(The Soul of Arial #2)

by Wendy Lohr

Underworld. Where a cruel tyrant rules, female souls are Pets for pleasure, and winged warriors enforce his will. The 100-year Prophecy binds Arial to this world. Undeniable destiny drives her to escape the tyrant’s cage and explore the after-death realm. From the wicked and the wild to where scholars deliberate. Underworld – will she change it or will it change her?


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Chapter One

The Arial of prophecy has been found. It was the first thought to enter Rayner’s mind as he stirred from his slumber. Arial, the one foretold to bring change to his world. Recalling how she had been revealed when she came to his rescue made him feel humble. She had boldly stood between him and the Great One’s fury, saving him from a much harsher outcome. And seeing the Great One’s reaction had left him feeling more satisfied than he had felt in a long time. She was quite a spitfire, he mused with a grin.

His grin turned to a puzzled frown as he thought about his conversation with Arial once the Great One had abruptly and unceremoniously departed. He’d been uneasy about informing her of the prophecy and her panicky dramatic reaction to it had been expected. But what he hadn’t expected was what she’d shared with him about her thought-hearing ability once she’d calmed down. It was similar to the Great One’s ability, but for some reason, Arial was unable to hear Rayner’s or the Great One’s thoughts.

He hadn’t necessarily liked learning about that particular ability, but was relieved that it apparently didn’t apply to him. It was already challenging enough to shield his thoughts from the Great One; he didn’t want to have to do that with Arial as well.

As for his ability to carry on mental communications with others, he assumed that Arial couldn’t hone in on those conversations. Long ago he’d determined that the Great One couldn’t hear the conversations Rayner was having with others, especially his winged Brothers. So, he hoped that was the case with Arial, but made a mental note to verify that as soon as possible.

Pushing those thoughts to the side for now, Rayner rolled out of bed, stretched his stiff muscles, and walked naked out onto the balcony. After spending a few hours with his winged Brothers the night before, he’d fallen into bed in complete exhaustion, still a little sore and rattled from the harsh treatment he’d received from the Great One. But that was yesterday, and now it was a new day. And, if the prophecy was right, the beginning of a whole new paradigm here in Underworld.

Thinking of the prophecy, he replayed the cryptic words in his head:

So it is spoken, so it shall be, that the Soul of Arial will bring change to thee;

With defiance and courage she will paint the scene for two worlds to become one;

And by her side will only one rule and win her respect for eternity.

For the umpteenth time Rayner tried to decipher the meaning of it. How would it work? Who would rule with Arial? What would have to happen to trigger the change? Getting nowhere, he sighed and pushed the worrisome words from his mind, focusing instead on the pleasant feeling of the cool, crisp breeze on his bare skin and absorbing the soft morning light. The sun was just peeking up and the soft colors played across the horizon, beckoning him to join them. Some days he wished he could shirk his duties completely and fly off into the sunrise. But he had never been one to abandon what he’d been charged to do, so the sunrise’s siren call would have to wait once more.

Slowly stretching out his massive wings, he was relieved not to feel any pain in them. Sleep, sexual release, and more sleep apparently had done the trick for him and Rayner felt as good as new once more. Thinking of sex, his lips quirked up slightly as he remembered his encounter with Tahnee the night before. She’d come to him out of concern for his injuries and her affection had stirred something strange and exotic inside him. Their coupling had been much more intimate and intense than anything they’d previously shared.

Not knowing what to make of his unfamiliar thoughts and feelings towards the little vixen, Rayner decided it was best to put that to the back of his mind for now. He had more urgent things to be thinking about as he reluctantly tucked his wings back in, turned away from the misty morning, and headed back inside. As he pulled on the black leather pants and matching combat-styled boots that were his customary attire, Rayner contemplated what needed to be done today. First, he needed to go check on Thorgaard.

When he’d visited his Brother last evening, the warrior had been healing nicely. Thorgaard had been on the receiving end of the Great One’s wrath, just as he had. It wouldn’t surprise him to find his winged Brother to be as good as new this morning as well. At least Rayner hoped that was what he would discover. He still felt terrible for his role in Thorgaard’s unwarranted punishment, but their reconciliation and his efforts to spend more time with his Brothers now were working towards assuaging his guilt.

He wasn’t looking forward to seeing the Great One this morning after what had happened the day before. But it was a necessary evil if Underworld was going to continue to run properly. As much as it irked him, Rayner was still under the Great One’s rule and obligated to abide by it.

With that in mind, he wondered if he should reveal the prophecy to his Brothers and enlist their help in providing protection for Arial. His creators had tasked him with the responsibility, but he couldn’t be in multiple places at once. He still needed to see to his regular duties, but his Brothers were more than capable of protecting Arial when he wasn’t able to. It was just a matter of whether or not they would be amenable to watching over her when he couldn’t.

There was only one way to find out. Rayner would stop by Thorgaard’s chambers first and summon his other Brothers to join them there. Then he would request their help in his endeavors and hope they would be willing to consent. So, making sure he had everything, he transported to Thorgaard’s chambers and sent a mental request for the others to join him. Outside the door he paused and knocked, opening it when he heard Thorgaard call out for him to enter.

“Hello, Brother Rayner,” Thorgaard greeted jovially as Rayner entered the sitting room.

“Good morning, Brother Thorgaard. It looks as though you are feeling much better,” Rayner returned the greeting, pleased to see the younger male up and about. “I have asked our other Brothers to join us as there is something I want to share with all of you.”

As Rayner finished, Malek and Voras appeared. Malek greeted them with his usual calm demeanor and stated, “Auslan is still on duty so he won’t be joining us, Brothers.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’ll make sure to inform him of what I am about to share when I see him,” Rayner responded and all the winged males took a seat.

Without preamble, Rayner told them of the prophecy given by the creators to the rulers of Underworld and Aboveworld, reciting it verbatim. Then he shared what had unfolded the night before. How Nahla had opened the bedchamber door and the Great One, not believing it, had blamed Rayner. When he had stood up to the Great One and had defended his Brothers and himself, the Great One began to punish him just as he had Thorgaard, and she had intervened.

He described how she had boldly put herself between him and the power whips, shielding and protecting his battered body. Rayner also shared how she had sent the Great One from the room and tended to Rayner’s injuries. And while doing so had revealed that her real name was in fact Arial and not Nahla. Nahla was the name that the Great One had bestowed upon her when she had refused to give her real name. She had been unaware of the prophecy until he had shared it with her last evening and that he believed that she was the Arial the prophecy spoke of.

As he finished, Rayner looked around the room and could see that each male was surprised by what had taken place and this revelation. It was Thorgaard that finally broke the silence with, “Wow, I really wish I could have been there to see Arial in action! That female is a force to be reckoned with!”

“She actually protected herself from the Great One’s power whips?” Malek questioned in a mixture of disbelief and awe.

Rayner nodded, remembering her bravely standing between him and the otherworldly force that had caused so much pain.

“And you stood up to the Great One,” Voras stated, satisfaction heavy in his voice and the room grew quiet again as each of his Brothers eyed him respectfully.

“And will do so again, if the occasion calls for it,” Rayner shared firmly.

Then Thorgaard started laughing which caused all of them to look at him in confusion. Rayner didn’t see where any of this was a laughing matter and it was a few moments before the young male exclaimed in amusement, “It appears Rayner got the chance to show Arial that he’d grown a pair!”

That sent all of the warriors except Rayner into fits of raucous laughter. He was acutely aware that Thorgaard was referring to the chastising he had received from her for not standing up for his Brothers in the past. Sighing in exasperation, Rayner was convinced his Brothers were never going to let him live any of this down. But then, if one of them had been on the receiving end of the chastising, he would probably be right in with the teasing too. It was just a good thing Auslan wasn’t here; no telling what that crass brute would have to say at this particular laugh fest.

As the laughter died down, the winged warriors fell into a contemplative silence. He had a feeling they were now focusing more on the prophecy that he had shared with them. Clearing his throat, he questioned aloud, “So, do you comedians have any thoughts to share about this prophecy we’re all facing?”

“If this is true, Brother Rayner, what happens to us? What if she chooses that bitch, Morgana? You know that female has been chomping at the bit to bring us under her rule for eons,” Thorgaard complained bitterly, not looking at all pleased with the prospect of having to serve Morgana.

“Does Arial truly have to choose between the Great One and Morgana?” Malek inquired, looking as though he hoped a different solution would present itself immediately.

“It’s not as if the Great One would be a bad choice,” Voras pointed out. “I mean, he’s not ideal, but he’d certainly be a great deal better than that sadistic counterpart of his.”

“Whatever. They’re both sadistic fucks! Just which one is the worst is the one we should be concerned about,” Thorgaard argued.

“Both of them,” Voras and Malek answered in unison.

“Right. But if she has to choose one or the other, which one do we think would be better?” Thorgaard questioned worriedly.

“Neither,” the other two said in unison again and if circumstances had been different, Rayner probably would have laughed. He didn’t want to interrupt this discussion, though, so he remained silent.

“But the Great One would probably still be the better choice in the long run,” Voras argued again.

“I don’t like this, Rayner,” Thorgaard stated with a distressed sigh.

“I understand, Brother, but I can’t change what the prophecy foretells,” Rayner replied uneasily, speaking up for the first time since this particular conversation began. “I’m not entirely sure what will happen to us. And I don’t know who Arial will choose. She will have to make her own decisions where that part of the prophecy is concerned. But I do know that the creator god and goddess have tasked me with being Arial’s Protector. They’ve charged me with keeping her safe and giving her guidance as she adjusts to her new role here in Underworld. And that is where I need your help, my Brothers.”

“What is it you will have us do, Brother Rayner?” Voras asked curiously.

“Because of my obligations to the Great One and to the overseeing of Underworld, I will not always be around to protect young Arial,” Rayner explained. “So, I would be very appreciative if each of you would consider taking turns protecting her when I am not available to do so myself.”

“What of our obligation to the Great One?” Thorgaard asked warily. “Did he ask you to approach us with this task?”

Rayner looked his Brother in the eye and answered firmly, “No, he does not even know that I have informed each of you of the prophecy. I felt it was the right thing to do and am here of my own accord. Arial needs protection and I do not trust the Great One to be rational enough to provide it. He will be too busy trying to secure his position by her side to give much thought beyond keeping her away from Morgana.”

His Brothers eyed him thoughtfully for a moment, considering what he had shared with them. Rayner waited patiently for them to speak and wondered what else he could say to convince them of his sincere need of their help. After several moments of silence, Thorgaard stated, “Well I will be glad to provide protection for young Arial. I have a great deal of respect for her already and do not wish to see any harm come to her. So you may count on my assistance, Brother Rayner.”

“You may count on me as well, Brother,” Malek offered firmly. “Even though I have yet to meet young Arial, she must be very special to have the creators tasking you with protecting her.”

“She is very special indeed, Brother Malek,” Thorgaard agreed in near reverence. “After watching her stand up to the Great One to try and protect me, I have no doubt that she is a truly extraordinary soul and one worthy of our protection and respect.”

“And she did the same for me yesterday which tells me she believes in protecting those that are innocent. You are right, Brother Thorgaard, that she is quite an extraordinary soul,” Rayner added, knowing that her willingness to stand up for the winged warriors was something that would gain the respect of each of them. No other soul had ever done that for them in all the millennia they’d been serving the Great One.

“She definitely sounds like an amazing soul to get to know and I will certainly do my part in protecting her as well, Brother Rayner,” Voras shared firmly.

“Thank you, Brothers,” Rayner stated warmly. “I need to get going, but let’s keep this conversation between us for now. If the Great One is present when I arrive, I’ll need to ask one of you to inform Auslan of what is going on. Otherwise, I’ll speak with him myself.”

“Not a problem, Rayner,” Thorgaard assured. “No harm will come to Arial if we can help it. And if there’s anything we can do where the prophecy is concerned, let us know.” The others voiced their agreement and Rayner thanked them again before transporting to the throne room.

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