Tuesday, March 19, 2019

SWORD OF THE GODS

The meaty smack of the man’s fist colliding with Father’s jaw, jarred me awake. Before my head had cleared of its dreams I was at the wagon’s door peering through a gap between the planks. A narrow sliver of the world came into view and my heart skipped a beat. Father staggered and fell into the dusty road. The moon glinted off of blood on his face. A pack of dark shadows loomed over him. Bits of armor and weapons flashed.

“Loot the wagon,” someone growled. “This piss pot is done.”

The shadows prowled closer and I scrambled back from the door, my heartbeat thudding in my ears. She looked around at the dark wagon interior. Bales of furs, boxes of spices, sacks of shells all bound for the annual bazaar filled every nook and cranny. No place to hide.

"Why didn't he listen," I whispered. There had been warnings and rumors about the roads being dangerous this year. Mother had even begged him to hire guards or at least purchase a sword but he had insisted they didn't have enough money. "Now we're going to be robbed and murdered."

I dove between two fur bales, trying to slither between the tightly packed hides as the door flew open.

Someone swore.

“There’s someone in there!”

“Well, get them out, idiot!” shouted the first voice.

I tried to pull my knees in, tried to wriggle my way farther into the shelter of the furs but I couldn't move. I resolved not to scream when they found my. All too soon, a pair of rough hands seized my ankles and dragged me from between the bales and flung me from the wagon. I hit the ground hard, sand raking my palms and forearms raw. Above me towered a man clad in a rusty coat of mail. He carried a hatchet in one hand and a pair of knives thrust into his broad belt. Shadows hid his face, save for his eyes and the tip of his crooked nose which seemed to glimmer palely in the star light.

“Looks like we found a treat!”

“Don’t touch her,” Father groaned from where he lay.

The bandit chief laughed and turned, delivering a savage kick to Father’s head. I lunged up from the ground, teeth bared. Someone grabbed me by the shoulder. I could see another one just in the corner of my eye drawing a weapon. Someone laughed, maybe that one, maybe another.

And everything changed.

Time seemed to slow down. The leader almost casually raised his hatched to bring down on Father's head. I could see the man's smile through the darkness. See his big crooked teeth. I knew he would kill us both even as something solid and substantial appeared in my free hand. A sword. A deadly, needle pointed blade just my size, with sweeping guards that encased my hand in flowing ribbons of steel. I had no time to wonder where it came from, or even what to do with it for the sword seemed to move on its own, twist me round to drive hungrily into the belly of the man holding my shoulder. His grip vanished with a choked scream. I gulped down the shock and vile surging at the back of my throat as the sword leapt free from his body and whirled me back towards the chief.

“Stop!” I screamed, my voice sounded strangely high with fear and excitement. I brandished the strange sword, trying to keep the point of the miraculous blade leveled at his chest. The big man, who seemed to be moving with a snail's, oozing slowness,  paused in his killing stroke to laborously turn his gaze on me.  He watched me for an instant, and then his hand ax flashed towards me. Again the sword seemed to move of its own accord, twisting the edge out in a sweeping block. Time snapped back to its usual pace as hatchet and hand spun off into the night. The bandit chief collapsed in a shrieking heap.

I rounded on the other thieves but they were already running so I turned back to Father.

“Daddy!”

As suddenly as it had appeared the sword vanished, but I hardly noticed for Father stirred from where he lay and wrapped his arm around her muttering half coherent words of comfort and thanks.

~SJA

Friday, February 15, 2019

HUNTED

They stopped in a dark hall panting and trembling like hunted beasts.

“We have to keep moving,” she said.

“There unfortunately I must refuse,” Denen said with effort. Blood streamed from his side. He clutched at the wound,  eyes misted with pain.

“Great Maker!” she gasped, reaching for him. He waved her aside.

“No. It's no good.”

“But we have to keep going. You have to keep going.”

“I can’t—“ Denen began.

“I’ll help you,” She snapped. "I've lost enough already. I'm not loosing you too."

Denen gave a grudging nod. Together they moved down the passages at a staggering walk, Denen leaning heavily on her as they went. Down the Long Stair they climbed, down, down through the bowels of floating fortress leaving behind a spattered, gleaming trial. She glanced back the way they'd come, knowing that they'd not lost what followed.

The stairs ended.

A stone doorway opened onto a small echoing landing. Two wide passages stretched away to the left and right. On the walls facing outward, the wind screamed through hundreds of arrow slits and murder holes. The spray of crashing waves spurted through the openings. Lightning blazed. Thunder shook the air.

She and Denen moved with what speed they could, following the left passage. The spray turned the stone floor treacherous and their robes to clinging, dripping weights that slowed their already weary pace. Over the noise of the waves and the splash of the spray she could hardly hear her own thoughts much less any signs of pursuit but somehow they reached a gate of black metal. On the other side lay a tiny landing and a black ladder made from the same stuff as the gate. It hung down almost the turbulent sea’s level.

“I’ll never make the climb. I'll fall," Denen said.

"No if I help you."

"If I slip I'll take you with me. You can't--"

She held up her hand, head cocked. "Quiet."

"What?"

"Something," she said. "There!"

The sound of rushing feet upon the stair turned them both around. The assassins. 

“Go!” Denen begged.

She spoke the password that opened the gate, and climbed partway down the ladder. Before she could turn to help Denen, the gate clanged closed. Denen looked down at her, his dark hair hanging limp with spray and rain.

“Denen!”

“Go. Live, little sister.”

He slipped away. She scrambled up screaming after him. She reached the gate and tried to remember the password she’d spoken a moment before but it was lost in her panic. Helpless she watched Denen move to the middle of the passage. He stood as if frozen, huddling against the storm surge, arms crossed over his chest his head bowed. She could feel him drawing upon the old powers, summoning more and more and still more into himself.

"Denen, please! Please, don't leave me alone."

The assassins came cautiously forward, wary of the unmoving Druid before them. Rain and spray and wind hammered he as she pressed her face to the gate's black bars. Tears and salt-spray streamed down her face, running her long hair down into her eyes.

"No. No. No."

The air seemed to vibrate with the power massing within the Denen’s body. The assassins came almost within arm’s reach of him but still he did not stir. One cast a look towards the gate and instantly a great light erupted from within Denen. The light blasted out, consuming him. The hall exploded. The outer wall near shattered. The gate tore loose from its hinges and went flipping through the rain drenched fury. Clinging to the gate, she was flung away so she spun dizzily through the rain sodden air. Burning stone whipped past her, hissing as the rain and flames did battle.

She gasped as the waves rushed up and embraced her in their icy grip.

~SJA