

Still, she felt a sense of rightness in what she was doing. Somewhere out there was the key to the greatness and power that lay slumbering within her. The thought soothed her frazzled nerves, allowing her mental exhaustion to catch up with her. 

Her eyelids grew heavy. She closed them, just for a moment…

* * *

Arinmalia’s head snapped up, all her senses suddenly alert.

How long have I been sleeping?

Far from the hourglasses of the village, she had no way of knowing. The constant darkness of the empty sky above gave no indication. She shrugged her blankets from her shoulders and snatched up her spear. 

Something had woken her. She could hear nothing aside from her heart pounding in her ears, but her instincts told her she was no longer alone.

An approaching patch of shadow, deeper than the surrounding darkness caught her eye. It was headed straight for her. Somewhere deep in its heart, she sensed a raw power, radiating outward. It was unlike anything she had felt before.

Yes. This is my destiny.

She rose to her feet, filled with a sense of calm. She twisted the metal tip of her spear free to reveal the fire-hardened point beneath and held it ready.

The pack of drakhalu approached. The ones in front rushed her before she could get a word in edgewise. Arinmalia shifted her focus to the battle before her.

They want a fight, do they? Perhaps if I kill a few of them, I will get their attention.

She launched into a wild attack, skewering two drakhalu through the heart with her spear in rapid succession. Her blood sang in her veins as she watched the life fade from their eyes. She avoided the gazes of the others. 

She had caught the first two by surprise, but the others could still try to bewitch her. The words of peace that had been on her lips only a few moments before were replaced by a joyful battle song. The other dark creatures hissed at the sound, revealing a host of gleaming fangs. 

The source of the power she had sensed was nearby, but remained hidden.

Arinmalia pressed her advantage, but the drakhalu weren’t cowed for long. They surrounded her, dodging her attacks like dark smoke, moving faster than thought. 

One managed to rake her upper arm with its nails, drawing blood and sending the creatures into a frenzy. Arinmalia used the pain to fuel her battle fury, giving herself over to it completely. 

Three more of the drakhalu fell beneath her spear. She felt a wave of irritation radiate from the presence hidden within their midst as each body fell to the ground.

The remaining drakhalu suddenly went still. Arinmalia dropped into a wary crouch, waiting. Her attackers backed away, parting ranks to reveal an approaching figure. 

He was taller than the others. The raw power he exuded almost made her drop to her knees. His pale skin pulled tightly over his angular features. 

He moved with the casual grace of a hunting cat stalking its prey, his gleaming dark hair drifting silently behind him. Arinmalia carefully avoided his eyes, holding her spear ready.

“How is it that a single shadvar can cause my minions so much trouble?” he asked, using the Black Tongue name the dark creatures had given the elves. His voice was as smooth as oiled silk. 

It sent a shiver down her spine.

“I’m known as something of a troublemaker,” Arinmalia said with a smirk. “Besides, they attacked me first.” She raised her chin.

“That may be, but you are vastly outnumbered. The outcome is inevitable. You could have run, but you did not. Either you are suicidal, or your friends are somewhere nearby.”

Arinmalia snorted. “I have no friends. And if the outcome is as inevitable as you say, why did you put a stop to the fight?”

The drakhal shrugged. “I was becoming bored, and there are only so many lives I am willing to waste on a single shadvar.”

“Does that mean you are going to let me go?”

The drakhal’s laughter rang in her ears. “No, it means I am going to take care of you myself.”

“You?” Arinmalia scoffed. She was attracted by his aura of power, but his smugness irritated her. “What makes you any different from your dead friends?” She nudged the closest drakhal corpse with the toe of her boot. 

A moment of shocked silence followed her words.

“You are either ignorant or a fool,” the drakhal said in a cold voice. “I am Vlazkashad, Orag of the drakhalu.”

Arinmalia wasn’t entirely sure what ‘Orag’ meant, but from the way the other creatures were groveling, she realized it must be something important. She had heard people in the village mention the name ‘Vlaz’ before, but she had never paid them much attention.

“Did you send an emissary to Melabeli?” she asked.

“Perhaps. Why do you ask? Your people killed them. I heard it was an unprovoked attack.”

Arinmalia shook her head in disgust. “My people are close-minded fools. I said as much before I left. What message were they to deliver?”

Vlaz paused before speaking. “I had thought to make a truce with your tribe. You are isolated in your wood, but my children roam Ralvaniar freely. The other elven tribes are growing strong. We have heard rumors of them plotting against you. We are your neighbors. I had thought we might come together under a common purpose to stand with you against them.”

Arinmalia frowned in confusion. “The other tribes are plotting against us?” 

She had never gotten wind of any such thing, but then again, the Wild Elves had little communication with the other tribes. Who knew what they might be planning?

“I am the leader of my people,” Vlaz said. “I carry a great power within me. I had heard of the courage and insight of your lord and lady. I thought they were the ones I was destined to align with, until your people killed my emissary. But perhaps since you have spoken out against it, they have changed their minds.” Vlaz tilted his head to consider. “Maybe I should send another emissary. If I can convince your leaders, we would be an unstoppable team.”

“But what about me?” Arinmalia blurted.

“What about you?”

“I already told you, my people are fools. I was the only one who wanted to give your people a chance. You should align with me.” 

She couldn’t bear the thought of Vlaz sharing his power with anyone else.

“You? But as you said, you have no friends. You are not a leader among your kind. I am sorry, but it just wouldn’t work.”

“You’re making a mistake,” Arinmalia said, her temper rising. “I am the one who is destined for greatness, not any of them!”

“That may be, but you are still useless to me.” Vlaz gave a careless toss of his head.

“I won’t let you go to them,” Arinmalia said from between clenched teeth. 

How could he not see what was right in front of him?

Vlaz chuckled. “You think you can stop me?”

Vlaz took a step forward, and Arinmalia brought up her spear. He darted to the right. She aimed the butt of her weapon at his unprotected side, but he was already moving before the blow landed. 

She lashed out at him with barely controlled fury. Her frustration mounted as he evaded each of her attacks. Vlaz seemed completely unruffled, which only made her more angry. She flailed her spear in every direction, but it was like fighting a shadow. 

Within moments, her arms were trembling with fatigue. The thing that bothered her most of all was that she knew he was toying with her. She allowed her rage free rein, but not a single blow landed. He stood before her with a sly smile while she panted with exhaustion.

“Do you still think you can stop me?” he asked.

“I have to,” she said between ragged breaths. “This is my destiny.”

Vlaz reached out to stroke her cheek with cool fingers. The gesture was so unexpected, she found herself doing the one thing she knew she should avoid at all costs…

She looked into his eyes.

Vlaz’s gaze was dark and bottomless, filled with the promise of power, and other things as well. Arinmalia felt herself falling into them, losing control. She fought it with all her remaining strength, even though she knew it was a losing battle.

Vlaz tilted his head, a slow smile spreading across his face. “You intrigue me. You are not like the other shadvaru, are you?”

She shook her head, dumbstruck and powerless. A wave of relief washed over her. Finally, she had made someone understand.

Vlaz’s gaze flickered to the drakhalu standing around them. “Take her.”

His elbow slammed into the side of her head, drowning her in darkness.

* * *

Arinmalia opened her eyes with a groan. She blinked several times to clear her hazy vision. She was lying on a smooth, stone floor. She rose into a low crouch, which sent her head spinning for a few moments. She felt the side of her head. There was a bump under her hair where Vlaz had struck her. Otherwise, she seemed unharmed. She took in her surroundings.

The large chamber she was in had no windows, but was illuminated by several torches. The ceiling was the same smooth stone as the floor, but the walls were covered with carved reliefs. She saw images of drakhalu in battle. 

One of the creatures featured prominently in each display. She felt a chill as she recognized Vlaz’s features. 

The floor beyond where she crouched was covered with rich carpets of deep scarlet. A throne on a dais dominated the room. She decided the double doors positioned across from it must be the entrance. Another passage began only a few feet away from her, in the back corner. Vlaz emerged, looking pleased.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he said, standing before her.

“Where am I?” Arinmalia asked, her voice dry from disuse.

“In the drakhal stronghold, deep within the heart of the Hamad Orom. I am sorry for your condition. I had to keep you unconscious for several days while we made the journey.”

“How did you keep me unconscious all that time?” she rasped. Her memories since the battle in the Pelo Gali were vague and confused.

Vlaz pierced her with his bottomless gaze. “How do you think?” He raised a sardonic eyebrow.

Arinmalia shivered. “If you could do that just by looking at me, why did you hit me in the head?”

Vlaz shrugged. “You had killed five of my minions. I considered it payback. I also did it for fun. The rush you get from striking a helpless victim is quite… pleasant. Wouldn’t you agree?” He smiled.

Arinmalia remembered how she had felt standing over Lodariel’s helpless form. Vlaz nodded, as if reading her thoughts. For all she knew, he probably was. She tried to look away, but couldn’t, drawn to his gaze like a moth to a flame.

“Why have you brought me here?” she asked, forcing the words out.

He spread his arms wide with a grin. “Because you asked me to, of course. You didn’t want me to make a treaty with any of your people. No, you only wanted me to make a pact and share my power with you. You made that quite clear.”

Arinmalia could say nothing in her own defense. What he said was true.

But this isn’t what I meant! I only wanted to make the other Wild Elves understand my destiny.

“And they will come to understand your greatness,” Vlaz said in response to her unspoken thoughts. “When I am done with you, you will be more powerful than you ever dreamed, and you and I will rule the world together.”

Arinmalia shook her head. “How?”

“You will rule the drakhalu as my queen. You will have to deal with the rest of my concubines first, of course, but I have every confidence in you.”

“You want to make me a drakhal?” The very thought made her skin crawl.

Vlaz rolled his eyes. “What did you think this was all about? I am not in the habit of offering hospitality to random shadvaru.”

“But what about the treaty? I thought you wanted peace with my people.”

Vlaz shook his head. “You cannot possibly be so dense. I have been trotting out that story of ‘the other tribes plotting against your tribe’ to every shadvar village I can reach. Things would be so much easier for me and my minions if you are all at one another’s throats.”

Arinmalia closed her eyes, trying to take it all in. 

“But… why?” Her voice sounded plaintive, even to her own ears. “Why bring me all the way here as a prisoner? Why didn’t you just kill or turn me when you found me?”

Vlaz rubbed his chin. “Well, I will admit, I didn’t see it at first, but there is something… different about you. You have this thirst for power, yet you rebel against your own nature. I have toyed with shadvaru before, but they are all so nauseatingly selfless. I have countless minions who live to cater to my every whim, but they are all trained to my service. Compliance bores me. You, however…”

He sucked in a long breath that made her shudder. “You are unlike anything I have encountered before. I could have simply turned you, but I would far prefer breaking you.” He grinned, fangs gleaming.

Arinmalia hissed. “You will never break me!”

She lunged at him, but was brought up short. She stumbled, gasping for breath and clutching at her throat. Her fingers found a leather strap, attached to a length of chain bound to the stone wall.

She was wearing a leash and collar.

She desperately wanted to lunge at him again, and tear his eyes out with her bare hands. Instead, she stood before him, trembling with suppressed fury.

“I knew you would come to understand the situation,” he said. “Trust me, it will be much more fun this way. Now, I will leave you to contemplate the decision before you. You can either ask me to turn you, or I will kill you, and share your blood with my minions. The choice is obvious, really.”

Arinmalia uttered an inarticulate cry of rage.

“Oh, yes,” Vlaz continued, ignoring her. “I suppose you must be hungry.”

He went to the other room for a moment and returned with a tray. Arinmalia recoiled. It was piled with rat carcasses.

“I’m afraid we don’t have a lot of fresh game around here to choose from,” Vlaz said. “It’s probably not the kind of fare you are used to, but I could also have some bats thrown in next time, if you like.”

Arinmalia pushed the tray away. “I’m not hungry.” Her gurgling stomach said otherwise.

Vlaz gave her a smug smile. “We’ll see. I’m sure you will change your mind eventually. Remember, you must keep up your strength.” He was laughing as he went out the door.

Arinmalia huddled on the ground, trying to make sense of what was happening.

Is this the path to my destiny?

She had always been so certain of herself, but now she was completely adrift. She wrapped her arms around herself and began rocking back and forth, struggling to hold back her tears.

* * *

Arinmalia quickly lost track of how long she had been in the drakhal stronghold. Even in sleep, she was haunted by nightmares of her waking reality until the two merged into an almost seamless whole. 

At first, she had tried to escape, but she was held fast by her leash and collar. Vlaz had left nothing within arm’s reach that could be used as a tool or weapon. Even if she did manage to free herself from her bonds, she had no idea how to find the way out of the series of underground caverns that were crawling with drakhalu. 

No, the key to her freedom lay solely with her captor.

Vlaz.

Her mind seethed at the very thought of him. She loathed him for what he had reduced her to, but at the same time, she was hopelessly drawn to him. 

She had watched him give audiences to his minions. Their complete fealty to him was both frightening and alluring. To wield that kind of power… 

She lost herself in fantasy as she ripped another bite of raw rat meat from the bone with her teeth, stifling her gag reflex.

She knew she could have either told Vlaz to kill her, or refused to eat so she would starve to death, but she couldn’t bring herself to do either. To surrender now would mean giving up her destiny. 

Instead, she endured Vlaz’s insidious questionings, casual abuse, and the seemingly endless stream of concubines that walked past her to enter his private chambers and come stumbling out hours later.

She hated them most of all.

She couldn’t stand the way they looked at her as if she were no more than dirt. They walked by with sneers of disdain, as if they couldn’t see the greatness within her. Not even her tribemates had looked at her that way. How she longed to put them in their place…

“You could do it, you know,” Vlaz drawled as he glided into the room. 

Arinmalia turned to face him. She was no longer surprised by his sudden entrances, or the way he could pick up her train of thought.

“Why do you even put up with them?” she asked. “They’re so…” She trailed off with a look of disgust.

“Willing? Eager to please?” Vlaz asked with an amused expression. “They certainly do not have your rebellious charm, but they do have their uses.” He took a moment to flow through a series of languorous stretches.

“I meant ‘weak,’” Arinmalia said, rolling her eyes.

“That is not the word I would use. After all, they are still drakhalu, not to mention they are free, which is more than I can say for you. Have you given any more thought to my offer? In your current form, you are little threat to my lovely playthings, but as my drakhal queen, you could bring them to heel. Or is it your destiny to die a lonely, insignificant death here in my lair?” 

Vlaz reached out to run his long fingers through her hair with a mocking smile.

Arinmalia pulled away, turning her back on him with a snarl of frustration. Vlaz let out a low chuckle, fully understanding her torment.

“I see you are still undecided,” he said. “Very well. I will give you more time to consider. But I advise you to not keep me waiting. Your predicament amuses me for the time being, but it will not keep me entertained forever.”

* * *

Arinmalia sat in her corner of Vlaz’s audience chamber, seething. Her captor sat on his throne, receiving gifts and adulation from his minions, who crowded the room. No one paid her the slightest bit of attention, except to stay beyond her reach.

She had managed to strangle a drakhal with the chain of her leash a few days ago. Only decapitation or a wooden stake through the heart could kill the creatures, but it had been infinitely satisfying to watch her victim’s eyes widen in terror while writhing beneath her grip.

Vlaz had been amused—much to her annoyance—but he had ordered her bound and flogged afterward. 

The other drakhalu had paid attention to her then. They had watched as her punishment was meted out, seeming to savor every moment of her humiliation. Now no one spared her a second glance. It was as if she didn’t exist.

Arinmalia resisted the urge to lash out and scream at them.

I deserve to be acknowledged!

But their eyes were glued on their leader, and her wounds were still too fresh to contemplate another open rebellion, so she remained silent.

She had searched within herself for the higher meaning behind her captivity. She could not bring herself to believe she was meant to die without fulfilling her hidden destiny. Vlaz’s offer seemed her only way out. 

Even if her people hadn’t already given her up for dead, she had no friends who would come to her rescue. She wouldn’t have wanted them to anyway. The thought of her tribemates seeing her brought so low was more than she could bear. 

She knew if her role had been reversed with another elf, she would have never offered to help. Any elf foolish or weak enough to become a captive of the drakhalu wasn’t worth her time. She tolerated weakness in no one—least of all herself.

And wouldn’t allowing herself to be killed be the ultimate form of weakness? At least if she accepted Vlaz’s offer, she would be able to forge her own destiny.

Who knows? Maybe one day I will even manage to overthrow Vlaz.

The thought tempted her, but she still recoiled from the idea of being turned into a drakhal. Submitting to Vlaz was also the last thing she wanted to do. 

So she kept stalling and waiting for another option to appear, despite Vlaz’s mounting impatience.

A growing buzz from the rear of the audience chamber distracted Arinmalia from her thoughts. The crowd parted, revealing a group of drakhalu with a captive in tow. Arinmalia tried to get a better look, but she could see nothing more from between the press of bodies. Vlaz spoke a command in the Black Tongue, and the captive was brought to the dais.

“What do we have here?” Vlaz asked in a honeyed tone, sending a shiver of premonition down Arinmalia’s spine. 

He spoke the Elven Tongue.

He gave another command, and the drakhalu standing around Arinmalia backed away, allowing Vlaz to approach. The newcomers dragged their captive behind him. It was a limp, elven form. Arinmalia must have made some inarticulate sound because the elf raised his head to look at her.

“Arinmalia?” he wheezed.

It was Numhura.

His face was a mask of cuts and bruises, and his skin was covered with blood and grime. Arinmalia stared at him in bewilderment.

“I see you know each other,” Vlaz said with a cunning smile. “What a happy reunion!”

Arinmalia ignored him. “Numhura, what are you doing here?”

“You went missing. I was worried about you. I found your trail and followed it here.” His broken voice was barely above a whisper.

“One of my patrols found him,” Vlaz said. “He came alone, just like you.”

“I tried to get others from the village to help, but no one would come.” Numhura hung his head.

Arinmalia wasn’t surprised. Still, she could make no sense of Numhura’s presence. He meant nothing to her, and she had told him so. What had he expected to accomplish by coming after her on his own?

“But.. why?” she asked. “Why did you try to find me?”

His steady, green gaze met hers. “Because I love you.” He frowned. “I thought you knew that.”

Arinmalia shook her head. “How can you possibly claim to love me?”

Numhura tried to shrug. “I just do. I know we don’t always get along, but I have always known you were the one for me.”

Arinmalia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. What a fool! As if he understood anything about her destiny…

“You should have stayed in the village,” she snapped. “You should have never come after me.”

“But—”

“But, nothing!” Arinmalia stamped her foot. “All you will have done is succeed in getting yourself killed like a lovestruck fool.” 

Numhura withered under her glare.

“Now wait a moment,” Vlaz interjected. “Who said anything about killing him?” He raised an eyebrow.

Arinmalia’s head snapped toward him. “What do you mean?”

“I have grown tired of waiting for your decision in regard to my offer. Perhaps I was wrong about you. Numhura here seems like a strong fellow, and he must be an excellent tracker to have followed your trail this far. Maybe I need a crown prince instead of a queen.”

“You would share your power with him?” Arinmalia spluttered.

“Why not?” Vlaz ran his fingers across Numhura’s bare chest under the tattered remains of his tunic. “You must admit, he is attractive. My minions will take greater pleasure in him than they do of your… rough charms.”

Arinmalia’s hands balled into fists. “But he is nothing! No one! He doesn’t have the great destiny I do.” Numhura flinched.

Vlaz gave her a level look. “And you squander your destiny by wasting my time.” He turned his dark gaze upon Numhura. “What do you say? Are you willing to allow me to turn you? I can grant you great power. I will not lie. If you refuse, my minions and I will kill you.”

Numhura’s expression was anguished. “If I accept, will you free Arinmalia?”

“What?” Arinmalia couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Vlaz ignored her. “If you wish. She will be free to return to Melabeli to live out her life in peace among your tribe. Of course, you could always turn her, and keep her here as your concubine… She would not be your equal in power, but you would be together for all time.” 

Numhura appeared to consider his words.

“You can’t do this!” Arinmalia shrieked. “I will not spend the rest of my days as a powerless drakhal slave, or the insignificant pariah of the Wild Elf village.”

“You had your chance,” Vlaz snapped, not bothering to look at her. “Now unless you are going to accept my offer, I suggest you hold your tongue while Numhura and I determine your fate.”

Arinmalia grabbed his arm. “Wait, I accept!”

“Excuse me?” Vlaz turned his head toward her.

“I accept,” Arinmalia said from between gritted teeth. “I want you to turn me and make me your queen.”

He pinned her with his bottomless gaze. “Are you certain?”

“Yes! Do it.” Arinmalia tilted her head back and bared her throat.

“No!” Numhura cried out and struggled against his captors. “Please, take me!”

Vlaz appeared to waver, stroking his chin.

Arinmalia clung to him, desperately torn between anguish and fury. 

“Please, Vlaz. I am the one meant to rule by your side. You said it yourself! You know I am the one. This is the path to my destiny. Do it!”

Her knuckles were white as she gripped his silk tunic. She had never begged for anything in her life, but she would not let this opportunity slip from her grasp.

Vlaz stroked her hair. She quivered beneath his touch. 

“Very well,” he murmured. “As you wish.”

He yanked her hair, pulling her head to the side. Before Arinmalia could react, his mouth was on her throat, his fangs piercing her flesh. She gasped, swaying, but he held her steady as he drank her life’s blood. 

Numhura’s cry of denial echoed through the chamber. Her limbs grew weak, but Vlaz continued to hold her upright by her hair. The room spun and darkness crowded her vision. She couldn’t seem to get enough breath. Her heart faltered in her chest.

The world faded to black.

* * *

Arinmalia’s eyes opened what felt like only moments later. Her body felt weak and strange. Someone pressed a goblet to her lips, forcing her to drink. 

As her vision cleared, she saw Vlaz before her. A dagger lay on the stone floor nearby, and a trickle of blood ran down his wrist. Arinmalia swallowed the warm, metallic drink, suddenly realizing it was his blood. 

Part of her panicked and tried to push the goblet away, but she was too weak. Vlaz only pulled it from her lips once she had emptied its contents.

Time slowed. The drakhalu in the chamber watched in reverent awe, but Numhura was sobbing. Vlaz raised her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. She fell into those pits of darkness…

Raw power rushed through her. Another elf might have recoiled, but she embraced it, making it her own.

Yes! This is my destiny!

She grabbed the chain leash and yanked it free from the stone wall with hardly any effort. She lashed out at the drakhalu standing closest to her, sending them scrambling. Her wild laughter filled the room.

“I knew you would see things my way,” Vlaz said, sounding amused.

Arinmalia hissed at him. She now realized how he had manipulated her. Numhura had suited his needs perfectly. 

She rushed at Vlaz with a snarl, but he was still faster. He grabbed her by the wrists, pinning her against him. She struggled, but it was no use. Vlaz chuckled.

“Tsk, tsk,” he chided. “Is that any way to show your master gratitude? We can continue this little display of affection later in a more appropriate setting. In the meantime, what shall we do with your little friend?” 

He indicated Numhura. “Remember, he was going to take the power that was rightfully yours and sentence you to irrelevance.”

Arinmalia’s gaze fell upon Numhura. He looked back at her in open horror.

“Please,” he whispered. “Don’t do this. I am begging you.”

Vlaz released her and she strode toward her former tribemate and suitor. Numhura stumbled back from her, a whimper rising in the back of his throat. The crowd behind him prevented his escape.

“You’re begging me?” Arinmalia spat. “How pathetic. I always knew you were weak. You would never have been able to harness this power like I will.” Vlaz glided behind her like a shadow.

Numhura trembled. “Arinmalia—”

“You won’t even defend yourself against me, will you?” She reached out and grabbed one of his braids, pulling him close. “Fool. Meanwhile, you were willing to steal what was rightfully mine. And don’t even try to say anything about your precious love for me, either. I’ve never had any use for you… Until now.”

She breathed against his neck, savoring his fear. It was like the rush she had felt standing over Lodariel’s unconscious body, only a thousand times stronger. 

Vlaz took a similar stance on the other side. She could feel his gloating presence in her mind, silently urging her, firing her imagination with dark promises of the future ahead. 

She reveled in it. Finally, she had found her rightful place. She knew this was only the beginning…

They bit Numhura together.

* * *

Legends of Lasniniar: Her Rightful Place

Copyright © 2021 by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover design by Jacquelyn Smith

Cover art copyright © Akv2006, MerryDesigns, Vi73777,  Wimstime/Dreamstime

 

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