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Tales from the House of Winds – Everard, Fortune Favored May 27, 2011

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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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!”

“Huzzah!”

“Huzzah!”

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…”

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Comments»

1. Julie (O-kami) - May 27, 2011

YAY!! So glad you’re back and I love these tales.

techtigger - May 28, 2011

thanks! It’s good to get back to writing 🙂

2. Mari Juniper - June 4, 2011

I’m late, but not less enthusiastic. Super welcome back, Angie! Loved this one too! 😀


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