Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, here to read Part Three, here to read Part Four, and here to read Part Five.
“What are you doing?” the boy yelled, his mind still reeling from everything that had happened in the last few moments. “You're supposed to be gone! You're supposed to be safe,” he added more softly. After everything I did, she’s just going to die anyway….
“You need me here,” she answered, her tone leaving no room for argument.
The boy tried anyway. “No, I want you—”
He was stopped by a hissing sound from the direction of the ice army. Both spun around to see a hail of arrows bearing down on them. The boy instinctively jumped in front of the girl, shielding her body with his, but she pushed him out of the way and raised her hands.
He looked on in shock as the arrowheads disintegrated and the shafts burst into flames. Sparks filled the air as a second volley came, but it suffered the same fate as the first.
Chaos erupted below. The ice soldiers began dropping their weapons and running, terrified by what they had seen. Commanding officers screamed for order, but to no avail.
While the army was distracted, the boy stepped closer to the girl and tapped her shoulder. She turned to face him. “What…?” he asked, unable to form any other words.
“I have a lot to tell you,” the girl said, “but we don't have time right now. Pretty soon that army is going to realize I can't stop all of them, and they’ll attack. We need to make sure the other army is what they go after when they breach the wall.”
“Other army?” the boy asked. “You mean that,” he pointed towards another falling building near the docks, “is not just another part part of this ice army?”
“No,” she answered. “And they're not an ice army. Only the commander has that power, but he can use it on objects he's not actually touching. And there's one other thing too.”
“There always is,” the boy said with a sigh.
“The commander is the man from the library.”
The boy wanted to slap himself. I shouldn't have trusted that man. She warned me not to. “I'm sorry.”
“Don't be,” she answered. “You may have saved us all by giving him those arrows.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking over the parapet at the ice army. They were beginning to reorganize.
“My plan is, let the two armies clash. They'll destroy each other, and then we step in and take care of what's left.”
“The entire city will be decimated in the process.” The army was starting to move forward, the boy noted.
“You have a better plan?” the girl asked, narrowing her eyes.
“No,” he answered. “Let’s go.”
She glanced at the approaching ice army and nodded.
After telling the Cliffhaven army, and everyone else they saw, to retreat to the west side of the city, the boy and the girl climbed to the top of the tallest building they could find. As soon as they got to the window, they both wished they hadn't looked.
The city looked like it had been stepped on by a giant. The two armies were nearing the center, leaving in their wakes a frozen ruin.
“Rebuilding this is going to take years,” the girl said.
“Right now we just need to focus on surviving,” the boy answered.
They fell silent as the armies drew closer. More and more buildings turned to ice and crumbled to the ground. Soon there was only a hundred yards between them. The front lines on both sides broke into a run. The girl held her breath.
Moments before the first two enemies met, an immense explosion of ice came from the middle of the ice army. For several seconds all that was visible was a cloud of minuscule ice shards, but when it settled, the children’s eyes widened in horror.
Nearly the entire army was gone. Turned to ice.
“Oh no,” the girl whispered. This plan isn’t going to work if the black army takes the city without losing a single man.
The scattered remnants of the ice army turned and ran, disappearing into doors and alleyways.
The girl glanced at the boy. He shook his head. “There's no way we can defeat him,” he said.
“What about hope?” she asked, looking him in the eyes. “Do you remember what you told me?”
“I don't know what kind of powers you have, but there's no way we’re going to win. I'm sorry,” the boy said, looking down. “Sometimes there just isn't any hope.”
“What if I told you,” the girl said slowly, “that there's a reason we’re here? That there's a Creator who made us, and has promised to help us? Would you have hope then?”
The boy looked up, confused. What is going on? She’s gone for one day and she comes back with fire blasting hands and believing in some new deity? “Is the Creator the one that gave you your… power?”
“I don't guess there's any denying his existence, then,” he answered. “But…” I can’t make any kind of decision on this right now, we need to be planning, we need to be--
The girl stepped closer to him. “There's always hope.”
He met her fierce, determined gaze. She really believes this. I don't know if she’s right or not, but I trust her.
“Come on,” the girl said, taking off towards the stairs.
“Wait.” The boy grabbed her arm. “Thank you,” he said simply, and pulled her into an embrace. “If we don't both make it out, I just want you to know I'm sorry for everything that happened, and—”
The girl stepped back and raised a hand. He stopped talking. “I need to know one thing,” she said. “Why did you send me away?”
“I wanted to protect you, but I knew you would never leave as long as I was here. So I had to do something to make you go,” he answered.
“Some things are more important than life,” the girl said softly. “I'd rather die today knowing you're my best friend than live for a thousand years thinking you hated me.”
A tear slid down the boy’s cheek. “I understand that now. I’m sorry. I'm so, so…”
The girl stepped forward and gently put her arms around him. They held each other for a few long, comforting moments, blocking out all of the darkness and evil around them with their joy.
Finally she pulled back and pointed her finger at the boy. “But I swear, if you die before we win this thing, I'm going to kill you.”
“I'll keep that in mind,” he said, the corner of his mouth crooked upward.
Together they hurried down the stairs and out of the building.
As they started towards the center of the city, the king saw them and hurried over. “Where are you going?” he asked.
The girl frowned. “None of your business,” she answered. “Stay put.”
His brows furrowed. “But I'm sure my army could be of help—”
“Stay out of it!” she snapped. “I wouldn't trust you to feed a flitwing, much less fight beside me in battle!”
The boy’s eyes widened slightly.
“What are you talking about? You couldn't possibly know anything about me,” the king sneered.
“Oh yes, I do,” the girl said, glaring at the king, who backed away as she raised her hands towards him. Evidently he'd seen what she had done to the ice army’s arrows, and didn't want to suffer the same fate.
“Stay here.” The girl spun around and stalked off towards the east. “We’ll see about my crown later,” she added under her breath, then turned to the boy. “Let’s go.”
A few minutes later, they heard a noise from up ahead. Ducking into the shadow of a nearby house, they stopped to listen. It was a sound unlike any they had ever heard. Half roar, half scream, it echoed deafeningly through the city again and again.
The girl glanced at the boy. He shrugged.
They began creeping forward, the sound growing louder each time as they got closer. Soon it was deafening, but they still had no clue as to what it might be.
Then they rounded a corner, and both froze in terror. Before them stood the commander of the black army, but he wasn't looking at them. He had his sword raised, and was facing a huge, fierce, scaly…
“Icedrake,” the girl whispered.
Written by Elia Tyson
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room
Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or Beginnings.
Click here to read Part One and here to read Part Two.
The sky was blood above me, and the clouds were as smoke. The air was so thick a man could drown in it, or cut it with a knife. I trembled in the drizzle of the rain and clutched my sharpened spear, it’s tip blackened from the flames. We stood on the south side of the Valley of Tranquility Gap, thirty thousand in all.
Against us stood the enemy. Fifty thousands of the men of the Seven Stars arrayed in their myriads of darkness, perched on the northern side of that valley of death. Their banners flapped in the winds. Long serpentine dragons slithered in the air, their colours reversed to the Divine Emperor of Se Sing Be. Under these marched the Singing men, rebels all. Hundreds of banners of lesser lords flew, some from burned down Wotantown. There were token banners from the lords of Dresden away to the north, displaying a broken heart aflame, and many and more flew under the Ermine and Serpents of Lord Alcquakellie, who had sold his eldest son to the altars under the Great Oak to save his city and his lordship from destruction. The banners of his fourth son, with two headed Ermine, flew over the command pavilion of the enemy, a boy of 10 years of age. Still others yet flew the Silver Drums of the company of the Long Marches. Much dismay had been caused in our camp when it was learned that the Old Axe had taken his contract with the foe.
Above them all flew the Seven Stars. Silver, Gold, Scarlet, Azure, Green, Purple and Sable they fluttered and rolled. Raised in praise of the seven fingered god they served. The scourge of the world was Roger of the Seven Fingers, god on earth. That he had power, none could deny. How else could he have dissuaded so many men and women to his side? There were rumors, but rumors of the powers of the heathens were not good things to listen to the priests said. I hung my head sadly that my world should come to such a war, and I looked back at the banners of my lords, and my gods.
The banners of five cities, joined together in the Grand Alliance of the Gods flapped on top of a mound raised on the very top of our hill. There above us, waving proudly was the long sinuous Dragon of Se Sing Ba, the Four Hooded Brothers crossing their swords upon the Vault of Giza, the Pale Sickle and Sun of Otamay, the Thousand Eyes and One of Ravenna, and the banners of my gods, the Lions of Night of Londkongkai. All these cities had joined together in holy league against the pretender Roger of the Seven Fingers, to protect their lands, their gods, and their sons.
For Roger of the Seven Fingers had declared his fell purpose at the burning of Wotantown, proclaiming his plan to make the world anew. Under the Great Oak at the Lake of Divinity, he would sacrifice seven of the purest and whitest bulls of the lands, seven of the sons of his own body, and seven of the finest princes of this earth. This he claimed, would summon the Seven Stars of Heaven, and they would fall into the Lake of Divinity, making the world a perfect place for his followers, and all who believed in the power of his name. He called then for these seven princes of the World to be brought before him, that in their deaths they might honor their families, find peace eternal, to bring about a new world.
Those with sanity had refused, and we were marched forth to war. Some 2,000 men and boys had marched out from Lord Cairwell’s fief to Londkongkai to declare their allegiance and support to old King Willem, and to prostrate ourselves at the grand temple of the Lions of Night. We had joined with many Lords from many other fiefs, and eventually marched besides men who spoke another language, and who’s city fought under different banners and different gods, and our duty had brought us here.
If only to guard the wagons, I thought bitterly, as I turned away back to the far side of our hill. It was true. The boys were not allowed to fight. Forty boys from our fief guarded the baggage train of Lord Cairwell, and the tents of our fathers and uncles. The air was so thick, a man could drown.
As I returned to my charge, Bran called to me. “Do you think we can stop them Paul?” he asked, tears welling in his eyes. His three brothers were all deemed old enough to be on the front lines. We worried if we would ever see them again.
“Fear not little one.” The daughter of our village priest slid between us, her robed form the picture of beauty, poise, and grace. “The gods will show us favor this day.” Thunder rolled to the west. The rain would soon be upon us.
“Please priestess,” Bran fell to his knees and touched the hem of her garment. She recoiled with disgust and raised her hand to slap him. I saw the danger and quickly prostrated myself face down to the ground as well, drawing her attention. My nose pressed into the mud.
“My cousin means you no harm priestess,” I said trembling. “His brothers fight on the front lines for the gods against the heathens, under our Lord Cairwell’s banners. We would have you pray for them.” I looked up into her eyes, and they seemed to soften.
“Please, my lady,” Bran said, his voice wavering. “Please, remember them in your prayers. Travin, Weaver, and Daerrin are their names. Please my lady.”
The priestess’ eyes looked up from our prostrate forms and stared coldly across the valley at the enemy. “Fear not, brave soldiers of our gods, they will see your suffering. I will remember both you and yours in my prayers, that the gods may look down upon your sacrifices, and show mercy.” She extended her hands toward us in blessing, and intoned to us the ancient rites for those about to die. Her ruby lips chanted the phrases, on and on it went, as we pressed our faces further into the muddying ground. When she finished, she drew her robes closer about herself and raised a crimson hood over her venereal face. She looked to the weeping heavens.
“Rise children. Noon is almost upon us. The Ravens are here, with a thousand eyes and one, searching for the souls of those about to die. Pray that you are not to be found among them, for soon, many men will die.” She slid away from us, silent as the breeze that blows the chaff. She was right I knew. As I arose, I looked up at the sky. The ravens were here. And they needed to be fed. For the gods.
The trumpets were calling for assembly. Battle lines were to be formed. Bran and I rushed away from the wagons and crested the hill. For all our fear, this moment of nervous excitement filled all of us. The battle’s first clash was about to begin. As I ran, the thunder rolled, and the rain seemed to dissipate. It’s a good thing, I thought. Our arrows can fly swifter, and truer.
The boys assembled around the standard mound and, with the banners above us, we looked down the hill into the valley that was to be washed with red. I knew that the dale would be so red, a man could drown in it. The army was going into it’s formations, and across the gap the colors of the foe fluttered, as the enemy repositioned like so many ants. We could hear the famous silver drums of the Old Axe’s company, responding in defiance to our trumpets.
Rat Tat Tat! Titterat Tat Tat!
Priests wandered up and down our front line, consisting of so many peasant levies from so many fiefs and lands. There were priests of Londkongkai were calling out to the Lions of Night, yet there were Holy Men of Ravenna and Otamay that were calling out to the slayer of the lions, the Man of the Mirror Shield. Even after all these there were priests of so many different gods, and languages, and customs, that it was impossible to know to whom all they prayed. Some stood still and intoned long sonorous notes over the men. Others walked back and forth, chanting and swinging their hanging burners of incense, filling the heavy air with perfume. One man was calling out to the dragons, another to the Lake of Divinity. Another man brought forth a young boy, and cut open his throat into the valley, the first blood to be shed. From behind us on the south of our hill, the ululation of female voices rose up. Over the din, I detected a shrill high pitched voice, reaching heights far above the others. Our Priest’s daughter, I knew.
The levies accounted for nigh on half of our force, and I spotted Lord Cairwell’s banners on our right flank. My cousins must be there, I thought. Behind them there stood several free companies. There were the Straightened Swords on our right, in mail of burnished steel. The Grizzled Bears there in the center, wearing the pelts of their namesakes in great ferocious collars. And there on our right was the Order of the Pale Maiden, with a banner of a goddess in silks flying over their silver helms. In heavier armor, and made up of more ferocious veterans of war, these men would be crucial to our victory. We could only pray they would not turn against us should the battle go ill.
Six hundred archers from Otamay, with banners of our accompanying High Lord Ravata tied sharply to their backs against their wooden armor followed these. These were famed throughout Sabine for their accuracy and the power of their bows. Some few poorer hunters joined these.
To our left flank there stood some five hundred of the finest Yumi archers ahorse, under the command of High Lord Haduko, and some three hundred lesser horse. To our right the thousand horses of the Company of the Lancing Scarab pawed the ground impatiently.
Behind them was our final line of our infantry. A expeditionary token force sent from far away. Here were some three thousand Gizani Legion in scale and mail, holding great square shields and long shining spears. These were the reserves. The finest in our army. The troops that had been brought here by our Army’s supreme commander…
A cry went up from every throat, as four horses trotted out in front of our lines: white, red, black and pale. The soldiers lifted their spears and shouted, the priests lifted their voices in unanimous chant, and the screams of the women rose ever higher and loader, filling the air. Lords from every city save Se Sing Ba filed out behind them, some 30 in all, each carrying their own banners, save those few selected to carry those of our four High Commanders.
“Laegyus!” His men shouted his name with pride. “Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!” It rose again, and I heard the priests shouting as well. “Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!”
The man upon the Pale Horse raised his hand. I could not see his face, but the booming of his voice I could hear even from my position atop the hill. It cried out in a foreign language, strong, clear, and beautiful. This then was the great Gizani General sent to save us. General Laegyus. I did not know his tongue, but I knew the words he spoke.
“Men of the gods!” he shouted. “Our purpose is clear! The enemy has come before us today, in the sight of gods and men to make war upon us! We shall not allow them to ravage your homes and your villages! We shall not permit them to sack your cites and burn your temples! In the name of the Heart’s Desire, the cities you serve, and the families you love, I command you to be strong! Nay, it is not I, it is the gods themselves that command you! You have these holy men here before you! What is their judgement concerning their enemies?”
“Death!” the Priests cried with one voice. It echoed throughout the valley.
“Then as the gods command, we shall serve these heretics and traitors their due judgements! Stand strong, and I shall lead you here to victory!”
“Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!” From thirty thousand voices the call went up. I yelled at the top of my lungs. There was no air left in me. The gods would surely hear our devotion here today. The blood would be shed, our homes would be saved, and the gods would have their vengeance. The sky was blood above us.
Screams leapt up from the throats of fifty thousand men. Young Lord Alcquakellie had sounded the advance. The battle was now. Death was coming.
General Laegyus turned and, with his generals, saw the swarming heathens as they poured into the ravine. “Lords, the time is come to prove your loyalty to the gods! To battle!”
Our trumpets rang out. The banner bearers returned to their respective companies and the archers spread out. I saw our two wings of cavalry depart from the camp and move out to our flanks. The Yumi bows were likely to do well, peppering the enemy to their deaths. I had heard no account of the Company of the Lancing Scarab’s cowardice either. They were like to prove true and strong.
“Advance the first line! And may the gods be with you!” General Laegyus pointed his sword at the foe atop his pale horse. The screams began again.
“Laegyus! Laegyus! Laegyus!” A storm of ironfaced men rushed down the valley to meet their enemies. The cries for their general slowly turned into shouts for their gods, and after that into shouts for their mothers as a blanket of arrows hit them. The cries of dying men was deafening. The air shrieked as it was cut by missiles from both sides. I saw that while the archers of the foe were firing directly into our infantry, the majority of our archers were firing into their counterparts of the Seven Stars.
Our men clashed against those of the enemy as they reached the base of the ravine. Our men had the advantage. We were fighting a defensive battle, the enemy’s task was to push through, and they were fighting uphill. The battle at this point was simple. Levy against Levy. Farmers armed with simple tools, fishermen with spears, village drunks with sticks, ruffians with long knives. Not true soldiers. The mettle of these men would not be tested until the real fighters arrived, our mercenary companies and the Gizani legion, against the Long Marches and Lord Alcquakellie’s personal levies would be the true deciders of the battle I knew. But despite the lack of training those simple smallfolk received, they were brave, and proved themselves just as honorable as the noble men by charging in to fight hordes of the monotheists. They died all the same.
For though men do not naturally kill other men, they excel at it when it is necessary. The cruel and murderous strokes I saw there were without count, the screams unbearable. And against the flapping flags of little lords of little villages, fighting for little gods with smaller men - there raged the united tide of Seven Stars, threatening to drown the world. A large banner fluttered in the center, bearing all seven of the unholy stars shooting through the sky.
Arrows landed amongst both sides, although theirs were fewer now, for High Lord Ravata’s archers had decimated those of the enemy. They were holding the majority of their fire, only loosing an arrow here and again against the ever dwindling number of enemy bowmen. The chanting of our priests seemed to be attuned to the singing of bowstrings, and the women behind the hill had not once been silent. But our lines were thinning, while at least a third of the foe had died, there were no more than half of our levies men holding back a tide of almost thrice their number, and our men were dwindling fast. A battle that had started at the third hour of the morning was now well past midday. The earth now matched the sky, for both were soaked in the reddest colors I had ever seen.
Our trumpets blew again. The free companies charged down into the fray. There were the Straightened Swords, the Grizzled Bears, and the Order of the Pale Maiden, all rushing down against the foe, cutting them to pieces with their swords, axes, and heavy maces. Our banners pushed the heathens back to the bottom of the valley, and started to move across it themselves. Roger’s rabble shivered, it was not to last long.
We boys cheered. We could smell victory. All it would take would be for General Laegyus to order in the Gizani legion and the day would be won. Priests shouted, cut themselves, some produced flames in front of their feet. The shrieking of the high priestesses changed into a cacophony of laughter. The call of the gods was loud, and leering. Sure enough, the trumpets sounded.
There went the legion, bounding down the hill side, ready to carve the enemy to pieces. The ground was shaking, as if a great flood was rushing towards a shore. Our men pushed down, into the very heart of the enemy, the Gizani forces swelling the ranks of our mercenaries and our dwindling levies. The enemy levies faltered, and some began to flee.
The Long Marches rushed down, to save the dwindling army of Roger. I could see the Old Axe, swinging his massive labrys. His axe was like a bell. Back and forth he swung it, hewing scale from mail, flesh from bone, head from shoulder. The Long Marches stemmed their wavering levies, and reached the massive banner, as it was about to be pushed back up the hill of the enemy. The time had come. The foe rallied, and held strong.
Now the true horror of the battle became real to us. Lord Cairwell’s banner faltered. We could see arrows land amongst both sides of men; cutting through the heavy air, the arrows flew upon the dead and dying. At the bottom of the valley there was now a mound of bodies that stretched from end to end. I could see now that it was taller than the tallest of men. Arrows protruded from it at all angles, and the armies climbed upon it in their rush to kill the other, and add more men to the pile. And indeed, more men were.
Up from our right, the clattering of hooves could be heard. The cavalry of our forces and the Seven Stars had not been seen throughout the whole of the battle, what could this be? We boys climbed over each other to see what the commotion was. Was it the enemy coming into the camp? Was it the Company of the Lancing Scarab bringing news of victory?
It was indeed the Company of the Lancing Scarab, and indeed on their heels came the enemy. Black they were, and huge. Armor covered them like beetles. Not in scales and mail were these, but in suits of the strongest metal. Great black impenetrable beasts they were. A great banner bearing the Black Star streamed above them. Their horses plodded after the multicolored tatters of the Company of the Lancing Scarab through the mud, weighed down with I had never seen the like, and knew I was not like to again. We are like to die, I thought. They will come into the camp and kill us all. Boys were beginning to run. The high pitched ululations of the priestesses rose infinitely higher. I thought of the priestess Bran and I had met earlier in the day, and wondered if she had offered up a prayer for me too.
But then, the heavily armored monsters turned, abandoning the chase of their much swifter prey. No danger remained from the Company of the Lancing Scarab that day. They had advanced halfway up our hill from our right, and now, as the Hammer of the Waters upon a bridge, they turned as one and charged back down the hill.
They crashed against our forces mercilessly. I saw the banners of Lord Cairwell be surrounded, and fall underneath the withering charge. Screams erupted in such terror and unison, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the cries of my cousins. But I didn’t need to hear them to know what had become of them.
“No!” Bran shouted. I turned and looked at him. Tears streamed down his cheeks. I remembered then how truly young he was, how he shouldn’t be seeing any of this, how he should never of left his home.
“No! No! NO!” He cried and cried. I held him there. He shouldn’t see any of this. I turned his head away, but he shook it violently and tore it from my grasp. He shouted their names, and I held him to my chest. He wanted to run into the fray, and die with them. I understood. I wanted to as well. But I would not let my last cousin die this day, any more than I would allow myself that honor that I thought I wanted. I turned my head from the battlefield where I knew my family died and dropped my spear. Bran struggled until he had not the strength to struggle anymore. A man could have drowned in our tears.
I heard horses’ hooves. I turned my head once more. Down in the valley, the mound seemed to be floating in a red lake, that the Black horses were now having to swim through. A young man of the Grizzled Bears stood upon the highest peak of the mound and hefted high a torn and tattered banner. His collar was high and stained; his wicked sword curved and bloodied. He shouted in defiance of his enemies, urging our soldiers on. The Old Axe arrived atop the mound, and began to face the young captain in battle.
Elsewhere, the Order of the Pale Maiden had turned their colors to the Seven Stars in the middle of the battle. Once the black armored cavalry had smashed into them, they had deemed that their only way to survive was to begin to kill our men.
But through them all, I saw the young priestess from before, leaping over the bodies of the slain. It almost looked like she was dancing. Her robes were covered in crimson, and she hefted two bloody axes in her hands. She grinned, with an almost wicked grin, finishing off the enemy’s wounded. Her laugh echoed through the valley like some enchanted song.
But the sound of the hooves stood before us, for there was General Laegyus on his Pale Horse. He pointed his sword at us, mere boys.
“Sons! Squires! The time is come! Here the battle will depend on you! Do this thing and charge down into that valley of death, no man would dare hold his honor against yours! Your fathers, brothers, and uncles need you! Your gods need you! Now is the place and the time, nay, the hour, where you are men! Slay the enemies of our peoples, and put an end to their evils! With me now! With me!”
He turned from us and kicked his horse into a gallop down into the battlefield. His staff followed after him, not a man of them younger than 50. Boys cheered and followed suit, rushing down with their pathetic excuses for weapons and headlong to their deaths. The banners of the five cities of the Grand Alliance of the Gods were lifted up from their poles, and they flew down the hillside. The archers of High Lord Ravata ran down, exchanging their bows for long curved blades. Their flags too streamed behind them.
In all this, Bran found new life. He punched at my chest and kicked at my knees until I let go of him. He dashed towards the battle. “I’m coming!” he cried, tears still streaming down his cheeks. “I’m coming! Don’t leave me! Don’t go!”
“Bran!” I called after him, my feet tripping as I began to descend the hill running after him. I left my weapon there. The ground was so muddy my feet sunk into the mud and I began to slide down the hill toward the red lake. Still Bran ran and ran and ran.
“I’m coming!” he called again. “Don’t leave me!”
“Bran come back! You’ll die!” I could no longer move my feet, or struggle against the crimson muck. I fell faster and faster, but Bran still ran ahead of me, and did not look back. He raced towards Lord Cairwell’s fallen banners, to his brothers, toward the black horsemen that would take his life.
“Bran!” I called again. Then it happened.
I heard nothing, but my throat was caught. I looked down and saw the tip of an arrow shaft protruding from my neck. I gurgled in shock and fear. I tumbled over and over and over. Blood filled my airways, I was drowning. I heard the priestess laugh amongst the sound of my disgrace.
I’m dying, I realized as I tumbled down the hill. I’m drowning, I’m drowning, I’m dying. The hill seemed to extend forever, down and down I fell, faster and faster I rolled. I’m drowning. I’m drowning. I’m dying.
I thought of Bran and how I wouldn’t be there to save him. I thought of my dead cousins, would they be waiting for me in the afterlife? I thought of the priestess, who had the kindness to pray for them, and her ruby red lips. I thought of brave General Laegyus on his pale horse. I thought of the village I would never see again. I prayed, for my soul, for my cousins’ souls, and I prayed for Bran.
“Don’t leave me!” Bran called through the mire. I don’t want to leave you, I tried to say, but all the came out was the rattle of a dying boy. A drowning boy.
I was at the bottom in a sea full of blood. The sky was red above me and the clouds were as smoke. It was raining again, as if the sky was crying for me. I heard feet splashing towards me. It was Bran.
“Don’t leave me!” he cried as I sank beneath the waves. Tears and mud streaked his face.
“Don’t go!” he called again.
I’m drowning, I thought. I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.
I awoke in a sweat and clutched at my throat, feeling as though I might throw up. It was then I noticed than Bran was not next to me. I sat up right, and felt around me in the tent. Even my hands were covered in a salty layer of grime. I shook involuntarily, shivering with a sudden sense of cold.
“Bran,” I whispered. There was no answer. “Bran? Where are you?”
My grasping in the dark revealed nothing. Bran was not there. I shook my head. Am I still dreaming? Is this another nightmare?
I reached for the tent flap and winced as this Night’s Lion was failing, and a glow fell on my face. The Man in the Mirror Shield was finishing the Lion off, and had escorted the Pale Lady across the sky. The sun would soon be up, and morning would then begin. My head brushed against the tent flap, and I looked out over a blue sea and the smoldering campfire, from what seemed a half remembered dream.
I saw a boy with blue within blue eyes, seated with his back to the second moon, and the ocean lapped around him. He clutched his legs and stared into the red embers of dying flames, with all the somberness of an old man. He seemed to be searching for something. The Man in the Mirror Shield shone down upon his head, shimmering off the waves, reflecting wisdom from the stars.
More shivers racked my body as a chilling wind swept across the dunes, blowing sand and smoke into curls that snaked through the air. The eerie cold that raked through me told me I could no longer be in a dream. The air was too icy for me not to be awake.
“Bran?” I asked the boy tentatively. Who was this? Was that huddled, scared, strange haunter of the dark truly Bran?
The boy turned his head to look at me, and his eyes widened. He shuddered as I did, but not from the cold I realized, from dread.
In a quiet whisper I heard the boy say, “I dreamed of you.”
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room
Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, here to read Part Three, and here to read Part Four.
She grabbed the door handle, and froze as she tired to turn it. It wouldn’t budge. I should've known, she thought with a sinking feeling. That man was far too kind…
“Be at peace.”
The girl spun around. No one was there.
“Be at peace,” the voice said again. It was strong, yet gentle; majestic, yet empathetic.
“Who's there?” the girl asked.
“I,” came the answer, “am your Creator.”
Her eyes widened. Creator? She'd never heard of any such person. The only celestial beings she'd ever been told of were the star gods. It was quite obvious that this Creator existed though.
She only knew one thing for sure about the star gods: they always wanted something. Whoever this Creator is, He’s probably the same. “What do you want?”
The Creator laughed. It was the most wonderful noise the girl had ever heard. “I’m not asking you to give me anything. I've come with a gift.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I will help you defeat the ice army, and afterwards, I have an even greater deliverance to offer,” He said.
The girl was speechless. Since when to gods meddle with the wars of men? And what can He mean by a greater deliverance?
“Put out your hand,” the Creator said. The girl hesitantly complied.
At first nothing happened. Then, in the empty air above her palm, a sliver of golden light appeared, no thicker than one of her fingers. It slowly grew into a long string.
“This,” explained the Creator, “is what was used to create your world of Ildathore. It is life, it is healing, it is warmth. I give you this power to fight the evil that now approaches, and it shall continue on to your descendants. Be careful that you do not use if frivolously. Guard your heart against pride.”
The girl nodded slowly, trying to take in everything He had just said. After a moment of silence, she hesitantly asked a question. “Why me?”
“Because I chose you,” came the answer.
The string of light moved downwards and dissolved into the girl’s hand. Her skin glowed where it touched her, and the light spread to the rest of her body, and then slowly faded.
Suddenly the girl knew she was alone again. And yet somehow she wasn't. The Presence that had been there still lingered around her.
She took a deep breath and reached for the door handle. It turned, and she stepped out of the room.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped off the gangplank. She wasn't sure if the locked door had been the Creator’s doing or the ship captain’s, but she didn't care to find out.
As soon as she was out of sight of the ship, she stopped to get her bearings. It was still morning, and the sun shone to her left. That’s east, then. The palace is in the center of the city, and I'm on the southeast side.
She chose a road that looked like it was going approximately the right direction and started off down it. Only then did she have enough time to think and realize that she would probably see the boy again, and would definitely see the king. She didn't have many fond memories of him. But the boy…. Can I do it? After what happened?
You have to, came the reply. No matter what he's done, you still love him. And if not for him, at least do it for the people of Cliffhaven.
She took several deep breaths and redoubled her pace.
The boy surveyed the wall. It looked ready.
“Fire!” he called again.
He watched as dozens of streams of oil trickled down the wall towards the same number of torches bellow. Just as it reached them, the men standing behind the wall pulled down on the huge bellows. The wind shot through the pipes and to the holes in the wall just behind the torches, and a giant wall of flame shot forward and scorched every piece of grass within twenty yards that had been missed by the previous blasts.
“Good,” the boy said. “Pipe fourteen, pipe fifty one, you're off. Reposition.”
Two men hurried to the pipes he had named and pointed them back at their holes. Just as they returned the king arrived.
“Impressive work for three hours time,” he said. “Is it ready?”
“Yes,” the boy answered. “Would you like a demonstration?”
He shook his head. “I'd say the huge patch of black grass is proof enough. Why don't we move on to the iron coating on the drawbridge now. If the fire is successful, I'd prefer to have a way to get over the river to finish them off.”
The boy nodded and turned towards the main gate. I sure hope this works. But if it doesn't at least I know she escaped.
That's all that matters to me.
An hour later, the girl stood in front of the front gate of the castle. She slowly forced her feet forward towards it. I have to. She gritted her teeth and walked up to one of the gate guards.
“I need to speak with the king,” she said.
“He's out,” the man answered.
Oh no… “Where?”
“Main gate,” he said. “Weapons testing.”
The girl nodded, spun around, and took off north. After a few minutes she noticed the houses around her getting dingier and the people looking meaner. She slowed to a walk, and finally stopped altogether. Maybe I should've asked directions from someone….
She turned to head back in the direction she had come, but there was a huge man with a curved sword strapped to his waist walking down the alley towards her. Her heart rate quickened.
He's probably just heading to get a drink somewhere, she tried to calm herself. But when she started forward, he moved over to block her path. She turned to run the other direction, but there was another man behind her. Scrambling into a small space between two houses, she looked for anything she could use as a weapon.
There was nothing. No no no! I have to warn him! She ran forward, hoping to make it through to the next street, but there was a fence in the way. When she was only halfway to the top, a rough hand grabbed her and yanked her down.
Her head hit the hard ground, and her world went black.
“…the hundredth time, I told you not to damage her!” a voice snarled. “Who's going to pay ransom for a child with a smashed head?” The girl sat up quickly. When she tried to stand she discovered that her hands were tied behind her back, and one leg was secured to the bench she'd been laying on.
“She’ll wake up,” another voice answered. “Just you wait.”
“It's been five hours!” the other shouted.
Five hours? the girl thought, panicked. That means it's nearly sunset! She struggled desperately to free her hands, but all she managed to do was knock a loose piece of scrap wood to the floor.
“What was that?” the first man asked. There was a moment of silence, and then the girl heard two chairs scraping on the floor. She gave the rope one last desperate tug, and then collapsed back against the wall.
“Look, she's awake!” The second man said triumphantly. “I told you!”
“I didn't say….”
Wait, the girl thought, blocking out their voices. The gift the Creator gave me… might it be able to help me escape?
She took a deep breath and focused all her attention on the rope that tied her hands. Nothing happened. She changed her approach, focusing on her hands and projecting energy outwards. She felt the rope grow warm.
She pushed outward even more, and the rope burst into flame. Strangely, she hardly felt it. It was more of a tingling sensation than burning.
Looking up to make sure the two men were still arguing, she pointed her right hand towards the rope on her leg, and it burst into flame as well. As it did, one of the men stopped talking and sniffed the air. “Do you smell something burning?”
The girl raised her hand and shot a burst of energy at the roof, and it exploded into flame. The men screamed and backed out of the room. The girl lit the wall to her left, and after a few moments it collapsed. She jumped back into the alleyway and hurried north again, no longer worried.
The boy watched, every muscle in his body tense, as the line of blue approached. The ice army was close enough now that he could make out the individual men. Every time the feet of the first rank touched the ground, the unnatural frost spread a few inches further.
The sun came out from behind the thin cloud that had been covering it, and the sunset colors turned the ice to an eeire shade of reddish blue. It might have been beautiful at another time, but not when every second brought nearly certain death that much closer.
He glanced back behind the wall at where six men stood, ready to work the bellows that would hopefully burn the ice army into oblivion. “Prepare to fire!” he called. After watching to make sure they'd heard, he turned to the men on the walls with the oil pails. They were ready, as were the king and his army, who stood behind the main gate.
Several tense minutes passed, and then finally, the first ice soldier set foot on the scorched grass. “Hold!” the boy called, leaning forward. One rank was over, two, three… then they stopped.
What are they—? his thought was interrupted when the first two ranks pulled bows off their backs and each knocked an arrow.
“Fire!” he yelled.
A burst of flame shot forward and hit the first ranks of the ice army. For a few seconds, he couldn't see anything. Then the smoke cleared, and…
Nothing had changed. The ice soldiers still stood, arrows nocked, and tips pointed towards the wall. The small flame of hope that the boy had kept in his heart fizzled out. They had lost.
He heard a crash from behind him and spun around just in time to see a huge building near the docks finish falling. But it hadn't just fallen… there were ice shards scattered all around, and a huge fleet of ships was emptying hundreds of soldiers onto the shore.
Just when he thought nothing else could go wrong, the girl ran up the last few steps to the top of the wall and stopped in front of him.
Written by Elia Tyson
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room