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Chapter Twenty-One: Ambushed
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:09 am    Post subject: Chapter Twenty-One: Ambushed  

And here it is, the last chapter before Nano hits. I can't promise any chapters during Nano itself so this will have to tide you over. Enjoy!
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Chapter Twenty-One: Ambushed

"Arrows!" The weight of a new quiver landed on her back and she drew a new arrow, knocking it to her bow and taking sight at the winged horrors that swooped overhead. There was the swish of the release, the taut snap of the bowstring, and an ungodly shriek as yet another of the things plummeted from the sky. She'd lost count now of how many she'd dropped. Four empty quivers littered the ground at her feet and idly she wondered how many more were available. Alasdair said they only had to hold out till dawn but that was still hours away. In times like these, where an eternity passed in a second, even one hour was an unfathomable amount of time.

She took a drink of water offered up by a dirt streaked youth, slurping the cool liquid straight from the wooden ladle, favoring him with a smile as she dropped it back into the bucket. At least the village was hospitable. Lukan's guards had made the suggestion of stopping there instead of camping in the wild where any manner of beasts could have happened upon their camp. Lukan himself had spoken often of the dangerous creatures of the mountains, from wild gryphons and hippogriffs, to malformed dragon-like creatures called drakes. All of which hunted the slopes.

Stopping in a village had seemed like only the logical thing to do. After all that meant warm beds in an inn, hot food, company besides each other, and ale. Or as Tessa preferred, a good strong cider. There was also the tempting possibility of a hot bath, something she had been desperately longing for within hours of taking off from Malvang. The thrill of flying had kept her mind off of things, but the chill had sunk into her bones quickly. She'd been all for landing and seeing about rooms for the night.

The villagers had been awestruck when the party landed. Their future King, possibly, and an entourage of royals stopping in their humble hamlet...such was the stuff of local legend and regional bragging rights. The inn was modest, but well outfitted. They'd seen merchant traffic off and on through the years and travelers came this way often enough for the place to turn a profit. The food had been good, the ale passable, Tessa had gotten the bath she'd been longing for. The tub had been wooden and small, the water brought up in scalding buckets, but a hot bath none the less.

Lukan had been in his element, forging instant links with the people. Inquiring after crops and livestock, listening intently to the villagers tales of recent gryphon raids and the sightings of an ever increasing number of drakes. 'Like something's driving them out o' the peaks'. Those were the words of one of the village elders, many heads nodding in agreement. Lukan had vowed that he'd make sure it was looked into, if not the next day when they reached Highkeep then surely the day after. More rounds of ale were had, songs were raised, Lukan and his men at ease. Tessa enjoyed watching the scene, Kevrem always hovering near, the tension radiating off of him like a bonfire radiated heat.

Alasdair drew a crowd of children all asking the big Northerner if he was one of the ones that could become an animal. Some didn't believe the stories calling them 'kid stuff' and saying only 'babies' believed that stuff. To which Alasdair replied by animating images in the fire and captivating the attention of the young and old with a retelling of the tale of how the Spirits of the land chose to place bits of their power in clans of men. It made a fine bedtime tale, a closing note to the evening, although Tessa could see the sadness in Alasdair's eyes as they followed the tired children out the inn door. It was easy to see that the big man missed his own son.

They'd been safely abed when these things had swooped out of the sky, screaming like nothing human ears should ever have had to hear. They tore at the roofs of buildings, in some cases ripping through the thatch or peat and into the buildings below. In those cases they slaughtered all those they could reach with their talons. The village defenders mobilized quickly, men used to fighting off attacks from the sky, but still there were few real warriors among them. These were shepards and stablers, farmers.

Kevrem had burst into her room, strange southern sword clenched in one hand, black hair wild around his head. It was the first time she'd seen him so dishevled. Clad only in a simple linen shirt and black breeches and boots. The shirt wasn't even tucked in, the laces at the throat loose. His eyes had been wild in the night and he'd lunged across the room, skewering the beast that had crashed through the shutters on the window. That had been her warning of the attack and she'd wasted a few precious moments to pull her leather vest on and drag her bow and arrows out of her packed gear.

Now standing there in bare feet and her nightgown she fired one more arrow, given plenty of time by Kevrem who was never more than a few feet away. Lukan and his guards were a beacon for the people, Beak and the other hippogriffs making good accounting of themselves in the battle with tearing talons and snapping beaks. His twin blades danced and lashed, the lances of his guards stained with ichor as they stabbed into a black sky alive with hellish furies.

In the distance the form of Alasdair could be seen in the moonlight. Too weak to assume his draconic form fully, he'd managed that terrifying half-stage she'd seen during their escape from Eresinne, his massive sword limning lines of daylight in the darkness. Where he walked screams of death followed, the beasts learning swiftly to avoid him and seek softer, weaker prey. Scrawny village youths ran between the pockets of fighters bringing quivers of arrows, pouches of slingstones, and dippers of water. They brought bandages to the wounded and messages to and from the small bands of resistance.

She reached behind her again, grasping the last shaft in the quiver and firing it away into the sky, grimly smiling at the death shriek that followed afterwards. "Arrows!" But this time there was no refill. No eager youth handing up another two dozen. She ducked, swinging her bow as one of the creatures sized the moment and dived down at her, using all the training that was drilled into every citizen of Falverald. The nation of warriors. The nation that counted every member as a member of it's army. She rolled, using her bow as a distraction and shield, reaching for her dagger as the thing snapped at her.

Stabbing it in the eye, she rose, staggering around a bit, looking for some kind of cover as she stooped and retrieved her bow. Another of the beasts swept down at her, its eyes bulging in shock as a silver ribbon swept through the night and kissed it's dark skin. It split in two, both inky halves tumbling to the ground, gore spattering her as Kevrem stepped close, shaking the black blood off his southern blade. "Stay close, I'll get you to the nearest group of archers."

His blade swept upward again, his movements graceful, more a dance than any kind of combat she'd ever seen. His shirt was torn, mere rags clinging to his dusky skin, black blood smeared on him like some hellish war paint. Another of the creatures toppled, landing with a wet thud, its partner clashing against Kevrem and snapping at him. Tessa jammed her dagger in it's spine, pulling it away from him and tossing it onto the ground. A line of darkness marred Kevrem's shoulder, the tatters of his shirt in that area growing damp with a darkness.

"You're hurt."

He glanced at it, dragging her along after him, turning his eyes swiftly back to the sky. "It's a scratch, more their blood than mine. We need to find a safe point. Regroup and start taking the offensive. Who knows how long they're going to keep coming and if we stay on the defensive they might just be able to whittle us down."

Tessa shook her head. "There are fewer of them now than when the attack began. We're dropping them fairly fast. There are a lot of them but none of them are particularly tough. I think we-" Her words were cut off as a terrifying noise split the night. Part roar, part rasp, part strangled scream, all hellish. Something massive descended from the clouds, hitting the ground with an earthshaking thud and giving that strange screaming cry again. The smaller beasts in the sky redoubled their efforts, as if spurred on by the sudden appearance of the bigger one.

Kevrem shoved Tessa into the hay that was piled in the lee of one of the stone barns, obviously chaff set aside for outside use. Screams went up from the villagers as what little resolve they had left broke, sending them scrambling for whatever shelter they could grasp. Lukan and his men did their best to protect the impromptu retreat while Alasdair gave a bellow of his own and moved forward to engage the creature. Wisely it took flight again rather than fight the dragon head on, using the darkness to it's advantage, hiding itself again in the cover of it's smaller fellows.

Most of the villagers headed for the inn, a few scrambling past the barn as they did so. Lukan was hot on their heels, his swords cleaving two of the diving beasts from the sky. He paused for a moment, glancing at Tessa and Kevrem where they crouched, meeting their eyes. She smiled at him, reaching out a hand to clap him on the leg while Kevrem pushed his hair back from his brow. "We need to regroup Lukan. Find a safe place and hold out. If we can block up the Inn windows-"

"My men are already on it. We need to take the field against that...thing..."

"You're going to do no such thing." Alasdair's voice was weary as he walked up. The things swooped overhead but with no obvious targets they were content to harry and plot. "You need to be in the Inn with your people, reassuring them and getting what few have the willpower left up to the top floor to be ready for when they cave the roof in. Tessa, you should go with him. Scavenge whatever arrows you can from the survivors in the Inn, find an upper floor window with a clear view and pick off whatever you can that flies in front of you. Kevrem and I will fight the Broodmother."

"Broodmother...you mean all these little things are the offspring of that one?" Tessa couldn't believe it. Well, she could, but still...what new horror was this?

"Lukan, these are the things that attacked Storm Hall right? If so we've got our work cut out for us, but now is not the time for talk. Kevrem, now is not the time for hiding. I need your strength, not your brain right now."

Tessa turned to look at her middle brother, Lukan following suit. The dark haired southerner didn't meet their gaze, staring at Alasdair instead. "Are you sure? This could be a horrible idea if-"

"We don't have time for that. Either you help me fight this thing or you run the risk it avoids combat with me entirely and cracks the Inn open like an egg and we lose the entire village. Lukan, get into that Inn now, get every spear you can on that top floor and get Tessa a clear line of fire. This is not open to discussion."

For a moment Tessa thought Kevrem would refuse, or that Lukan would. But though her youngest brother stared at the other two with suspicion and curiosity the desire to protect his people was greater than his desire to know what was going on. Kevrem merely sighed, looking at Tessa.

Reaching up, he wrapped his fingers around the signet ring on his finger, eyes locking with hers. "Do me a favor and when that...thing...goes down, put this on an arrow and shoot it to me will you?"

Tessa was about to protest the odd request but lost her ability to speak for a moment. When Kevrem tugged the ring off he...changed. Like Alasdair changed. It was as though smoke from some unseen fire boiled just under his skin, whirling along as if carried by some wind. By the time he put the ring in the palm of her hand and closed her fingers over it, the man she'd come to know over the past few months was replaced with a figure she'd only seen in visions.

Lukan was no less stunned, staring as Kevrem rose to his hooves, changing his grip on his strange southern sword and following Alasdair back into the village square to challenge the thing Alasdair had called a 'Broodmother'.

Clearing the cobwebs from her head, Tessa rose and took Lukan's wrist, tugging him. "We'll beat the story out of him later, now we need to keep your people safe." He nodded, following her to the Inn. Once inside, his presence seemed to calm the people. Tessa watched as he gave clear, calm commands, speaking resonably, like a father to a terrified child. It was the right tactic to take, the villagers slowly responding. Those with the will to continue on picked up spears, following him up to the upper floor. A few remained with the huddled crowd, holding their own spears in shaking hands, not brave enough to climb the stairs but brave enough to defend their kin.

Tessa gathered what few arrows remained and found a fairly clear shot in one of the upper rooms, Lukan's by the look of it. The window mostly blocked by a table, there was a broken board that provided her with a natural sight, her view of the courtyard clear.

The Broodmother descended, aiming not for Alasdair but for Kevrem. His silver figure was dappled in the intermittent moonlight, his sword sweeping through the air as he issued her a challenge of some kind. Alasdair lurked nearby, nearly lost in the shadows of a nearby tree. The Broodmother seemed oblivious to him, her concentration focused on the target that was Kevrem.

The pounding began on the roof at the same time the Broodmother engaged Alasdair and Kevrem in combat. Tessa spared it not a thought, making sure that she took her time to line up her shots. She'd only recovered six usable arrows and from the bulk of the hellish creature in the courtyard that didn't seem like nearly enough.

Her first shot missed it's mark when the Broodmother jerked in pain, a blow from Alasdair opening her chitinous flank. It skittered across the armor of her shoulders, tearing through the membrane of her left wing, bringing forth a bellow but not much else. The second arrow embedded itself between two plates of the creature's armor, lodging in the shoulder, but obviously not a heart shot...if the beast even had such a thing. The third slammed solidly into the side of the big hellion, along with the fourth a moment later.

The smaller creatures had torn through the roof by this time, the sounds of battle filtering through the closed door and into the room where she sat. Sparing a glance at the door, making sure none of them were attempting to come through yet, she returned her attention to the battle. Carefully she waited, patiently, and her fifth arrow flew true. It struck the Broodmother between her eyes as Kevrem's sword angled up through her chest from below and Alasdair drove his down from the sky above, his double handed shove cleaving the blade through the base of the hellion's spine.

She died with a god-awful scream, fading into a gurgle, that was echoed by every member of her brood. As one the awful little creatures dropped from the sky, their bodies thudding against the buildings and ground like a heavy rain of filth. With a sigh she slipped Kevrem's signet ring on the shaft of the sixth arrow and fired it, watching it embed itself in the carcass just in front of him. She kept watching until he'd retrieved his ring and resumed his human form.

She'd just found a place downstairs to have a seat and rest her weary form when Alasdair and Kevrem entered, a cheer going up for them. Lukan, sat near the fire, wincing as one of the village women bound his ribs with herb-soaked linen. He'd taken a nasty blow from one of the beasts in the instant before it's dying. He was a hero to his people, he was the one who'd stood in front, swords flashing, keeping the bulk of the beasties that had broken through from reaching the men he'd taken upstairs with him.

The villagers found seats for Kevrem and Alasdair, bringing bandages for their injuries. Alasdair smiled, shaking his head and revealing his already healing wounds. Kevrem, however, met Tess's eyes with a rueful smile as an old woman slapped a poultice on his injured shoulders.

Things were starting to settle down a bit when the Inn door banged open. The rosy pinks and ruddy golds of dawn light streamed in around the shivering form of one of the young farm lads. Straw clung to his clothes, tangled in his hair, his entire form shaking. "You....you...you demon! You brought them down on us! You're in league with them!"

His trembling finger pointed directly at Kevrem who just stared at the boy, a blank look on his face. Tessa's heart stopped beating as the villagers all looked at the boy, then at Kevrem. Then one of the men sighed, one of the elder women clucked, taking the boy and leading him over to the fire. "Apologies m'lord...his mind must be gone. Forgive him, he can't mean what he says."

Kevrem smiled lightly, a smile that would have fooled Tessa had she not known him as well as she did. "There is nothing to forgive. We live to see another dawn, nothing is important beyond that."

But from the way Lukan was staring at him Tessa wasn't so sure that everyone had forgiven Kevrem. Unfortunately he wasn't the only one. Some of the villagers were staring in askance at the southern king of Leyond, wondering if perhaps there was some merit in the ravings of the youth. Though she pinched her temples, there was no onrushing vision to blame this time, merely a normal headache. Whatever the consequences of the boy's accusation, Tessa wasn't getting that information in advance.

She could only hope that they would reach Highkeep without further incident and that, once Lukan made his decision regarding his own throne, he would be too busy to engage in petty hatred against his second brother. Hate was an emotion that seemed to come quickly to her youngest brother these days. Perhaps she should have a talk with him, attempt again to discern what troubled his heart and where the bright spirited boy she'd come to call brother had gone.
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So Kevrem's secret is out, in a way and Lukan's anger seems to continue to grow. Will Tessa have a talk with him? Will it help, or will that anger melt in the face of the important choice he has yet to make. Only you know.
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There you be folks. Thanks for sticking around this far. Things are only going to get harder from here. Hope you liked!
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Astaar



Joined: 10 Jan 2012
Posts: 7

Posted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 12:39 am    Post subject:  

Great chapter, again.:)
I would suggest to ponder somehow on why the villagers were not frightened on Alasdair's change to half-dragon but considered so ill-luck to see Kevrem true-form.
Maybe next chapter will reveal a bit about this.:)
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2012 9:23 pm    Post subject:  

Anyone else have a suggestion out there?
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Seraphi



Joined: 25 Oct 2012
Posts: 503
Location: Penna, having a hot cup of tea

Posted: Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:49 am    Post subject: Re: Chapter Twenty-One: Ambushed  

Kalanna, this...this is amazing! I'm so in awe by this story. There are not nearly enough words to express how impressed I am. (I'm certainly glad I finally got around to reading it!)

In response to Astaar, I think the villagers are not fearful/wary of Alasdair in his half form because he told stories of the Spirits. They could have assumed it was these legends come to life. Certainly they would have been scared if Alasdair had been well enough to take his full form, but Kevrem is also more closely linked in appearance to the demons they fear. It is that similarity I think they focus on when they see Kevrem.

Hm...if Tessa talks to Lukan it could have two effects. She could persuade him that things are not always as they appear - if Kevrem wanted to harm them in any way, certainly the attack of the Broodmother would have provided a fantastic opportunity to let the course of nature do its thing. And Kevrem probably wouldn't have agreed to do any fighting in his true form. But Lukan could also become more stubborn/angry that Tessa is siding with Kevrem, whose true form is nothing but a call back to the demons they are trying to fight, and win, against.

Of course, faced with kingship over his people, Lukan may realize on his own that his anger is senseless, and may damage relations not only with Kevrem, but with Alasdair (and possibly Tessa) as well. Now, while the gates are opening and a world-changing problem is before them, is the time to band together, not fight amongst themselves.

Sorry to go on (hopefully it all made sense). Again, great work! Can't wait for more! :D
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Mon Dec 17, 2012 1:17 am    Post subject:  

Alright those of you hiding in the woodwork, it's time to vote.
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PopeAlessandrosXVIII



Joined: 10 Oct 2010
Posts: 1858
Location: Surrounded by many beautiful naked men

Posted: Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:22 pm    Post subject: Vote  

Hey hey, got my vote in! Yaaays. Anyway, amazing, love it, need more!. My brain is currently absent so I lack the mind power to properly articulate just how much I adore this story, so it that regard, all I can say is, Keep Up The Amazing Work.
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