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Gathering Shadows – Part 3 December 28, 2012

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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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



1. ganymeder - January 2, 2013

What! No more? You can’t leave off there!

techtigger - January 2, 2013

heheh, you should know me better than that! I’d never let my characters off so easy… *muhwaahaahaa!*

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