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In the Sway of Storms - chapter 7

    • 178 posts
    August 5, 2021 8:50 AM PDT

    Chapter Seven

     

    Irilanssa, 472 IH, early spring

     

    Sunlight Sparkling in the Grass awoke to the strange, cloyingly sweet scent of the grasses around her. It wasn’t a scent she liked, and for a moment she felt disoriented. But soon the familiar scents of her pack drifted past her nose, and she felt a sense of familiarity and belonging. A light breeze ruffled her fur, and she heard Aovyn’s voice nearby.

    She opened her eyes. The grasses swayed along the edges of their campsite. The One Who Tracks was scraping something across her Long Claw. The wolf understood sharpening a claw.

    Sometimes she had tracked alongside the One Who Tracks, but she wondered if the elf was very good at tracking at all. She often missed very important scents, and the wolf tried to encourage her to smell them too, but the elf seemed uninterested in the scent.

    The wolf stood up and padded over to the creek to drink some water. The voice of water over stones was pleasant, and she stood for a moment with her eyes closed, feeling the rhythm of the water. Then she bowed her head and drank. The water was cold and clear.

    Across the creek she saw one of the small rodents with strange eyes. The day before, she had hunted and killed one of the animals. The flavor was unsettling and made her tongue curl, but she was hungry, so she finished it. She was hungry this morning, too, so she eyed the rodent for a breath, until the animal noticed the wolf staring and ran off with a rattling cry.

    Later.

    When she was small, she had found love of this world in the scent and shimmer of days after the rain, when the sunlight sparkled on the wet grass. She had named herself after her first love of being alive. Other wolves never called her that, of course. They called her in the tone and timbre of voices long familiar, and the shifting moods of wolves hunting. They also communicated in ways other than voice—with expression and ears and the tough of fur on fur, and games of chase and catch in the grass.

    She walked back to the campsite. The One Who Drums was eating something next to the One Whose Pack is Fire and Rock. The Angry One was sharpening both long claws.

    Sunlight Sparkling in the Grass, came a thought. It was not in words, but in understanding and invitation. Aovyn knew her name, her love and her spirit—and she knew his.

    She padded over to him and he scratched her fur for a time while she leaned against his shoulder. He smelled like home. Home smelled like wherever he was.

    The One Who Leads started talking then, and the others listened. The wolf paid little attention to whatever he was saying, the wind and whisper and rumble of his voice. When the time came, they would get up and go on a hunt, or find new land, and the wolf would go with them.

    They were pack.

    * * * * *

    The broken halls and towers of Nenufarn rose around them again as they entered the city from the east. This time they had a destination: the great domes at the center of the city. Whatever secrets this city held, Arebon reasoned that they would find something in the center of power.

    Yonai cared little for this. She had bought a fine bowstring from a trading post, and kept it safe and sealed in wrappings of oilcloth until it was needed. This morning she had strung her bow with it. It was well that she had it, for the moisture in the marsh air had not been kind to the old bowstring.

    Long ago she had made a harness to hold both curved swords, her bow, and the tongah she used as a guide for her sniper arrows. She preferred a side quiver with arrows of two lengths.

    Leaving the heavy packs hidden at the campsite meant she could travel light, move quickly, and be ready for trouble in an instant. She preferred trouble. Life seemed far too bleak without adventure.

    She glanced up at the sky, saw the rippleclouds that foretold the coming of rain.

    Great, she thought. We can all be wet again.

    They passed a statue of silver and steel in the shape of one of the ghosts of ochre glass. Unlike the rest of the dead city, this statue seemed intact as if it had been crafted the day before. They could see the robe of many folds that it wore, and bare feet with toes like a gecko. The head of the statue was lobed like a starfish on its side, each of five eyes staring out over the city before it. The mouth, open, with sharp teeth and the grimace they had seen on the faces of the ghosts.

    In one hand, the statue held an orb with intricate patterns on its surface. The other hand was stretched out, palm down. And it stood in a circle of glyphs, the shadow of its outstretched arm falling across one of them.

    “A shadow clock,” said Kymeret. “He seems very angry to be standing there.”

    They moved on toward the center of the city. Some of the buildings seemed crushed by a giant hand, while others were mostly intact, tall green stone with dark windows. Once, Yonai thought she glimpsed a lobed head within the darkness of a third floor window, but she couldn’t be sure.

    They were still some distance from the domes when Sairi made a sound and crouched to the ground.

    “What is it?” asked Arebon.

    “These are not elvish boots.”

    The wolf joined her and began sniffing around.

    “Sandoval?”

    “No, he wears elvish boots.”

    The wolf was growling low in her throat.

    “Fresh?” asked Isonis.

    Sairi combed the view ahead of them with her eyes. “Yes.”

    Yonai pulled her bow from the harness at her back and held it in hand as they followed Sairi and the wolf through the ruins.

    “Yes, of course we must follow,” said Kymeret softly, “and seek enemies instead of treasure. It is our way, friend Slumber, is it not?”

    Slumber nodded.

    The picked their way west through streets of debris. The city was silent, without birdsong or animals of any kind.

    Then a sound to the left. They saw nothing but the dead city and continued on, sneaking glances to the left.

    A sound to the right, louder this time.

    Arebon began, “Cir—“

    An arrow hit Slumber in his right leg and he went down, yelling without words. Kymeret cursed and summoned his titan, an arcamental of earth. It wore a bit of steel armor he had acquired along the way, and brandished a short sword in one hand of stone.

    “Protect Slumber,” growled Kymeret, and then he looked around with anger in his eyes and a dagger in his hand.

    Other arrows flew toward them as Aovyn knelt next to Slumber. Isonis swatted an arrow out of the air with one of his swords.

    Their enemies emerged yelling from alleys and from behind shattered walls. They were over a dozen, wearing pieces of metal poorly attached to tattered leather, and in their hands they carried longswords and heavy axes. One held a club.

    Most striking was their faces. They weren’t too different from elves or humans, but each face was twisted into a rictus of rage and hunger and terror. At the sight of the prey before them, they made sounds of stuttering laughter from tight throats.

    Yonai didn’t recognize the species—but she didn’t care. They were enemies, and they had attacked Slumber. They would die.

    She leapt toward the nearest enemy with sword in hand and struck at a weakness in its armor. The chest piece sagged away, hanging by one leather strap.

    As the creature swung his sword toward her, she kicked backward off its chest. While in the air, she sheathed her sword and lifted the bow in her left hand, nocked an arrow, then fired when she landed. The arrow struck the creature in the chest where its armor had fallen away.

    As it crumpled to the ground in pain, snarling, she looked around. Arebon and Sairi stood guard near Aovyn. Yonai was separated from the group.

    Another enemy was running toward her. She leapt to meet it, drawing her sword as she moved, and sliced through straps holding its armor. Then she vaulted away again and loosed another arrow.

    She glanced around and saw Isonis and Crowdancer fall as the street collapsed beneath them.

    * * * * *

    As the stones of the street fell away under them, Isonis dropped both swords and grabbed Crowdancer, swinging her around so that she would land on him instead of the ground. They fell into darkness and hit stone. Isonis made a sound as the breath was knocked out of him. She landed on something hard, and it felt as if someone punched her waist. The jar of brightfire sap, probably.

    She rolled off of him and sat up.

    “Are you all right?”

    “No,” he grunted. She reached for her duduk, which could sometimes help with healing—but it was not in her hand. The frame drum attached to her belt had broken when they hit the ground. She had nothing.

    Isonis sat up. They were in virtual darkness except for a ray of light streaming down from the hole in the street above them.

    She removed her drum from her belt and felt along its surface. The skin was torn, and the wooden frame shattered along one side.

    “We are in a basement or cellar,” said Isonis.

    “I’ve lost my instruments,” said Crowdancer.

    “Do you have weapons?”

    “Just my sword.”

    “Give it to me. I dropped mine to protect you when we fell.”

    She hesitated, then drew her sword and handed it to him. He drew out the jar of brightfire sap from his belt pack—the jar was undamaged even after she fell upon it—and began to coat the sword.

    “You are feeling useless again,” said Isonis. “I know that sigh. It is tiresome.”

    “I have nothing left.”

    “You have your voice. You depend too much on that sad little woodwind you carry.”

    She sighed again.

    “Your problem,” Isonis continued, “is that you lack confidence. You hesitate, as Arebon said. I have seen your magic, felt it. I know it is there, and so do you. Why do you doubt?”

    “I don’t know, maybe years of mocking from one of my companions.”

    “I do not mock,” he said. “I speak critically so that we can all be better.”

    “And where has that left me? I have no way to heal you, and I have no weapon.”

    “You should carry a knife in your boot. And could you not sing your healing magic?”

    She hadn’t thought about it that way.

    “Hold our your hand,” he said.

    When she did, he placed the hilt of his boot dagger in her palm.

    The underground room was larger than she had expected. In the light of the sword, she could see two walls nearby. But the other two walls were too distant to be seen in the frail light from above.

    Dust lay thick upon the floor, remains perhaps of wooden furniture or a rug.

    “No way out this way,” said Isonis.

    They turned and looked toward the darkness that filled the rest of the basement.

    If this turns into a labyrinth, she thought, I am going to scream something.

    They moved along one wall. Within the brightfire light the wall was falling apart, and the earth on the other side was coming through in places. Vines had long ago begun forcing apart the blocks of stone.

    “What is that…” said Crowdancer.

    “Light.”

    The brightfire light now glimmered against something before them. They continued to move closer until Crowdancer breathed, “Wait.”

    “What is it?”

    In this soft light, any shapes in the darkness were nearly indiscernible and without color. There might have been a wall ahead of them, and the object that reflected the light from the sword Isonis carried.

    But there was something else, vague lines that seemed familiar. As if the outline of a person stood before them in the dark, a shell.

    Rounded triangles on top… like the arms of a starfish. One of them moved.

    “One of the ghosts of glass is ahead of us,” Crowdancer whispered. “Watching us.”

    “We are looking for a way out,” said Isonis. “Help us or stand aside.”

    The lines of the figure were barely visible, but she imagined that all five eyes were focused on them.

    Isonis took a step forward.

    The figure moved. It passed through the sword that Isonis wielded.

    Isonis cried out as translucent arms moved through him, as the grimacing face moved close to his own. He waved the sword through the thing, but it made no contact.

    In the light of brightfire sap, the creature was only surface, like fast honey flowing through the air and passing into Isonis.

    “Go! I’ll keep it busy. Find out what the light is.”

    He backed off, keeping his sword up and trying not to yell as the creature moved through him, back and forth, arms struggling to grasp something—his sword, his arms, his face.

    Crowdancer ducked and ran forward to the light.

    On a stone table rested a sword.

    “It’s a sword!”

    “Take it!”

    Without thinking, she found the hilt and lifted the blade in the air before her.

    She heard it then. A sound like steam screaming from a kettle, a cry of thwarted rage. The creature left Isonis and moved toward her like an angry wind.

    She slashed instinctively… and the creature fell apart.

    Isonis lowered his blade toward the ground so they could see. Pools of honey in the rough, broken floor, dissolving into the earth.

    Then they both looked up at the sword the ghost had been protecting.

    “Do you want this one?” she asked.

    He stared, eyes wide. “Yes,” he said. “I do.”

    * * * * *

    Arebon was exhausted. More of the enemy had appeared, and they seemed to keep coming. More than once he had felt the cooling touch of Aovyn’s healing, like a gentle rain in the spring.

    They were surrounded now. Yonai had been leaping from one enemy to another, laughing, until they closed in and now she stood back to back with Sairi. Kymeret and Slumber watched the enemies warily and waited. The sound of flames announced the coming of Kymeret’s fury.

    “I shall never forgive you for hurting Slumber,” said Kymeret darkly. “My fiery friend is eager to turn your blood to ash.”

    Yet Arebon felt something beyond weariness, a slow chill and weakness as if some plague had passed over him. It seemed that others felt the same.

    Then he was disoriented, a familiar thrill as his body was pulled moments through time until he felt as he had before.

    “There is some corruption from these creatures,” said Aovyn, “that spreads to us as we engage them. I cannot reverse it often.”

    Four bodies lay at Arebon's feet, and several of the enemies stood two to three yards away, uncertain about approaching them.

    “Standoff,” said Aovyn. “Are they afraid of us?”

    “I wager they expected less resistance,” said Yonai. “But they will try again.”

    The creatures before him appeared to be regaining their courage. One of them leapt toward Sairi, who parried with difficulty in the space closing in around them.

    Arebon’s heart sank as more of the enemy appeared around a corner. The ones surrounding them shouted in triumph when they realized reinforcements had arrived.

    “I believe I know what they are,” said Aovyn.

    Then everything happened at once.

    Another group was running toward them from a different direction. These looked similar, but not at all the same as the creatures Arebon had been fighting. They wore tabards of light green and brown over armor that was a mix of leather and chain. While those who surrounded Arebon’s people snarled and hissed at them, faces twisted with rage and bloodlust, this new group bore peaceful expressions. To look in those faces was to doubt they would ever kill another soul.

    But kill they did. Swords flashed against the enemy until they waded through the bodies, yet the newcomers never lost the tranquil gaze they showed to enemy and elf alike.

    The snarling creatures on that side realized they were now surrounded, and began to shout.

    Then Arebon heard a voice singing, a woman. She sang a wordless chant that rose and fell as the wind moving across the plains. Something moved in him at the sound.

    But his enemies stood still, entranced. Swords dropped from hands, and they wavered in the street until blades were already cleaving heads from bodies. A shout from Yonai as she leapt toward one of the mesmerized enemies and attacked them one by one. Kymeret’s fury moved through them like a smothering cloak of fire.

    Arebon looked toward the voice and saw Crowdancer singing with a glowing sword in hand. And Isonis stood upon a broken wall holding a blade that was not his own, lifted to the sun.

    When the enemies were all dead, Arebon stood in a defensive posture, sword raised, and his people did the same. They watched the newcomers warily.

    One of them stepped forward and bowed to Arebon.

    “We are the Ginto,” he said. His calm voice spoke elvish as would a storyteller or bard. A brief glint of silvery blue showed in the man’s eyes, and Arebon wondered if he had imagined it.

    “Then as I thought…” Aovyn looked to the bodies of the creatures who had attacked them.

    “They were once Ginto, but like so many of our people, they have been changed, polluted by corruption. We call them Revenant.”

     

    Read Chapter Eight at https://seforums.pantheonmmo.com/content/forums/topic/13157/-/view/post_id/254611


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at August 12, 2021 4:51 PM PDT
    • 178 posts
    August 5, 2021 8:52 AM PDT

    Isonis and Crowdancer underground. Isonis is using the Ranger ability Brightfire Sap to make the sword a light source

     

    https://imgur.com/XRixLR2.jpg

    • 212 posts
    August 5, 2021 1:49 PM PDT

    1. Great job on Isonis above.  Very nice image.

    2. "The voice of water over stones was pleasant" The personification of an assortment of materials in your stories is obviously a design choice due to the nature of the stories and of the characters BUT is it coming naturally or do you have to stop and think this stuff up?  That line is fantastic.

    • 212 posts
    August 5, 2021 1:50 PM PDT

    BTW, whenever you are done making your own art, you can start doing paintings of my stories :)

    • 178 posts
    August 5, 2021 2:40 PM PDT

    Benonai said:

    2. "The voice of water over stones was pleasant" The personification of an assortment of materials in your stories is obviously a design choice due to the nature of the stories and of the characters BUT is it coming naturally or do you have to stop and think this stuff up?  That line is fantastic.

    Some of my worst writing is when I deliberately build sentences. The writing I'm happiest with is when it flows, when I'm in the zone.

    I spent a lot of time over the years reading fantasy that really made me experience their world in several senses. Patricia McKillip has been a big influence. Sometimes I read a line of hers and I'm like "How... did you do that". I think maybe we all write in ways inspired by the storytellers who inspired us with language and beauty.

    • 178 posts
    August 5, 2021 2:42 PM PDT

    Benonai said:

    BTW, whenever you are done making your own art, you can start doing paintings of my stories :)

    That could be fun :)

    I'm still in the middle of my "year of trying to get better at art", and since I made the decision to illustrate every chapter of a story that may very well turn out to have 12-14 chapters, it could be a while, though.

    • 178 posts
    August 5, 2021 2:44 PM PDT

    Benonai said:

    BTW, whenever you are done making your own art, you can start doing paintings of my stories :)

    Actually I thought that scene at the end of your part 5, where Val is leaning over Kador and giving him A Talk, would make an interesting picture.