Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm
Sorry about the delay, life is not giving me much of a break lately. But here it is, a double-length story to make up for the gap This continues the stories based on they rhyme at the beginning of A Story for Japan. I’ll be wrapping these up in the next few weeks, and the Nox and Grimm web serial will resume at it’s regular weekly time.
<- Read previous installment, Darendale, Fire’s Queen
The off duty Wind Knights had gathered at their favorite watering hole to celebrate the impending engagement of their leader. Members of at least fifteen different Houses crowded into the taproom, and the noise was deafening. Everard had to yell as he lifted his tankard for a toast. “Here’s to the Captain, the luckiest bastard in the realms!”
“He’s only lucky if she says yes!” one wag shouted, and a torrent of laughter and catcalls followed.
Everard smiled and shook his head; they all knew it was a sure thing. The delicate, auburn haired wood nymph was as besotted with the Captain as he was with her. He only hoped he would be as lucky some day. He drained his tankard and squeezed through the crowd to get another.
One of the junior knights pressed one into his hands. “Hey Ev, you’re from his House, right? Why did he get stuck with a name like Wanderer?”
“Wanderer is a nickname he earned. His real name is Aurengrey, though his friends just call him Grey,” he said, warming up to the tale.
The same wag called out, “Wait, the Captain has a name?” and more laughter followed.
“I said his friends use it. You lot can keep calling him Captain,” Everard said with a pointed look, and got some cheerful abuse from the audience. He gave a one-fingered wave in acknowledgement, and took a swig of ale before going on. “House Cyclonis was in a bad way before we moved here – you know we used to live in the southern hemisphere, right?” He got a few nods. “Well, first we got invaded by wyverns, and had to hole up in the cliff walls of a great bloody canyon system that runs for hundreds of miles down there. Carved a whole city out of the rock to live in. But Air kindred aren’t meant to be below ground, and a sickness ran through the city. So our Captain went in search of a cure, both for the illness and to combat the poison in the wyvern stings. He flew halfway around the world with nothing but the stars to guide him and a few rumors about a famous healer who lived in the north.” He paused for more beer and wiped his mouth. “Needless to say he found what he was looking for, but that wasn’t good enough for Grey. First he convinced all of the southern Houses to move up here where we can live in the free air. Then he made the trip back round the world again, to help set up the portals so the rest of us poor schlubs wouldn’t have to fly the whole way. The only man to circle the globe twice. And here we are now thanks to him, drinking all of Lord Galen’s fine beer,” he said, and raised his tankard. “Three cheers for the Captain!”
KABOOOOM – the third cheer was cut off by a blast of fire that lit up the whole sky. Seconds later, the alarm bells started tolling along the western walls.
“Just our luck, we finally get a night off and the damned Shadowkin crash the party” Everard groused, but he was already running for the door with the rest of the knights. They piled out into the street, leaving a jumble of overturned chairs and dropped tankards in their wake. Overhead, vapor trails marked where the other Wind Knights had taken off from the walls, and the sounds of warcastings boomed through the night. Everard ducked into the barracks long enough to toss on some chainmail and grab a sword before flying up to the top of the walls.
The plains beyond were shrouded in black. It wasn’t even the simple darkness of night; it was a thick, impenetrable wall. Groping tendrils of shadow reached out from its edge, creeping ever closer to the city. The only light he could see came from fitful blasts of fire that illuminated the tree line. Everard caught the arm of a guard running past. “Who’s out there?”
“That’s Lady Darendale, sir. She went after the Captain and his fiancée. He picked a Hel of a time to get romantic.”
Everard didn’t wait for orders. He ran along the wall to where the men of his House were gathering, and motioned them in close. “Grey’s in trouble lads, and it’s up to us to fish him out of it. Listen to the changes in the Air currents like he taught you, and put on your signal markers.” All of the knights tied a cluster of small metal chips to their belt. The sound each one made was unique, and let them identify each other in the murk that the Shadowkin always sent out before their attacks. Everard pumped his fist, and they rocketed off into the inky void.
The dark enveloped them like a smothering weight. The air was sluggish, and they had to work hard to keep aloft. Everard took note of where each of the men was by the muffled sound of their markers. They were still in formation and flying steady, but he had lost track of how far it was to the tree line where he had last seen one of Dale’s fire castings. The dark pressed in closer, and he caught himself drifting lower in response. “Watch your altitude!” he called out, and pushed upwards.
It was pure luck that he flew high enough to avoid the attack. Sharp thumps, followed by the whistle of fletching heralded a storm of crossbow bolts. Men screamed below him, and the sound of their markers falling away left a sick feeling in his stomach. It was a trap, and he had rushed them all right into it. Everard fought to stay aloft but the dark air crushed in on him, defying his attempts to control it. He decided to quit fighting it and plunged downwards instead, trusting to luck again to keep him from joining his fallen comrades.
More bolts whistled past, one close enough to cut a line across his scalp. He stopped listening for the markers of his men and started trying instead to gauge the distance to the ground. He was saved by another blast of fire which gave him just enough warning to pull up and avoid impact. He skimmed along the grass, heart hammering in his chest, and hurtled headlong into the clearing Darendale had made. She was surrounded by Shadowkin and fighting hard, forcing Everard to take evasive maneuvers to avoid getting burned down himself. “Dale, go low!” he shouted, and pulled enough G-forces in a sharp turn to make his vision go black around the edges. He spiraled inwards, tighter and tighter until one of the cyclones that gave his House its name formed around them. Everard got a grim smile of satisfaction on his face as heard the screams of his enemies being flung into the distance.
Dale swayed on her feet as he landed next to her, and he could see an arrow sticking out from under one rib.
“These damn bolts won’t burn,” she said, touching the shaft and wincing. “They took the Captain, I’m sorry Ev. There were just too many. Katya has gone to the…” she started to say, but her knees buckled as her strength gave out.
Everard caught her, and lowered her carefully to the ground. “Hush, Dale. We’ll save them both, don’t worry,” he said, but he wasn’t sure how they were going to get back to the city, let alone help anyone else. More Shadowkin had arrived, and they prowled around the outside of his cyclone barrier. Some of them were testing it by carving the sharp lines of warcastings in the air with their swords. One of them let out a cry of triumph, and Everard spat out a curse as his casting collapsed.
His world shrunk down to nothing more than the point of his sword, and the willpower that let him command the wind. Lunge and slash, retreat, parry, steal the wind from them, push it back in their faces, tangle it around their legs, thrust as they stumble, blood everywhere, was it his, or theirs? Stay in the fading light of Dale’s firecastings, pray that the dawn comes soon…
The Shadowkin suddenly broke off. The night around him seemed to take a deep breath, and exhaled it back out again, pushing the unnatural dark away. Everard leaned on his sword in tired relief, grinning from ear to ear. “Good ol’ Lord Galen! He always finds a way to break through!”
As soon as he was sure the enemy was gone, Everard knelt down beside Dale to check on her condition. He held a hand above her lips, and a hint of breath brushed over his fingers. He put his sword down within easy reach and checked the area around the wound. Fortunately for Dale, all of the Air kindreds had a touch of the healing talent, and Everard had more than most. If there was even the smallest flicker of life left, he would bring her back.
He carefully scratched out the enchantments that kept the arrow from burning, and leaned back as her body’s reflexes sent up a column of flame to burn out the foreign object. Then he pressed his hands over the wound, and let his own life-force flow out into it. That was the cost to healing – life for a life. There were other methods that took less from the healer, but every healing enchantment had a bit of the caster inside of it. Everard poured out his life force without thought for himself, and he did not stop until he felt her stir beneath his hands.
He must have blacked out, because the next thing he knew he woke up to the sound of jingling metal markers and the glint of moonlight on armor. Someone lifted him onto a stretcher, and he could see Dale being set on another. One of the knights put a hand on his shoulder. “Rest easy, Ev. You lucked out, we got to you before the Shadowkin could carry you off. We’ll get you back on your feet in no time.”
Everard recognized the knight as Tyrus, one of the Air kin from House Typhoon. “Did anyone find the Captain?” he asked. “Who else did they take?”
Tyrus looked bleak. “No, we haven’t found him yet. They took everyone that got hit in that first wave of crossbow fire. We’re tracking them down.”
The sick feeling settled into the pit of his stomach again. That meant a full third of the warriors from House Cyclonis were gone, and it was his fault. No one knew what twisted spells the House of Shadows used on their captives, but they were never the same afterwards. Most ended up joining the Shadowkin. He had probably just fought against men that he used to buy drinks for. He might end up fighting some of his closest friends, including Grey, if they didn’t find them in time.
He stared up at the clearing skies and whispered, “Hang on, guys. You have to hang on…”
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm
This one is set a few weeks before the events in “Aradann, Evergreen“. I’ll be continuing with stories from the poem at the beginning of A Story for Japan while I work on the e-book. I hope you enjoy these looks into Grimm’s history:)
Darendale elbowed the door to Asphodel’s workshop open and dropped an armload of broken metal onto the counter. The old mountain kindred glanced up from his work at the loud clatter, and sighed.
“I should have known it was you, Dale. Aren’t Ladies supposed to be quiet and demure?”
She laughed and reached over the pile of metal to tweak his nose. “I have missed seeing you too, you old goat.”
He brushed her hand away, but his scowl turned into an amused smile. “I won’t ask what you’ve been up to, my poor heart couldn’t take the shock,” he said, and the wicked smile she gave him made him doubly glad he didn’t know. Fire kindreds. They were so terribly…impetuous. That was a safe word. “So, what was this heap of junk?” he asked, poking through the sharp pieces. There was not a single one larger than his palm.
“A Wind Knight’s shield. One of your make, actually, but the enchantment was shattered along with the rest of it.”
“Do you know who broke it?”
“Elphias,” she said, her mouth setting in a hard line.
He winced at the name of his first protégé. “If I had known what use he would make of my teachings, I would have sealed his power and tossed him out on the street,” he said vehemently.
“Even I can’t tell what sort of man a boy will turn out to be, just by looking at him. And I know more of men’s hearts than most.” She leaned across the counter and her reddish-gold hair tumbled down across her shoulders, just covering the low-cut opening of her jacket. Her fingers traced mark on a chunk of metal and it shattered into even smaller pieces. “That’s the warcasting he used. The Captain wants to know if you can counter it.”
Asphodel was careful to keep his eyes on his work. He may have been old, but he wasn’t dead yet. Then again, he wasn’t sure the dead would be safe from her charms either. “Did I detect a harsh note when you said Captain? Don’t tell me you’re jealous,” he said, teasing her to deflect her attention away from him.
“It’s not jealousy, ‘Del, it’s a woman’s intuition. I don’t like his girlfriend. Not one bit.” She clasped her hands together and batted her eyelashes. “Oh, save me, you big hunky knight! Oh woe is helpless little me!” She let out a delicate snort. “No one is that useless. There’s something off about Katya, mark my words.”
“Not everyone is as ferocious as you,” Asphodel said, with a chuckle. “And what would your people say, what with him being so far below your rank?”
“They are Fire, what do you think they’d say?” she said, with a grin and a shrug. “Besides, Galen would give him any title he wanted. He’s just too modest to ask. Ah well,” she said, and reached out to run a finger along one of his bushy sideburns. “It’s a shame you aren’t younger, ‘Del. I might have given you a go.”
He raised an eyebrow. “It’s a shame you aren’t a bit older. I might have let you.”
She gave a delighted laugh. “I really do love you, you old goat. But sadly I have to go, I drew guard duty on the walls tonight. Send word when you’ve figured out how to fix that,” she said.
“Shoo,” he said “go tease the boys closer to your own age.”
She winked and headed out, her silvery laughter following her. Asphodel got up from his workbench and poured himself an ice cold glass of water, though he wasn’t sure whether to drink it, or pour it over his head. Fire-kin. Impetous. He laughed at himself and settled down to work.
Later, Darendale rested her arms on the parapet of the city walls and looked out over the grassy plateau. A couple walked together toward the trees at the far edge, one of them with the Captain’s distinctive, broad-shouldered silhouette. He was going to propose to Katya tonight, out under the forest eaves where she would feel most at home. Dale couldn’t decide if she was jealous or not. She had flirted with him on occasion, but it would never have worked out and they both knew it. He wanted to settle down and raise a family. Dale was the chief of the Fire nomads, and the mere thought of staying in one place for too long made her skin crawl. The only reason she was still here was that the Shadowkin had cut off every one of the mountain passes. Still, it would have been fun while it lasted.
She looked out toward the mountains, where the setting sun had already left long shadows creeping out through the valleys. Night fell swiftly this time of year, but even so the darkness had settled in fast. Too fast. She gauged the position of the sun behind the tallest peak, and realized that the dark was spreading in the wrong direction. A chill ran down her spine – it would take hundreds of Shadowkin to make an aura veil that size. This was a full scale attack, and he was out there with nothing more than a belt knife and that useless chit to watch his back!
Dale flung up a hand and sent out a burst of flames that lit the plateau like a mid-day sun. A roar of wind answered from far below. “C’mon, big guy, run, fly her out of there,” she said, running herself. She vaulted down the stairs to the gatehouse and sprinted out onto the plain, the warning bells ringing all along the walls behind her. She could just make out his heat signature, a single bright silhouette in the gloom. Katya didn’t radiate any heat at all. What the Hel?…
He stood with his head cocked, listening. Katya clung to his side, leaving him only one arm to work with. Stupid chit. He pushed her down and spun around, moving faster than someone his size had any right to. Flat line winds ripped outwards, crumpling his foes and shearing through the trees beyond. He couldn’t see them, and he had no weapon but the wind, but in the hands of a warcaster like him that should have been enough. Dale saw him stop to listen again, motioning Katya to be quiet. Didn’t she know he needed to hear his foes to target them? The idiot forest-kin was probably whining about the broken trees.
He was moving again in a familiar pattern for whipping up a cyclone shield. Katya must have convinced him to go on the defensive, but it was the wrong call. They needed to fight their way out of there before the rest of the Shadowkin arrived.
Dale all but flew across the plains, swift as a wildfire and twice as deadly. The night lit up again and filled with screams as the wall of flames she summoned swept outwards through the high grass. Sparks exploded around her as the fire cut through the Shadowkin’s aura veils, leaving charred corpses in its wake.
The Captain pulled Katya to her feet, the wind and fire swirling around them in a roaring holocaust. Dale yelled over the din. “Don’t waste time on a shield, get the Hel out of there!” She was close enough now to see Katya reach up, and he jerked his head back. He put a hand to his cheek, and Dale could see a hot line of blood well up.
Everything seemed to slow down. He mouthed the word, ‘Why’, and his knees buckled. The bitch didn’t even try to catch him. She just let him pitch to the ground, and the wind dropped into an eerie silence. Dale had never heard of a poison that worked that fast, but then, a forest-kin like Katya probably knew dozens of rare plant toxins.
Hordes of dark shapes surrounded the bitch, too many for Dale to fight alone. She ran on anyway, determined not to let them have him. She could hear the wind howling in the distance. She didn’t have to win, she just had to delay them until the Wind Knights arrived…
Next week – Azmodeus, Warrior King