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Gathering Shadows – Part 2 December 14, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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“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  ~~~|||~~~  Gathering Shadows, Part 3

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Comments»

1. Katherine Hajer - December 15, 2012

Never mind the wyvern, the politics in this world are super deadly… nice exposition!

2. techtigger - December 15, 2012

Thanks! Yes, the politics are nasty, very much might makes right. Even the good guy, Kurick had to knock heads together to make them all play nice 😀

3. ganymeder - January 2, 2013

This looks like an epic journey. I’m curious to see where this goes, and how the portal fits in.

techtigger - January 2, 2013

all in good time… (by which i mean, friday 😀 )


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