Gathering Shadows – Part 7 March 30, 2013Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
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Grey gave up on trying to button his high collared jacket all the way up. A month of daily sparring sessions with Galen’s weapons master had broadened his shoulders and chest more than he had realized. The heavy, embroidered white fabric of the jacket creaked from strain every time he lifted his arms. “I’m not going to have to wave to anyone, right?”
Aurelius laughed. “No, but let’s hope you don’t have to sneeze. If a button goes flying and hits a foreign dignitary you might start a war.”
“Thanks Dad, you’re really helping.” Grey frowned at his reflection in the mirror and tugged at the collar again.
Merina pulled his hands away. “Careful dear, you’ll ruin the embroidery.”
“Sorry mom. It looked like it would fit when I held it up,” he said, with a rueful sigh. “I’ll be forever known as the Bare-Chested Knight.”
“I’m sure the girls will like it,” Aurelius said but his smile faded a little. “You know I’d take this on myself if I could.”
“I know, Dad.”
His father had officially, permanently stepped aside as the leader of Cyclonis. Despite Galen’s best efforts, the damage done by the poison in the wyverns spines was too extensive. Summoning the barest whisper of Air was a painful effort for him now. As Galen had put it, ‘sometimes the body just says, enough.’
Aurelius had immediately put the leadership of their tribe a vote, and the outcome was unanimous. Grey would take over as their chief and war leader. In order to give him a status to match that of Galen’s other allies, he would be made a Wind Knight and granted lands on the rolling plains to the north of the city. Through him, his people would have a place to call their own in this new country. Everyone knew they could not stay Galen’s guests forever, and this was the simplest way to settle the issue.
Except that it meant a whole new world of responsibilities for Grey. At seventeen he would be the youngest person on Galen’s council, and the least experienced in politics. And he would have to do far more than simply be the speaker for Cyclonis. To be a Wind Knight meant pledging to serve all Air kin, to act as a defender of the realm in times of need and an arbiter of justice in times of peace. Grey wasn’t generally given to nerves, but all of this together was enough to make his mouth go dry. He tugged at his collar again, wondering not for the first time if he might have done better to go back to fighting wyverns.
A polite knock at the antechamber door was followed by Galen’s chief herald, Ewan. “Everyone is assembled in the great hall. Are you ready, sir?”
Grey started to shrug, but thought better of it as he felt the seams of the fabric stretch. “I suppose I am.”
Merina gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. “You’ll be fine, sweetie. You look dashing.”
Aurelius stood up and gripped his shoulder. “Don’t worry, son, all these titles are nothing more than hot air. Just remember who you are, and you can’t go far wrong.”
2000 years later Grimm could laugh a little at the painful irony of that advice, having forgotten who he was completely for millennia. But on the day he was knighted, he was glad to hear any bit of wisdom his father could share.
Ewan led them out into a long, vaulted hall that was packed to bursting with Air kindreds. It looked as if the whole city was waiting for him in the hall. Grey tugged at his collar one more time and squared his shoulders, silently repeating the words he had to say over and over in his head so that he wouldn’t forget them.
Galen sat at the head of the hall, looking every inch the Lord of his domain in sky blue robes that shimmered every time he moved, mimicking the shifting light of a mid-day sky. His wife, Elena sat next to him, resplendent in a midnight blue gown and a net of diamonds in her dark hair that twinkled like stars. Her handmaidens, dressed all in white stood behind them. The nobles of the Air kin stood to Galen’s right, their colorful silk robes reminding Grey of brightly plumaged birds. Their long black hair was styled in fanciful braids, with gemstones twined along their length on silk bands.
To Galen’s right stood the representatives from his allies’ Houses. Grey had not been formally introduced to any them yet, and since he was going to have to work with these people on a regular basis he decided to focus on studying them while he made the long walk through the hall.
The scarlet haired Queen Darendale of the Fire nomads was the first to catch his eye, (and that of most other men in the room.) Her snug-fitting, beautifully tooled leathers were just a small step above scandalous. The last thing Grey wanted was to make a fool of himself by staring though, so he quickly moved his gaze onto safer targets.
Next to her was her secretary, Dorian. His hair was a more reddish brown, and his clothes, while just as flamboyant were thankfully far less revealing. He wore an elaborate brocade frock coat over a frilled white shirt, a ruby crusted waistcoat and crimson knee breeches. His fingers glittered with rings where they peaked out beneath long, lace cuffs.
Lords Ice, Frost, Hale and Snow stood next to the Fire kin, all seemingly cast from a similar mold; tall and gaunt, with white hair, pale skin and pale blue eyes. They wore flowing robes in silver and black, edged with furs and studded with diamonds and sapphires in the patterns of constellations.
Earth came next, two stocky, brown haired men in soft suede jackets worn over breaches and sturdy boots. Gold threads were woven in a broad, patterned trim along the edge of their clothes and the cunningly worked metal clasps for their cloaks and belts more than made up for the simplicity of their attire.
The River kin were there as well, three slender men and women, all tanned with sun bleached hair, their clothes a wild mix of every territory their waters passed through. Next to them was the representative from Oceanis, a willowy blond woman in a sleeveless sea-foam green gown, with tattoos spiraling up over her arms, neck and onto her face.
Flora was there as well, a man and woman draped in layers of pastel fabrics, all embroidered with fantastical images of birds, beasts and flowers. A moment later Grey realized it was not embroidery, but actual plants growing through the fabric in carefully cultivated patterns.
Grey’s friends stood out in stark contrast to the rest, in their more warlike attire. Aradann was there for the Forest kindreds, in scale-mail armor made of intricately carved pieces of ironwood. With his dark skin and the carved wooden beads braided into his dark brown hair, he looked and sounded like a forest in a stiff breeze whenever he moved.
Tairwyn represented his small group of Mountain kin, in steel plate armor as always. He had added delicate etching to it however, with inlaid silver and gold knotwork patterns to dress it up. He was twirling his long mustachios thoughtfully, studying his counterparts just as Grey was.
Grey’s parents took their seats to one side, and he was alone in the crowded hall.
Galen stood, and took the sword brought forward by one of the handmaidens. He gave Grey an encouraging smile and addressed the room. “It has been more than a hundred years since the last time anyone was elevated to the rank of Wind Knight. When I led the Air kindreds to these peaceful shores, I set aside this very sword, and swore to never take a life again. But in doing so I forgot something very important. I was given this sword, not to take lives, but to protect them. I was reminded of that by this brave, selfless young man. Time and again, I watched him place himself in the very jaws of danger, not for glory or for love of the fight – only to protect those around him. His courage and self-sacrifice reminded me of my own oaths, and showed me that there was still a need for knights in this world.”
“To be a Wind Knight is to serve. It is a binding oath, one that will stay with you for all of your days. Do you accept this honor, this responsibility?”
Grey could feel the eyes of the whole room on him, and all the words he had memorized slipped away. The only thing he could think to say was, “Yes.”
He heard Tairwyn chuckle quietly and mutter, “A man of few words, even now.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Galen’s mouth, but he quickly hid it. “Kneel, Aurengrey.” He lifted the sword, and tapped him lightly on each shoulder with the blade. “From this day forth, you are the sworn Guardian of our people. You are our knight defender, our strength and honor personified. You will be the first of a new order, their leader. Rise, Captain Aurengrey, Knight of the Winds.”
Lady Elena kissed him on both cheeks and one of her handmaidens belted the sword on him, blushing the whole while. Then Grey took his place at Galen’s side, with the roar of the crowd’s cheers ringing in his ears.
A binding oath that will stay with you all of your days…
Grimm could feel it even now, tugging at his soul. He looked at his hands, rough and calloused, criss-crossed with scars. None of them could have known that their enemies would pervert that oath, and use it to make him serve their ends. How many times had the twin pulls nearly driven his mad? To kill at his new masters’ command, or to protect the last of his kind?
It was becoming harder and harder to remain objective, to merely record the events of his life. He had only been freed of the Shadowkin’s thrall for a bare few months, not nearly enough time for the wounds to heal.
There may never be enough time for that, he thought, pushing aside the turmoil in his heart. So quit dwelling on it and do your duty.
The Shadowkin were still out there. Katya still walked the earth, and so long as even one of her ilk still lived, Nox and her family would be in danger. The answer to the question of how to destroy them forever lay in his past. He had to remember, no matter the cost to himself. He had delayed long enough – it was time to look back to that fateful return trip to the Western continent…
Gathering Shadows – Interlude March 11, 2013Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
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The old knight slowly surfaced from his trance. Grimm found himself sitting at his desk by the window, with a hand held palm-down over his journal. Half the pages were full now, with the last words slowly writing themselves across the page. He stared at the book without seeing it, his mind still ranging back over 2000 years to his youth. He’d forgotten how close he had come to killing himself with that one war casting. “More brawn than brains,” he said, with an amused snort. That stunt had earned him two painful weeks of recovery, followed by the first of many lessons in what Galen termed, “the more subtle uses of power.” It was a good thing his old mentor had been a patient man – Grimm had been a lot of things in his long life, but subtle was not one of them.
He let out a quiet laugh, sorely tempted to linger on those memories, awkward or not. Seeing his old friends and loved ones again was almost like having them alive again. But as much as Grimm missed them, he knew this journal needed to be a proper history, not the muddlings of a young man still coming into his full power. No, it was time to delve into the other memories locked within the Key to Winds. It was time to move on to his enemies. He rolled his shoulders as he used to do, to settle his armor before going into battle with the Shadowkin. It was an old habit, but it got him in the right frame of mind…
“Is it just me, or did that thing recognize you?”
The wyvern let out a hiss as the portal snapped shut, cutting off the voices of his prey. Oh yes, he knew Galen. His presence here was an unwelcome flaw in their otherwise successful plan. If the Lord Zephyr had joined forces with the young warrior from Cyclonis…Kaltenn plucked the sword out of his eye and dragged his failing body out into the open air. It was time to return home, to plan their next move. He spent his last breath screaming out an order to his subordinates.
Soon more wyverns circled overhead, herding a newly fledged juvenile down toward the corpse with buffets of their wings. An oily black substance drained from the dead wyvern’s eyes and oozed out of its nostrils. The juvenile made a clumsy landing by its elder but hesitated just out of reach, its head weaving back and forth in distress. As the substance pooled on the ground between them, a third wyvern dove down and shoved the juveniles’ muzzle into the ooze.
The younger beast shrieked and struggled wildly, but the substance clung to its muzzle and crawled inside its mouth. It thrashed about, letting out a despairing wail before collapsing. Moments later, when it raised its head its eyes had turned an oily black.
Once Kaltenn had settled into his new host he made it give out an eerie, high-pitched cry before launching itself skyward. He rode the thermals until he reached the cool upper air, and turned his head to the north. The other wyverns echoed the cry and joined him, scores of them gathering until the sky turned dark beneath their leathery wings.
They flew for days, leaving the grassy plains of the southern continent behind them. They passed over a spit of land that was surrounded by the ocean on either side, and followed its curve to the east. Further north, they passed signs of what was once a great civilization – ruined castles dotted the landscape, and burnt out towns thrust sharp chunks of walls up like broken teeth. On and on they flew, until at last they came to edge of a great mountain range. A lone castle sat on the side of the largest peak, overlooking a ruined city. They circled down to land inside a cavern entrance that opened out just below the castle walls.
Deep within the mountain they crawled, wings folded tight to their backs, until they came to a vast chamber at the mountain’s heart. Rows of granite slabs waited for them there, and on each one rested the body of a sable haired Air kindred. Each wyvern in turn would cough out the dark substance over a body and crawl away, making room for a cadre of slaves to rush in to clean and care for their newly awakened masters.
Kaltenn hated changing back. After the power of wings and claws and poisoned tipped tail, a man’s body seemed pathetically weak. He scowled at the pretty Forest kin who rubbed feeling back into his legs and arms. Auburn hair, leaf green eyes… there was a time he would have fancied her, but he’d lost his taste for ordinary women, preferring to mate on the wing. If only the wyverns had a sharper mind, he could stay as one forever…
The woman on the slab next to his sat up and stretched languorously. “What a frightful face you are making, brother.”
Kaltenn turned his scowl on her. “I have reason for it. Galen lives.”
“Oh?” Katyanna said, arching an eyebrow. “And why should we care about one old man? If he were strong enough to be a threat, we would have dealt with him long since.”
“By himself he is nothing, but he gathers strong allies around him. I think you’ll remember one in particular –the young man that created the barrier to keep us out of our lair, while his tribe slaughtered our queen mother and her handmaidens. A whole nest of wyverns destroyed, and the essences of our kin lost before we could reach them.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I thought you had a plan to kill him.”
“We cannot allow someone as strong as him to have access to Galen’s knowledge,” Katyanna said. She pursed her lips and stared intently at the slave. “Death is too good for him. He has spilled royal blood.” She grabbed the chin of the Forest kin and forced the girl to look up. “What do you think, is she pretty, brother?”
Kaltenn let out a non-committal grunt. “Fair enough, I suppose.”
Her dark grey eyes flashed with amusement. “You’ve stayed too long in a wyverns’ skin. She is ripe and sweet, just the thing to catch a young man’s eye. I think I’ll enjoy wearing her.”
Kaltenn dug his fingers into the Forest kin’s arm and yanked her away from his sister. “Don’t be a fool. No one has survived the transfer to anything but a dumb beast.”
“Then it is long since time we returned to our studies. Fear not, brother,” Katyanna said, reaching out to lay a fond hand on his cheek. “I have thought long on this. When I am done, there will be no barriers left to us. We will take anyone our heart desires.”
Kaltenn did not relish spending more time is his true body, but the chance to expand his choice of who, or what to wear was very tempting. He rested his hands on the side of the slab and leaned forward. “Tell me your plan.”
“Galen will be prepared for wyverns. He would recognize us as well, and fight back. But a poor, battered refugee?” she said, indicating the slave. “He will take her in without question. And as for his new protégé, what young man could resist a damsel in distress?” A slow, cruel smile crossed her face. “No, I will not kill him. He will live long enough to see everything he loves destroyed. I will make him suffer as no man has in the history of our kind.”
Kaltenn laughed and leaned over to kiss her on the top of the head. “My dear Katya, you always know what to say to bring a smile to my face.”
Grimm’s eyes snapped open. It was unsettling to hear them plotting his downfall. Even worse to know Katya was right, he had fallen into her trap so easily, and paid for his folly for millennia…He shook his head to clear it. No, he would not waste more time on her. What mattered was that they had feared him even then. But why? What sort of casting could he have managed, that Galen alone could not? The answer had to lie somewhere in the memories stored inside the Wind Key. Why else had Galen left it with him?
He turned to look out the window. The first hints of dawn had painted the horizon red. He had an hour, maybe two before Nox awoke and he would need to return to his duties. Time enough to dig a little deeper into the past. He closed his eyes, and focused his thoughts on his first months living in Zephyra…
Gathering Shadows – Part 5 February 18, 2013Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
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A tremor ran through the cavern, and the battle had begun. Tairwyn’s Mountain kin knelt down with palms flat on the ground, pouring out every ounce of energy they could muster to keep the Bore worms from collapsing the floor out from beneath the defenders.
In the darkened hallways, any flicker of motion was met with the thrum and whistle of arrows, as Aradann’s people unleashed a deadly rain into their foes. Grey stood next to Aradann, a spear held ready. He called out to his fellow Air kindreds, “Steady! Wait for a clear shot, make this count! Steady…” The floor started to heave, and he could hear Tairwyn shouting, “Force ‘em up, lads!”
The whole cavern shook, and with a deafening roar the Bore worms burst out into the corridors. “NOW!” Grey bellowed, and as one the Air kin sang out war castings and sent their spears screaming down the hall. The worms recoiled from the impact, but let out a high pitched keen that dropped the Forest kin to their knees and sent the Mountain kin reeling.
“COUNTER STRIKE!” Grey ordered, and the Air kin raised their voices in a wall of sound that cancelled out the sonic attack beating down their allies. “READY SPEARS!” he said, and the second rank handed fresh weapons forward.
The hallway was filled with writhing, pallid forms. The worms surged forward, rows of teeth undulating in their gaping, eager maws. Grey resisted the urge to step back, even though every instinct told him to run. He took a quick look right and left and saw the front ranks starting to waver. “Hold the lines, HOLD THE LINES!” He took aim straight for the creature’s throat and sent the spear ripping down through its gullet.
A ragged cheer went up from the men around him as the worm jerked back into the tunnel. Their joy was short-lived, however, as they realized the creature was not retreating. It was being eaten whole by the other worms from the tail on up, each lurching gulp devouring another few feet of length. Soon enough, the hall would be clear of the carcass. Grey tried to pull in more Wind for another war casting, but the element wouldn’t answer his call. There were too many others trying to draw on the same dwindling resources. The wyverns lurking outside the caves must have blocked the last of the ventilation shafts . “Second line!” he gasped out, hoping those behind him had saved enough Air to keep them going for a few more salvos.
Some of Aradann’s people had recovered, and fitful groups of arrows leapt from their bows. It did not stop the worms but Grey was desperately glad to see that it slowed them down. He took a quick look around to check on the battle lines. They were holding, barely. Some groups were already down to the third rank, however. “Galen, I hope you have that miracle!” he said.
“A few more minutes,” came the slightly distracted reply.
One of the Mountain kin cried out. “They’re going for the roof!” The cavern shook again, and chunks of rock started falling from the ceiling. “We can’t hold it!”
Aradann took his bow and jammed it into the floor. “We have you, brothers!” The other Forest kin followed his lead, and the bows sprouted up and up, branches spreading out to hold the roof and roots digging down, a whole forest created in the space of two heartbeats.
“Ah hah, I’ve got it!” Galen shouted, and a rush of cool, springtime air filled the room. Grey looked back and his jaw nearly hit the floor. A huge portal, three times the size of any he had seen before filled the back half of the cavern, and on the far side was the city Zephyra. Galen had done the impossible, opening a doorway to the far side of the world. The non-combatants were already streaming through, carrying the wounded and children on their backs.
Grey shouted out into the glorious fresh air, “Fall back behind the trees and hold!”
The battle lines shifted, and just in time. Fissures opened in the ground beyond the forest, and the ceiling collapsed in a landslide. The Bore worms backed off, burrowing away from the scorching sun that blazed down through the opening. Grey squinted in the sudden glare, shading his eyes with his hand.
The next attack happened so fast that it was all Grey could do to summon up a wind barrier in time to keep from being bitten in half. A hiss and scrape of scales was followed by the crunch of splintering trees as the wyverns smashed into the lines.
Grey backed up a step, gathering his wits about him. There was plenty of air to fight with now but the flow was too chaotic with everyone desperately trying to save themselves. If they didn’t start fighting together, they were doomed. “To me!” he cried out. “Form up on me! BARRIERS UP!” He started singing out a cadence, his deep voice making the very stones hum in sympathy. More voiced joined to his and a solid wall of air formed between them and the wyverns. The Wind tribes slowly pulled together as they retreated back, step by step, dragging their dead and wounded along with them.
The wyverns would not give up so easily. They began uprooting the trees, wings straining as they beat skywards. At the apex of their flight they let the trunks go, dropping them down like the spears of giants. They hammered into the shimmering half-dome of the barrier, causing it to buckle. One by one, the defenders collapsed as their strength failed.
Grey could just see out of the corner of his eye the flashes of color as Galen’s brightly dressed people pulled the casualties through to safety. The wyverns must have seen them as well, because they were aiming now for the top of the air dome, where it met the edge of the portal. They battered away at it with boulders and trees, even the carcasses of dead Bore worms. Grey watched in horror as the barrier wavered and sagged. If it fell, the portal was large enough to let the beasts fly through into Zephyra. The peaceful enclave of healers would be massacred.
A strange calm settled in over Grey. He looked up into the hot, dry desert air, the silhouettes of the wyverns wheeling overhead against the sun like shadowy vultures. He could see the patterns they wove in the sky, swirling in one vast Air casting. “They’re summoning Air to aid their fight, like us!” he thought, and a grim smile crossed his face.
Any casting made can be broken.
He changed the cadence, and his rumbling voice gathering up all the sounds around him – the echoes of the worms tunneling in the caverns deep below them, the whistling shrieks of the wyverns, the cries of the dying and the moaning Wind that blew through the shattered trees. The war casting spiraled up into the sky in a mournful howl, sounding like a battle cry from Hel’s own hound. It ripped into the wyverns’ casting and exploded. Grey rolled the concussive wave from the blast into the war casting and kept it going, tearing the beasts apart. At some point he realized the he was no longer singing out a casting so much as screaming his defiance into the sky, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except the need to protect his people. He kept the maelstrom churning until the last wyvern fell.
All at once, the energy drained out of him and everything went dark. The next thing he knew he was lying flat on his back amidst a pile of splintered trees and rock. He could hear voices, but they seemed so distant that he paid them no mind. Galen’s face swam into view. Grey felt a hand on his chest and his heart lurched as it started beating again, and his lungs filled with cool air. Hands lifted him up and carried him, a strange tingling sensation running over his skin as they crossed through the portal. They set him down gently, and he saw Galen drawing energy from the casting marks around portal to close it.
On the far side, a wyvern covered in blood and gore crawled toward Galen. Its wings were broken and half its scales were ripped off, but its gaze had latched onto the old Air kin. Grey tried to yell a warning, but the words only came out as a hoarse moan.
An oily black substance moved across the yellow orbs of the creature’s eyes, and it let out a bubbling shriek of pure hatred as it launched itself at Galen. The old Air kin dodged to one side with more speed and grace than Grey could have imagined, snatched up a sword and with one precise, surgical strike he thrust the blade straight into the wyvern’s brain. Galen stepped back, and with a pre-emptory gesture summoned enough Wind to blow the creature back into the cavern, and the portal snapped shut.
For a moment everyone stood motionless, stunned. Then a woodlark raised its voice in a buoyant trill, and a breeze sent the wind chimes and air flutes that adorned the city into a gentle lullaby. As Galen made his way through the crowds, spontaneous cheers broke out in his wake. He knelt at Grey’s side and checked his pulse, his manner as calm as ever. But the look in his eyes was deeply troubled.
Grey coughed to clear the dust from his raw, aching throat, and croaked, “Was it just me, or did that thing recognize you?”
Gathering Shadows – Part 4 February 2, 2013Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
Grey headed down the hall to the lower storage caverns with Cavall padding along at his side. The hound’s hackles were standing up, and a snarl curled his muzzle. Grey put a hand on his head to quiet his growls. “Hush a moment. Let me listen.” Cavall looked up at his master, then went back to watching the hall with fierce intensity.
Grey could still hear the sounds of early morning activity behind him – quiet conversation mixed with the echo of footsteps moving back and forth through the big cavern. He blocked that out and focused on the other end of the tunnel. Gusts of air blew fitfully at the torches on the walls, making them snap and gutter, almost to the point of extinguishing. The hallway itself groaned and grumbled as if he were in the belly of some great stone beast. Down the throat, and straight to the gullet I go, he thought, laughing quietly to himself. If father saw me jumping at the sound of wind in the tunnels, I’d never live it down.
They had just passed the entrance that led to the cisterns when Cavall let out a deep rip-saw of a growl. The ground beneath their feet started to rattle, and Grey had to put a hand out to steady himself. “What in Hel’s name is going on down here?”
The solid stone wall bulged outwards, and he jerked his hand away. The rattling continued, coming in even pulses, as if something were battering at the cavern walls from inside the stone. Cavall started scratching at the wall, barking furiously. Grey grabbed his collar and pulled him back. “No Cavall! Heel!”
The words had no sooner left his mouth than the wall exploded outwards, throwing them back and showering the tunnel with razor sharp chunks of rock. Grey and Cavall both yelped as they slammed into the far wall. Grey picked himself up off the floor, head spinning, only to look straight into the face of a nightmare.
Something that looked like a giant millipede larva crawled out of the hole in the wall. It had milky white eyes set above a round maw, ringed with teeth. Hundreds of legs tore at the stone, and its pallid skin pulsed as it heaved the rest of its bulk out into the hallway. Grey put up an Air shield just as the worm lunged down, its teeth undulating as they tried to find purchase to bite through the shield.
“Bloody Hel!” Grey said, instinctively trying to scrabble backwards. Suddenly his joke about gullets wasn’t so funny. Cavall stirred next to him, letting out a plaintive whine as he struggled to get his paws under him. The worm made a strange convulsive movement, and its maw stretched wider.
“It’s going to swallow us whole!” Grey cried. He reached out with his senses to summon Air to fight with, but the wind had died off. The worm bit down harder, its teeth sinking in, and Grey gagged as its fetid breath seeped through the shield and washed over him. “Ugly and bad breath, just great…wait, breath…that’s it!”
Grey reached out again and summoned the only bit of moving air left – from the lungs of his attacker. He yanked the air out and the creature whipped its head back, flailing madly as it struggled to breath. Grey scooped up Cavall and put the hound over his shoulders with a grunt of effort, and ran as fast as his shaking legs could take him back up the hallway.
The ground started rocking beneath his feet again, and he heard the alarms being sounded as he burst out into the central cavern. “Bore worms in the lower caverns!” he gasped out. He leaned down to set the heavy hound on the floor.
Someone else ran in from the upper hallways. “Wyverns outside! I went to see what was cutting off the air flow through the tunnels and nearly got my head bit off! The damn things are dropping rocks over the vent holes!”
One of the healers looked around with wild eyes. “We’re trapped. We can’t get out!”
Grey could see the panic spreading through the room. He grabbed a spear from the rack on the wall and BANG! He hammered the butt into the floor. Every eye in the place turned on him. “We’re not done yet,” Grey said, his voice commanding. “While there is life, there’s hope. We need only take out the worms. The adult wyverns are too big to get in these tunnels. Tairwyn, can you keep the bore worms from tunneling under us?”
The Mountain kin nodded, his long mustachios bobbing. “Aye laddie, for a little while.”
“Good. Aradann, I need two of your archers at every hall entrance to provide covering fire.”
The dark skinned Forest kin nodded as well. He picked up a stout branch from the wood pile next to the fire, and it stretched out into a heavy, curved bow. “You may count on us.”
Grey looked around what was left of his people, and at the huddled group of Galen’s healers. “Everyone who can still fight, gather at the hall entrances, three abreast. If someone falls, pull them back and take their place. Everyone else, summon as much Air as you can for us to fight with. Galen,” he said. “I’m sure your people know what to do with the casualties.”
The elder Air kin looked up from where he was scribbling furiously on a scrap of parchment. “Of course. And I may have an idea that will help. But I will need a little time to pull it off.”
Grey clapped him on the arm. “I was hoping you could whip us up another miracle. We’ll buy you as much time as we can.” He turned back to the hallway and readied the few war castings he knew that could work on limited air flow. The ground started to shake again. “Here they come. Ready yourselves…”
Gathering Shadows – Part 3 December 28, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
Morning came to the caverns, heralded only by the change in the air – the damp chill of night was replaced with a dry heat as the sun rose. Aurengrey sat next to his father, both of them with their backs propped up against the wall of the cave. He quietly told Aurelius everything that had happened, over a simple breakfast of dried fruit mixed into boiled oats.
Aurelius set down his bowl. “The wyverns were bred to make war on Air kin?”
“More like engineered, if Galen is to be believed,” Grey said. “And Tairwyn agrees. It’s no wonder we’ve done so poorly, we thought we were just hunting beasts, not fighting a war. ”
Aurelius nodded. “The Mountain kindreds would recognize a war if anyone did. They don’t wear that armor for nothing; they’ve fought countless wars under the northern peaks.” He let out a humorless laugh. “I asked them once why they did something that senseless – they said it wasn’t about making sense, it’s about winning.”
“The wyverns are certainly winning,” Grey said, frowning down at his meager breakfast. “Tairwyn explained the tactics they’ve used. The first wave of wyverns took out the hounds, like scouts knocking out perimeter guards. Then the next wave came in, taking land and holding it, forcing us to give up the more resource rich areas. And now we’re here, under siege.” He poked at his cooling, lumpy oatmeal. “They chased off or killed all the herds to starve us out, and when that didn’t finish us off they poisoned the wells with the carcasses of their own dead.”
Aurelius leaned his head back, his face drawn and lined and his voice was heavy with fatigue. “What could have bred such hate into an animal? What could make it go so far against its own nature?”
Grey gave his father a worried look. The poison seemed to have made Aurelius age decades in the week that Grey had been gone. He clenched his fist, the old anger burning in his heart again. “I don’t know how it was done, but Galen told us who. As soon as we get the noncombatants to safety, I’m going to get some answers.”
Aurelius opened one eye and turned his head a little toward Grey. “Can I give you some advice, son? Don’t go north unless you’re sure it’s for the right reasons.”
“What do you mean?” Grey said, his brow furrowed.
Aurelius struggled to sit up straighter, and looked him in the eye. “I mean that vengeance isn’t a luxury we can afford. What do you think you’ll find up there, hmm? Someone with a “villain” sign hanging around his neck? And what would you do if you did find the culprits?”
Grey was taken aback by the sudden vehemence in his father’s voice. “I don’t know, but I’d do something!”
Aurelius gave him a hard look. “What exactly? Would you balance the scales by murdering an equal number of men, women and children to match the ones we’ve lost?
“Of course not, but – “
“- But nothing. Even if you could figure out who is to blame and exact some sort of vengeance, what would it accomplish outside of getting their full attention? We have barely survived their beasts, what would we do against the men who created them? You’ve seen how powerful Galen is. There is a whole nation of people like him to our north.”
Grey looked away, his fists clenching and unclenching in frustration. “We don’t know that. Galen thinks they were all killed off by their own monsters.”
“Which means the place is overrun with wyverns and you’d be flying off to your death,” Aurelius said. He gripped Grey’s shoulder and gave it a little shake. “I know you want something to fight, someone to blame, but you have to think beyond yourself. If you’re going to lead Cyclonis, you need to focus on what is best for everyone.”
“What do you mean, lead Cyclonis? You’re the chief.”
Aurelius let him go and leaned back against the wall again. “Not right now, I’m not. Eating breakfast tired me out, son. I don’t even want to think about wrangling with the council. I’m afraid you’re it for the foreseeable future. But don’t worry; your old man will be around for a while yet to knock sense into your head when you get out of line.” He reached over and ruffled Grey’s hair, like he used to when Grey was still a boy.
“Go on, Dad!” Grey said, but was grinning as he ducked away. The smile did not last long, though. “Do you think we’ll ever get the plains back?”
“I’d like to think so,” Aurelius said, with a tired shrug. “But who knows? If Galen’s city is as beautiful as you say, we might not want to. And there are girls there. You won’t find many your own age here.”
Grey let out a huff of laughter. “I had noticed that, thank you Dad.” He got up and picked up their empty bowls. “Do you want anything else?”
“No, but I’m sure you do. I can hear your stomach growling from down here.”
“That wasn’t my stomach,” Grey said. He looked around and saw his hound, Cavall, staring intently down the passage to the lower storage caverns. His hackles were up and a rumbling growl bubbled up out of his throat. Grey put the bowls back down and traded them for the sword he had borrowed from Tairwyn. Aurelius struggled to get up, but Grey gently pushed him back down. “You just retired, remember? Let me get this one.”
“Huh, using my own words against me,” Aurelius grumbled, but he still reached over to grab one of his hunting spears. “Watch your back.”
Grey nodded, and motioned for Cavall to come to heel. “What’s wrong, boy? Show me.”
The hound’s sensitive nose twitched as he scented the air, and with another warning growl he led his master down into the dimly lit passageway…
Gathering Shadows – Part 2 December 14, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
“It was my own family who created these horrors.”
Galen watched his words hit, like a pebble tossed in still water. The ripples spread out, taking shape in the uneasy mutters and the intense stares of those who had watched their world fall apart. Three whole tribes shattered, countless thousands dead and the last few remnants left to huddle in caves, all because of a war they knew nothing about.
He looked over to where Grey sat slumped against the cavern wall, exhausted from helping to heal his father. Tairwyn had joined him – the brawny Mountain kin stood with a hand on Grey’s shoulder, though whether to support his friend or to keep him from doing something rash remained to be seen.
“You know of the continent to the north?” Galen asked them.
Tairwyn gave him a nod. “Aye. We used to hear stories from the traders about the infighting amongst the northern tribes.” He let out a gravelly laugh. “They said it was both good and bad for business, depending on what they were selling.”
“True enough, though we did not call ourselves tribes,” Galen said, “Over a thousand years ago we settled into towns and cities, and the ruling families founded the Great Houses. We soon turned on each other, each Lord taking whatever scrap of power he could grasp, but no one House held sway over another for very long. It may well have continued that way for another thousand years, if not for my cousin, Kurick.”
Galen paused, old memories bringing a sad smile to his face. “He was a great man. He knew the value of honor, and loyalty, and encouraged it in those who followed him. I was proud to serve as one of his knights as a young man. Kurick forged all the Houses together into one kingdom and he became the first Lord of Air. For a while, it almost seemed like he would keep the peace – although he had to live by the sword to do it, for the Houses did not give up power lightly – but it was a peace, nonetheless.”
Galen had to stop again, his words catching in his throat. He shook his head slowly. “Kurick died by the sword, while putting down a stupid dispute over stolen cattle. With no heir to claim his legacy, all the Houses fell back into fighting for a piece of his kingdom. Eventually, two claimants to the throne came to power and all the north was split in a civil war.”
Grey shifted to sit up a little straighter, a frown creasing his brow. “This doesn’t answer my question, Galen. Explain the wyverns.”
“Patience, my friend,” Galen said, making a temporizing gesture with his hands. “Some stories need to be told from the beginning to be fully understood.”
Tairwyn let out a guffaw. “You’ll have to excuse the laddie. He’s a man of few words, and has no patience for those of us who like the sound of our own voice. Keep going, what ye’ve said so far matches up with the rumors I’ve heard. I’d like to know the rest.”
Grey crossed his arms and his frown deepened, but indicated Galen should keep going with jerk of his chin.
“I will try to be brief,” Galen said. “Where was I? Ah yes, the civil war. By the time the fighting settled down to two sides, I had long since put aside the sword and founded House Zephyr. We stayed neutral, offering healing and sanctuary to any who sought it. We prospered while all else fell into chaos – which, in hindsight, made us a tempting prize.” Now it was his turn to frown, all the old bitterness coming back to light. “I was given an ultimatum by both sides. Choose who to serve, or be destroyed.”
He leaned forward, a determined glint in his eyes. “I chose a third way. You see, I had studied much more than the healing arts. I built the first portal, and fled with my people to the north and east. We built new portals as we went, ripping down the old ones behind us, and eventually we crossed the frozen sea. The Ice kindreds helped us and I met my wife in those hostile climes, amongst a group of Air kin who tamed the winter winds.”
Galen noticed Grey getting impatient again, and gave him an apologetic look. “Well, the answer you seek lies not with those of us who fled and later founded my city, Zephyra. It is with those who stayed behind. You see, there were some of us that felt they could not in good conscience leave the other Houses without proper medical care. So they drew lots, and divided themselves between the two warring sides. They paid dearly for their compassion. Their knowledge of the anatomy of both man and beast was turned to creating better soldiers, and more deadly weapons. A few of the refugees who slipped away on merchant ships told us horror stories of the torments my people suffered. They were broken down until they had no choice but to obey their new masters’ demands.”
The room was silent now, every man, woman and child listening to him. “The refugees came in a flood as the war rolled on. For years they snuck away by the boatload…and then they suddenly stopped. The merchants told of towns razed, city streets drenched in blood and fell beasts roaming the lands. Finally even the hardiest of the ship captains refused to go back, and we lost all contact with our kin.”
Grey’s face was half-hidden in the flickering shadows cast by the fire. “Fell beasts. Wyverns. Let me guess. That was ten years ago.”
Galen gave a weary nod. “Yes. I can only guess that the creatures my cousins bred for war turned on their masters. The creatures must have moved south then, searching for more ‘enemy’ Air kin to conquer. And they found them,” he said, looking out at the battered survivors scattered about the room.
Grey gave him a hard look. “You guess this, but you don’t know?”
“It is an educated guess, and one I am sure is close enough to the truth,” Galen said.
“But you don’t know.” Grey stood up, and looked out over the remnants of his tribe. “If we are ever to gain our home back, we have to know if the wyverns came by themselves, or were sent here. We need to know who we’re fighting, and how many of them we are up against.” He gave Galen a bleak smile. “Well, I have crossed two continents. Why not add a third? If you can provide me with maps, I’ll leave in the morning to find out.”
“That would be madness!” Galen said. “You need to rest. Your people need you here. Listen, please! I can offer your people sanctuary. All of you,” he said, catching the eyes of the Mountain and Forest kin. “Stay as my guests, regain your strength and then, when you are ready to return I will lead an expedition north myself. If my kin are still alive you will need me to make introductions. They are not so easy in their dealings with strangers as I am.”
Galen waited, holding his breath and hoping Grey would make the right choice. There was no doubt the others would follow his lead, despite his youth. He couldn’t blame Grey for hesitating. He knew well how difficult it was to leave your ancestral home behind. But to stay here was to choose a slow and certain death.
Grey leaned one arm against the rough-hewn mantle over the fireplace and stared down into the flames. “You will make a portal here, so that we can come back?”
Galen let out his breath and got up to join Grey by the fire. “Of course,” he said, with a relieved smile.
Grey still looked bleak. “I will hold you to that.”
Gathering Shadows – Part 1 November 30, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
A breeze blew in through the window, warm and heavy with the promise of a summer storm. It ruffled the pages of a leather bound journal, so that the paper brushed against the broad, scarred hand that lay flat across it. Grimm blinked, brought out of his trance, and looked down at the words that slowly wrote themselves across the page.
The old knight smiled, pleased to see how well the enchantment was working. The story flowed out from his memories and wrote itself, just as Galen’s notes said that it would. The secret to pscyho-reactive ink was a secret no more. Nox would be thrilled – this meant that, blind or not, she could continue her studies of technomancy. Her ideas, his hands to build whatever contraptions she dreamt up. Not a bad compromise, he thought cheerfully. It would be good to do something that did not involve bloodshed. He had seen too much of it in his long life.
Grimm flipped through the pages of the journal, wondering what Nox would think of it all. It was easy to see where his memories ended, and Galen’s began. The crafty old enchanter had found a way to record his memories within the Key to Winds. He had given the key to Grimm, and it recorded his memories as well. And Grimm had been possessed by the Shadowkin, for two thousand years.
His smile faded as he looked at the blank pages that still waited to be filled. What came next would, by necessity, tell their tale as well. Grimm shuddered at the thought. It had only been a few months since the spirits of the Shadowkin were destroyed, and he was not looking forward to hearing their voices in his head again. It took him a long while, as the moon rose and set, to work up the courage to go on.
Finally, Grimm shut the window, cutting off the humid breeze just as the first drops of rain started to fall. Then he placed his hand back on the journal, and let the memories flow slowly out onto the pages.
“Sometimes you choose the path you are on. Sometimes it is set before you. I had no idea, when I helped Galen heal someone for the first time that my whole world was going to change. Every single thing, right down to my name…”
Grey kept a firm grip on Galen’s hand. His father lay between them, his breath coming in short, painful gasps, and his skin had taken on a bluish pallor. Grey had seen too many people die of wyvern poison not to recognize the symptoms. Aurelius was on the way down. “Hurry Galen, please.”
The elder Air kindred grimaced. “Don’t interrupt. A healing this complicated requires a lot of juggling.”
Grey looked at him, perplexed. Galen hadn’t moved a muscle. He could only assume the man was working out something in his head.
After an eternity, (which was probably only a few moments,) Galen smiled, and gave a satisfied nod. “I have it. Brace yourself; this may feel a bit uncomfortable.” He sketched a few casting marks in the air, and they whirled around the three of them in a dizzying spiral. The marks gained in speed, rushing past in the familiar roar of a cyclone, before collapsing in on top of them.
Grey was in no way prepared for what happened next. The marks seemed to grow as they fell, burning bright before his eyes so that he could see them even when his eyes were shut. Every hair on his body stood on end as the marks sunk into him, moving through him like the blood through his veins. He could feel something inside him changing, a door being opened – and the world rushed in.
Every smell became more sharp; the damp, earthy scent of the cave, the sour, fevered sweat on those still afflicted by the poison, the resinous scent of pine boughs added to the fire. His hearing sharpened as well, bringing sounds up from the lower caverns, hound pups whining for their mothers and healers chatting as they drew water from the cistern. Every dropped spilled from their buckets was like the roar of the ocean on the beach, every footstep and avalanche of sound. Grey reeled back, his senses overwhelmed.
Galen was shouting something. “Can’t…too wild…Aurengrey, let go, I’ll handle the backlash!”
Grey shook his head to try and clear it, the sound of his own hair blowing about as loud as trees roaring in a gale. Hadn’t Galen said letting go could be deadly? He could feel Galen’s hold starting to slip.
Grey changed his grip and held on, the corded muscles in his arm standing out as he fought to steady them both. He could feel the energy swirling through him, swinging wildly, wobbling like a cyclone about to collapse into its center. Comprehension dawned on him like a thunderclap. Galen had tried to whirl the Wind around from the outside and gotten caught in its wake. A cyclone could only be controlled from within.
He ignored Galen, who was shouting at him. He shut out the sounds, the smells, all of the information the Wind was bringing to him and pushed it out, away from him so that he sat in its center.
The silence in the eye of the storm was pure bliss.
Grey felt his heart pounding in his chest and calmed himself, taking deep, slow breaths. Then he reached out with his senses and brought order to the storm, taming its motion and letting it flow around him.
Galen still sat across from him, a look of surprised relief in his eyes. “Remarkable,” he said, and gave Grey a rueful smile. “That was very nearly my last mistake. Thank you.”
He watched Grey for a long minute, and nodded again. “Hand the energy back, if you would. I have the knack of it now.” Galen sketched a new set of marks on Aurelius’ forehead with his free hand, and gently took control of the Wind.
It was only when Grey let go of the Air casting that he realized they had an audience. All of the healers crowded in around them, watching Galen intently.
The energy funneled down and spread across Aurelius’ body, forming little whorls of turbulence all across his skin. Galen placed a hand over each spot and extracted a tiny spine, no thicker than a hair. “See here,” Galen said. “The wyvern poison in the spines disrupts the flow of the elements, and without that the body’s systems begin to shut down. Remove the spine, neutralize the toxins and the body will begin to heal itself. Do not,” he said, looking around to catch every one of their eyes, “attempt a transfusion of energy as I am doing here. I mean it. If this were not such an extreme case, even I would not attempt it.”
Grey thought of how close they had come to having the casting implode, and agreed with him whole-heartedly. He was already feeling a bit woozy from the amount of energy draining out of him, but he forced himself to stay upright. “If there is another extreme case, I’ll be the donor. I know what to expect.”
“Let us hope it is not necessary,” Galen said.
It took an hour to get the last of the spines out of Aurelius. Galen dropped the last one into a glass jar with all the others, and let go of Grey’s hand. He held the jar up, squinting at its contents. “Pernicious stuff. I’m not one to tack imprecise labels on things, but I’d say this is as close to pure evil as I’ve ever seen.”
Grey let himself sag back against the wall, feeling as empty as a cloth sack. “What’s so imprecise about evil? Seems pretty straight-forward to me.”
“Life is seldom so black and white, my young friend,” Galen said. “But there can be no good reason for something like this to exist, no excuse for it. It should never have been made.”
Grey sat up a little. “That is the second time you’ve implied that these things weren’t natural. You promised an explanation.”
“I did,” Galen said, and let out a tired sigh. “You most certainly deserve to know what caused all this. I only hope you will forgive for not telling you sooner, for I feared you would not trust me to come help your people if you knew the whole story.” He closed his eyes, lines of fatigue etched deep in his face. “You see, it was my own family who created these horrors…”
<– Back to the first half of Grey’s story, The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 10
The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 10 November 17, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
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The Air kindreds waited to one side, silent spectators as the Forest kin buried their dead. There was no time for ceremony – Aradann and his people called the trees, and their roots wrapped gently around the bodies and took them down into the earth.
Grey was the only one to break ranks and pay his respects alongside the Forest kin. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Aradann. In that moment, despite having only just met, years of living with the same terrible grief made them close as brothers.
Grey looked out over the brown, fresh turned earth as the trees moved away. “If you want, I can use a cyclone to bring enough stone to cover the graves,” Grey offered.
Aradann gave him a sad smile. “Thank you, but there is no need. The wyverns will not touch them. We eat berries that are harmless to our kind, but make us lethal to them.” The smile ran away from his face as he looked at the newly settled grove. “So now they simply kill us, rather than eating us.”
Grey thought of all the shattered bodies, obviously dropped from a great height. He gripped the Aradann’s shoulder in sympathy. “I’m sorry.”
“We knew the risks when we came down to the plains from our stronghold,” Aradann said. “Come, we should keep moving. Your own people still need help, and if we tarry too long these brave souls will have died in vain.”
Grey got everyone aloft in minutes. Galen had taught him the trick of lifting so much weight, and while he did not have the older man’s finesse, the tornadic winds he summoned moved them much faster. The miles fell away beneath them, tree-clad slopes giving way to rolling plains, and then to dry rocky ground as they reached the near end of the canyon. The closer they got, the more tense Grey became – for all he knew, he might well be coming home to a tomb.
The main entrance to the caverns was set mid-way up the canyon wall. Grey flew in first, dismayed to find there was no Wind barrier over the entrance. He darted through the entry cave, only to be brought up short at its back by a solid wall of granite. His fears were coming to life – it looked like the Mountain sealed up the bodies of his kin, to keep the wyverns from digging them up.
He started to pound frantically on the rock. “Tairwyn! Anyone! Open up!”
Cavall pushed through the crowd gathering behind him, barking and jumping up to scrabble at the wall.
Galen shouted at him over the noise. “Is there another way in?”
A gravelly voice answered them. “Not anymore.”
The wall melted away, revealing a worn, haggard looking Mountain kin. Grey could just make out the long, drooping mustachios the man wore, and let out a whoop. “Tairwyn! You’re still alive!”
“Stones below, it’s good to see you laddie!” Tairwyn said, pulling him into a rough hug and pounding him on the back. “I live, though there’s less of me now than there used to be.” He let Grey go and looked curiously at the group waiting behind them. “Who are your friends?”
“I brought help, healers, and more medicine,” Grey said. “Where are the others? How are they?”
Tairwyn herded everyone into the passageway and sealed it up behind them. “Right where you left them. We had to close the entrances, not enough of us left standing to keep guard day and night. Most of my folks are recovering, but I’m afraid we’ve lost some of yours,” he said, shaking his head. “The poison won’t get out of their system. It’s like it was made to kill the Wind tribes.”
“It very well might have been,” Galen said, his expression bleak.
“You’ll explain that to me later, right?” Grey asked, and waited for Galen’s nod. “All right then. Let’s get to work.”
They say the character of a man can be seen through how he treats others. Those were Galen’s thoughts as he labored over the grievously ill members of the Wind tribes. It would have been perfectly natural for Aurengrey to want some immediate answers. Or to rush to his parents side, and demand that they be treated first. And yet, he had calmly accepted Galen’s promise and patiently helped to organize everyone so that those in the direst need would be healed first. He worked tirelessly, refusing to rest despite having just fought a battle and flown their entire group for miles. He teased a little girl to make her smile, and cajoled a temperamental elder to cooperate with the healers. It was obvious the warriors of the Mountain kin respected him. The Forest kin had accepted him without question.
Galen was more than a little impressed himself by this quiet young warrior. He had watched Aurengrey throughout the journey – he fought like a demon, but took no joy or pride in it. He was selfless, earnest, and had a depth of compassion and wisdom that belied his youth. If the greater Houses of Air had not fallen in their civil war, Galen would have sponsored him to become a Wind Knight.
Galen had long since put aside his own sword, but he had never given up on the ideals that were the foundation of the order, nor stopped searching for one he felt worthy to carry on their legacy. There was little doubt in his mind that in Aurengrey, he had found what he sought.
The question was, would he want anything to do with Galen when he found out why his people had nearly been destroyed?
Galen finally settled down by Aurengrey’s parents. Aurelius slept fitfully, his breath rattling in his lungs. Merina was awake, but delirious. She reached out and gripped the hem of Galen’s robes. “Where is my Aurengrey? My sweet little boy? Please, tell him to come home. You will, won’t you?”
Grey hurried over and held her gently in a hug. “I’m home, Mom. I haven’t been little for a long time though,” he said, laughing quietly.
Merina looked up at him with feverish eyes. “Don’t tease, papa. Have you seen my son?”
Grey let out a choked sound. “She always said I looked like my grandfather.” He clenched a fist in frustration. “I feel so useless. I can snap a wyverns’ bones like they were twigs, but I can’t do a thing to help her.”
“Don’t belittle your efforts,” Galen said. He waved for Xenobia. “See to her, please. I am afraid Aurelius will need all of my attention.”
“Of course, my Lord,” Xenobia said. She sat by Grey and placed her hands on Merina’s head. “Hold her still.”
Galen did the same for Aurelius, placing a hand on either temple. He summoned Air, and let it course out through him. His House was Zephyr, a far gentler wind than the ones used by Cyclonis, but he had to hope it would be enough. He let his thoughts sink down, working the Air into patterns and setting them loose. He lost track of time, his whole being focused on this one, singular task. Find the poison, and neutralize it.
Aurelius was not responding. The poison had spread everywhere. Galen’s entire body went taught, as if he were straining against a great weight. His own breathing became labored, coming out in short gasps. Finally, he let out a sharp cry and slumped forward, feeling as if all the life had drained out of him.
“Not enough,” Galen croaked, his voice gone hoarse. “I can’t channel enough of the right sort of Wind to reach him.”
Grey looked over at him in panic. “I’ll channel any kind of wind you want. Just tell me how!”
Galen sat back wearily and shook his head. “Too dangerous. Healing comes from within, and you have no training. It would kill you both.”
“There has to be a way!” Grey said. “Can’t I give the energy to you somehow?”
Galen rubbed a hand over his face. “Maybe. A transfusion of his own element…Yes, it just might work.” He sat up straighter. “Give me your hand.”
Grey thrust his right hand out to him. “Take whatever you need. As much as you need.”
Galen took Grey’s outstretched hand, and clasped it firmly. “Whatever you do, do not let go. All three of our lives depend on it.”
“I won’t falter,” Grey said, as calm and steady as Galen could have wished.
The healing was going to be tricky. He had to take enough of the element from Aurengrey to learn its ways, but not so much that it drained the boy and overwhelmed his own system. Then he would have to share it with Aurelius, and hope that his strength didn’t fail. And all of this had to be done soon. Aurelius would not live to see another hour, let alone another day. There would be no second chance.
But situations like this were exactly why Galen had become a healer. He gave Aurengrey an encouraging smile. “Let us begin…”
NEXT WEEK - Grey’s story continues in GATHERING SHADOWS, Part 1.
Sometimes you choose your path. Sometimes it is set before you. The dark road that Grey took in becoming Grimm was a long one, but herein lies the first steps…
The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 9 November 9, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
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Grey leaned against the smooth stone railing of the balcony outside his room, breathing in the damp morning air. Fatigue still weighed on him from three arduous days of flying through the typhoon, but he could not resist the chance to study the sweeping vista that spread out below the castle. The city of Zephyra sprawled across the high plateau, ten times the size of all the seaports he had seen and it was still only half finished. Everywhere he looked colorfully dressed Air kin bustled about, like brightly plumaged birds.
Even the air itself shimmered, filled with the sound of fountains and wind chimes and wind flutes. Grey had never heard anything like it. The entire city raised its voice in an ethereal song to greet the new day. He was so entranced that he did not even notice that Galen had entered the room until Cavall barked a greeting. He turned and smiled at the older Air kin. “Your city is beautiful!”
“She is the child of my soul, my dream,” Galen said. “Normally I would offer to give you a tour, but time is of the essence. Are you ready?”
Grey gave the city one last look, and nodded. “Let’s go.”
They did not bother going back through the castle. Grey gathered his few belongings, called Cavall to his side and they simply flew from the balcony to a large courtyard near the city walls. He was surprised at the number of people waiting for them there. Men and women of all ages had gathered near the gate, laden with supplies.
Galen held up his hand and got immediate silence from them. “We will take the portal network to the eastern shore. From there we must cross the ocean diagonally to reach the southwestern continent. Aurengrey can guide us from that point. Are there any questions?”
Grey cleared his throat. “Um, sir? My home is west, not east. And what is a portal?”
Galen gave him a surprised look. “The world is round, my boy. By going east we can take advantage of the high winds and circle around the globe to where you started. As for the portals, well, some things need to be seen to be believed.” He motioned to the guards to open the gate and brushed his hand over the lintel. Energy flowed over the stones, lighting up casting marks carved into the granite.
The power built up until Grey’s hair stood on end. The air in the opening wavered like a heat mirage, and with a loud SNAP the view changed. Instead of a paved road he was now looking out at a neatly manicured lawn.
The healers walked through as if it was perfectly normal, chatting amongst themselves. Galen went through last, pushing Grey ahead of him. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. I’ll close this one and we’ll open the next. I expect we’ll reach the coast in an hour.”
Grey turned to stare at the portal as it shut down. “How? That’s not possible!”
Galen briskly moved to a second arched gate, and repeated the casting. “What is the shortest distance between two points?”
“A straight line, unless there are obstacles to fly over,” Grey said.
Galen shooed him through the next portal. “Aha. There you are wrong. The answer is, nothing.”
Grey looked around at his new surroundings, a small fort sitting high in the mountains. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It has everything to do with folding time and space, but you’ll just have to trust the evidence of your own eyes,” Galen said, a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.
They continued moving east, passing through portal after portal until they reached a citadel overlooking a sandy beach. Galen shaded his eyes against the mid-day sun. “Ah, here we are. Gather close, everyone.” He paced around the group, sketching casting marks in the sand with a piece of driftwood.
Grey looked around at the cheerful group of strangers packed in around him, feeling lost. One of them, a young woman smiled up at him. “Relax, Aurengrey. You’re amongst friends.”
“It feels more like being in the middle of a strange dream,” Grey said.
She laughed and gave his hand a squeeze. “Get used to miracles. Galen makes them every day. My name is Xenobia, by the way.”
“Call me Grey.” He looked down, and saw they were already over the ocean. He hadn’t even felt them lift off. Get used to miracles, he thought.
His second ocean crossing was much easier and faster than the first one. He had a few hours to talk with Galen and the others, and while he still didn’t understand how the portals worked he could at least see that it was just a matter of study to figure it out. They landed as gently as they took off, on a rocky coastline covered in pine trees.
“Were you able to get your bearings as we landed?” Galen asked him.
Grey gave him a curt nod, his eyes scanning the skies. “Yes, we need to move due east from here. Better set a guard.”
Xenobia looked back and forth between them. “Why?”
“No birds,” Grey said. “They always go to ground when there are wyverns are in the area.”
Cavall started to growl, a low ominous rumble deep in his chest. Grey started to gather the winds for a war casting. “Stick together! They like to pick off stragglers just like any predator.”
Galen closed his eyes, listening. “I think they have already found other prey. Beyond the ridge.”
“That ‘prey’ might be my tribe out foraging for food!” Grey said. He rocketed up into the air, spinning the winds around him in a deadly cyclone. He felt a disturbance in the air behind him, and saw Xenobia following him. “Go back!” he yelled.
“If your people are out here they will need a healer!” she yelled back.
“Dammit, you don’t know what you’re up against!” Grey said, but it was too late to turn back. A young wyvern, probably set out as a sentinel, let out a high pitched shriek as it saw them. Grey whirled his arm around as if hurling a ball, and a wind shear smacked into the wyvern, breaking its back. Grey flew high to avoid the plummeting beast, and readied another casting.
The scene below them was complete chaos. Trees whipped about as if possessed, their limbs tangling around any wyvern foolish enough to get too close. The beasts circled overhead, dropping boulders and darting downwards into the openings they created. The bodies of more than a dozen Forest kin lay broken on the ground, obviously dropped from a great height. The smell of blood was everywhere, mingled with the resinous scent of pine sap from shattered trees.
Xenobia covered her mouth in horror as she looked at the bodies. Grey yelled to her, “Forget the dead, you can’t help them. The Forest kin will be in the trees!”
Grey looked around, planning his attack. He needed to clear her a path to get to the ground. “When you see an opening, don’t stop for anything. And watch out for their tails!” He corkscrewed down into the fray, screaming out castings that crashed into wyverns as he passed through their ranks. He arced back up, hoping that Xenobia had gotten through but he couldn’t afford to look back. The wyverns were recovering from the surprise attack and circling around him in a tightening ring.
That was exactly what Grey wanted. He used their own motion to help power his next casting, a massive cyclone of the kind that gave his tribe their name. The winds picked up speed, roaring louder than the cries of his foes as they realized they had fallen into a trap. Their wings got caught like sails in a tempest and Grey could hear the fragile bones breaking. A few of them folded their wings to fall below the lowering funnel cloud, only to be caught by the flailing limbs of trees and smashed to the ground.
Finally, the last of them succumbed and fell to the earth. Grey let the winds go, but followed them down to make sure the fall killed them. A battered group of Forest kin were already moving amongst the beast, directing tree roots to take the wyvern’s heads off.
Grey landed, and was relieved to see Xenobia already working on some of the wounded. Her face was pale, her eyes still a little wild but she looked otherwise unharmed.
The leader of the Woods kin walked over to meet him. “Not many would have come to the aid of those who do not share their element. We owe you a great debt,” he said, and held out his hand. “My name is Aradann.”
Grey shook it, noting that the man’s skin had almost the same texture and color as the bark of the pine trees. “Mine is Aurengrey. And the pleasure was all mine. Any day I can take down a few more wyverns is a good one.”
Aradann laughed. “Spoken like a man who has lived with them as neighbors! Though you do not dress like the people of the plains.”
“Borrowed finery,” Grey said, with a wry smile. “I’m afraid I can’t stay long, my own people need the help of these healers.”
“The Wind tribes living in the canyon?” Aradann said. “You had better hurry then. Word came from the Mountain kin that they were desperate for medicine. We were coming to deliver some when we were attacked.”
“But they still live?” Grey said anxiously.
“Yes, barely. Can you direct us to them?”
Grey let out a relieved sigh. “I’ll do better. I’ll fly you there.”
The Wanderer’s Tale – Part 8 October 29, 2012Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
Tags: #fridayflash, flash fiction, Nox and Grimm, serial fiction, serials
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Grey awoke, as he so often did with Cavall’s wet nose snuffling at his hand. He ruffled the wolf-hound’s ears and yawned, but didn’t open his eyes. It felt too good to stretch out and rest his weary bones on a soft bed. The sleeping furs felt strange though, more like fabric…
He sat bolt upright and tore off the thick blankets swathed around him. “Where in Hel’s name are we?”
Cavall let out a happy whuff and jumped onto the bed, taking over the warm spot Grey had just vacated. Seeing the hound so relaxed was enough to relieve some of Grey’s worry, if not his confusion. The last thing he remembered was the sharp jolt of a sudden downdraft that tossed them into the trees. He felt gingerly along his side and back, but there was no sign of cracked ribs or bruising. He should have been a mess, ribs took weeks to heal.
That thought drove him to his feet. He’d had less than two weeks to find more medicine for his people. He stumbled around the bed, guided by the dim light slipping between the slats of tall wooden shutters. He threw them open, only to realize they were not windows but a doorway leading out onto a broad stone balcony. The sun was rising beyond unfamiliar mountain peaks that towered over a broad plateau, which was covered with buildings and lamp-lit streets. He had only been to one of the port cities as a small boy, but he knew that none of them had mountains nearby. There was no sign of the ocean either, which meant there was no way to find the sea traders, and get back in time.
“I failed,” Grey whispered, and sank back down on the edge of the bed. “They were depending on me, and I failed.”
A polite knock came from somewhere behind him, but Grey was still too deep in shock to answer. The sound was followed by the creak of a door opening and brisk footsteps . “Ah, I see that you are awake! That is very good! You have a remarkably strong constitution, my young friend.”
Grey turned slightly, and found himself looked up at a tall, thin man. He had long black hair that hung straight back from his forehead down to his waist, and he wore strange, flowing robes woven to resemble the blue/grey feather pattern of an osprey. At any other time Grey would have been fascinated by meeting someone so unusual, but right then the only words he could manage to choke out were, “What day is it?”
The man gave him a kindly smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. “It is the morning after you landed, the twenty third day of the Flower moon. And let me say, that was quite a feat. Not everyone can ride a typhoon and live to tell the tale.”
Grey shook his head, bewildered. “Flower moon? It’s autumn, not spring…”
The man pulled over a chair and sat down. “Hmm, perhaps we should start from the beginning? My name is Galen, of House Zephyr, and you landed rather precipitously on the outskirts of my city. I am guessing you are from somewhere much farther south?”
“Yes, from the western rim of the plains,” Grey said. “Oh, my name is Aurengrey, of Tribe Cyclonis. But everyone calls me Grey.”
Galen leaned back and frowned. “There are no plains south of here. Unless, hmm…oh dear. You don’t mean the south-west continent, do you? I had heard of some nomadic groups there. That would explain your accent.”
“I crossed the whole ocean?” Grey said, his mind whirling as he tried to calculate the date. He jumped up and cast about the room, looking for his belongings and the precious store of coins he had brought. “It’s only been 6 days since I left then. There’s still time, if I can find a way home. Please sir, do you have any maps, or news of where the trade ships are?”
“I could find out, but why don’t you tell me what sent you out in such dangerous weather?” Galen said. “Perhaps I can help?”
Grey found his map case lying on a side table, miraculously still intact and with all the coins bundled inside. “Unless you can acquire enough fellsbane and quicknettle to cure a hundred people or more, I’m afraid not. The traders have been stocking it, knowing we need it.”
Galen stood up and placed a hand on Grey’s arm. “Put your money away, young man. I have no need of it, or such simple remedies. What you want is a true healer and fortunately for you, I am the most skilled practitioner in the North.” He smiled at the guarded look on Grey’s face. “I see you don’t believe me. But tell me then, how else were your broken ribs mended in a single night?”
Grey hesitated, not sure what to believe. He had never heard of anyone being able to heal like that, outside of stories, but the man had no reason to lie to him. He was obviously an Air kindred as well; which didn’t necessarily mean he had their best interests in mind, but they had nothing left worth taking. What finally decided him was Cavall. The wolf-hound had followed them across the room and was sitting next to Galen, with his tail thumping on the ground. Grey had learned to heed the hound’s instincts above his own. “I guess if Cavall trusts you, I should as well.”
Galen gave Cavall a pat on the head, and laughed as he got a sloppy lick for his troubles. “It’s settled then. You can tell me your whole story over breakfast, and we will set out soon after.”
Later, Galen left his young guest to rest while he made his preparations. The calm, cheerful demeanor he had displayed earlier had given way to a deep, worried frown, however. As he entered his suite he motioned to one of his servants to follow him in. “I want you to gather every healer worth the name, and have them ready to travel within the hour. Send word along the portal networks, I want them to stand at the ready to bring back refugees. We’ll need bedding and food prepared for at least 150 people, possibly more.”
“Yes milord,” the man said, with a quick bow as he hurried out.
Galen’s wife waited until they were alone, and shut the door. “You found out who the boy is? He’s not one of Kalnaeth’s brood?”
“No, though I think I know why we have heard nothing from our cousins,” Galen said, his voice pained. “It is as I feared; their madness led them to breed creatures they could not control. Wyverns, altered for war and genocide. They must have flown down that spit of land to the south-western continent once they had finished with our kin the north.” He clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles turned white. “That poor boy is only sixteen, and he has been fighting those beasts for years already. Do you remember the puckered scars on his arm?” Galen said, jabbing a finger at his forearm. “He has been slowly poisoning himself, administering a tiny dose of wyvern venom every day in an attempt to build up a tolerance. And not to survive a sting. Oh no. That is only so that he can live long enough to get away, so that he won’t be paralyzed and have to watch as they eat him alive.”
Elena held his hands in her own, and forced him to look at her. “Beloved, this is not your fault.”
“Isn’t it?” Galen said. “Perhaps if I had stayed, if there was one voice of reason left– “
“-then we would have shared their fate,” Elena finished for him. “You can’t save everyone.”
Galen sighed, and leaned his forehead against hers. “No, but I have to try. Or I won’t be able to live with myself.”
“And that is why I love you,” Elena said, kissing his cheek. “Be careful. You do not know for sure that the beasts do not have masters still.”
Galen let her hands go, his face set in determination. “If they do, then I intend to have a few words with them.”