Authors: Amanda Young,Raymond Young Jr.
“I think you’re overreacting. They’ve got more important things to worry about than you being a Suriaxian.”
Marcy shrugged and looked out over the horizon. Thomas was right, of course. As soon as word of Candace and her experiences with the raiders spread through the town, the tone of the village changed. Anxiety turned to real fear. Preparations were made. Contingencies were discussed. There was even talk of evacuating to the Eastern Ridge, a strip of mountains separating Alerian and Suriaxian lands north of the Southern Plains. And Marcy couldn’t stop looking at the horizon. A sense of real fear lodged itself in her stomach and wouldn’t ease up. That was the real reason she wanted to leave. Something bad was about to happen. She could feel it.
“Everything will be fine,” Thomas continued. “We’ll just wait here for word from Kern,” Thomas paused and looked down at his hand. “That’s him, now.” Thomas walked back down the hill and turned his ring, initiating contact with Kern’s matching communication ring. Marcy ignored him and leaned against the large tree
at the top of the hill. All things considered, this was a peaceful spot, just at the edge of town, resting by the river. The sound of birds singing and water moving was louder than the bustle and conversations going on a few hundred feet away. She could almost quiet her uneasy mind and enjoy the moment. Then the birds went quiet. Marcy tightened her grip on the tree, bark coming off in her hand as the first shadows dotted the horizon. “Thomas,” she said weakly, but he did not hear. “Thomas!” she said louder. He glanced her way but held up a finger and continued speaking through the ring. “THOMAS!” she practically screamed, finally getting his full attention. He turned off the ring and hurried back up the hill.
“What is it?” he asked before falling silent. The shadows had become hundreds of men, some on foot, some riding animals, all holding weapons aloft as they ran full speed toward the town. After a second look, Marcy could see that some of
the weapons were actually attached and coming out of their arms, or in place of arms. “They’re here,” she whispered.
Thomas snapped out of his shock and pulled her down the hill. “Grab as many people as you can and head to the tavern. It’s the most defensible building here. Go straight there. No detours.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll take the long way, so we can warn as many people as possible. The way they are moving, we don’t have long. Go.”
And she did. Marcy ran, knocking on doors and calling out warnings to everyone she saw. Some followed. Others ignored her, shrugging off her hands or slamming their door in her face. As others saw the approaching tide of fighters, word spread like a wildfire. The town bell tolled out a warning, and the scene quickly devolved into chaos. She yelled to those running by to head to the tavern, but most ignored her and kept running to their own destination. She heard screams, followed by the clang of metal and the pounding of hooves and knew they were out of time.
“Help me!” a woman cri
ed frantically. A vegetable cart had tipped over and caught the woman’s leg, pinning her in place. Marcy hesitated. She wasn’t strong, and the raiders could be on them at any moment. She looked longingly at the tavern, just fifty feet away. The woman’s terrified face as she lay ignored, left to die helpless and alone, did Marcy in. She lifted the end of the cart, but she was only able to move it a few inches. She and the woman pushed and lifted. Marcy threw off fruit and vegetables left in the cart, and they tried again. The sound of hooves hitting stone grew louder. It was followed by a snort that made her blood run cold. Standing a mere twenty feet away, staring straight at them, was a man riding a wild drander. The beast bore large tusks, long hair and fangs and a boney armor that made it nearly unstoppable. His rider was no less impressive or terrifying. He wore thickly scaled bracers with spikes that seemed to pin the armor to his skin. Shards of metal poked out from under his fingernails and the gum line around his teeth. Spikes were bolted through the skin above his eyebrows and cheekbones.
Marcy felt her palms burn and let go of the cart gently. Once free, her hands burst into bright blue flames. It only seemed to excite the man more. The drander, however, was another matter. He eyed her nervously, pounding his hooves against the stone. They were at a standstill for what felt like minutes
, although she knew only a second or two passed before she saw his muscles twitch. Feeding her fire, she pushed it out, bringing a wall of flames between them. The man would have continued, but the beast was too afraid to run through the fire. He yelled at the animal, but it would not budge. Angered, he stabbed a sword into the throat of the drander and dismounted, leaving the animal to his painful death. The man grinned at her and walked toward the flames.
Calling forth more blue fire, Marcy threw the small fireballs at his head and clothes, hopin
g to catch them on fire. Though not much compared to a wizard’s fireball, they were nothing to scoff at. He dodged a few but took most head on. His clothes burned at the shoulder and chest. He absentmindedly patted his clothes and walked directly into the flames, emerging a burning behemoth of muscle and might. He raised the morning star from his back. The sword was still embedded in the throat of the now dead drander.
Lifting his weapon to swing, he did not expect the kick that caught him square in the head. Thomas, jumping from the roof of a nearby shed, landed his shot and followed with a sword to the gut. The man laughed. Thomas took a hard punch to the
face and reeled back. Undaunted, he fought off the monster, blocking weapon swings and cutting his opponent whenever possible. Knowing he would not be able to outlast the monster, Thomas aimed for the face and head. An injured arm or gut wound would not slow him down. That left decapitation or a severe enough head injury. Ducking under the swing of the morning star, Thomas jumped off the side of a wall and struck down with his blade, cutting straight through to come out the man’s throat. He dropped the morning star and fell to the ground. Thomas pulled his sword and came to Marcy’s side, lifting the vegetable cart off the woman. Marcy helped her up, and the three of them ran to the tavern. The door slammed and bolted behind them. No one else would be let inside.
Raiders filled the streets, cutting down people at every corner. The scene in the tavern was not much better. People ran around
, screaming and yelling questions, cries of fear and loss, wails of hopelessness and despair. Thomas grabbed Marcy’s hand and ran upstairs, attempting to instruct people to fire from the windows. No one could hear him. Marcy held on tight, but the crowd pushed in around her and soon their hands slipped apart. She felt herself moved by the crowd, further and further away from him. Thomas turned and looked for her, frantically pushing his way through the mass of people, but they would not cooperate. Marcy felt the railing at her back. There were more jabs and pushes, bodies bumping and pressing against her. She struggled in vain to move away from the edge. She didn’t hear the wood break, but she felt the moment its support was gone. For a moment, she felt relief at being away from the crowd. Then she remembered she was falling and heard herself scream.
The room fell into silence, a moment
frozen in time. She felt her body supported, as if by a pillow of air. She thought she would be crashing into the floor. Instead her body slowly floated to the ground. Through the surprised stares and still people, she saw Thomas pushing his way down the stairs to the spot where her feet softly touched down.
“Are you hurt?” His hands ran over her arms and face, checking for injury.
“I’m fine,” she answered him, uncomfortable with being the center of so much attention. Over the silent tavern, the sounds of screams from outside began to bring back the severity of their situation and take precedence over everyone’s shock at her fall without injury.
“Everyone,” Thomas called, taking advantage of their attention while he held it. “I know this situation is bleak, but we are not without ability to defend ourselves.”
“How?” someone yelled.
“They cannot die,” another called
. Others murmured their agreements.
“They can, and the stranger has proven so,” the woman from the vegetable cart said. “I saw him kill one of them. These two people saved my life at the risk of their own.”
Bolstered by her support, Thomas continued. “We can defend this building. Support will come. We just need to hold on until it can get here. Anyone with a bow, get to the second floor windows and start picking them off. Aim for the heads and eyes. Either you’ll kill them or blind them.
Everyone else, gather what weapons and supplies we have. We need to know what our resources are so we can see where we stand. If you have experience fighting, meet me by the bar.
Thomas began organizing the people. Marcy couldn’t help staring at the broken banister. How had she survived? Her hand fell on her broach
, and Marcy stopped, suddenly understanding what happened. She wore a butterfly broach made of sapphire and onyx. It was a birthday gift a few months back from Lynnalin. Lynn said there were enchantments on it, though even she did not know which ones. It was a test object from her academy training. The metal setting and gems were cool to the touch, but she could still feel the power pulsing under her fingertips. What other surprises did this broach hold?
She didn’t have time to wonder about that for long. The walls shook with the force of men and weapons crashing into it.
Thomas ran to the door with several men. Together, they kept the door from coming loose from its hinges. They yelled out commands to other men nearby. Those not involved in protecting the door either stood back in fear or quietly prayed for help. Marcy felt apart from the crowd. Her fear from before was gone. A new energy surged through her blood. Out of nowhere, a song came to her, and Marcy began to sing.
They fought the fight,
Fought for what is right,
Defended kin and neighbor,
Survived the night,
Oh, what a sight,
The men of Valenkeeper.
The dark descent,
Of evil men,
None thought could be repelled.
How could they stand
Against such odds
And not be themselves felled?
Five hundred foe
Against but t
Stood no match, in the end.
For when you fight
On side of light
The darkness cannot win.
Those who were frightened moments before were now singing boisterously along with The Ballad of Valenkeeper. The song spoke of a group of farmers who fought a goblin attack in the small mountain settlement generations before. With limited weapons and fighting skills, the men held off the attacks for three days, until reinforcements could come to drive off the remaining goblins. It was a song of perseverance and hope that everyone learned as a child, and singing it had the desired effect of calming the fears of those in the tavern and encouraging them not to give up. Leaving them to continue singing, Marcy ran to the second floor and peaked out a window to see what they faced. It reminded her of the descriptions she heard of Suriax after the Night of Blue Fire. Homes burned. Bodies littered the streets. The source of the destruction, however, was quite different. Raiders were everywhere, hacking at anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside. They broke in doors and pulled screaming women from their homes. They took turns cutting off limbs until their victims stopped screaming. Some lasted longer than others.
Marcy looked at the horrified, haunted expressions of the archers stationed at each window. The building shook again, and she looked down at the men running into the tavern door. The archers tried shooting at
them, but none could get a good shot. Marcy raised her hands in front of her chest and called the fire. Concentrating on the flame, she grew it into a dense, tight ball. She felt the heat on her face and knew it was ready. Pushing out, she sent the fire down, focusing it on the men. They ignored it at first, but she kept the fire coming, forcing it to grow hotter.
Their hair burned down to the scalp. Skin blistered
, and still they did not scream. One man threw an axe at her window. Marcy ducked but did not stop. As skin melted off their faces and the fire’s heat reached their brains, at last the men fell. She thought to rest a moment, but others were quick to take their place, so she continued pumping a steady stream of fire. She maintained the fire for so long, at such intense heat that her own hands began to blister. She took in a deep breath and felt her vision blur. There was not enough air left around her to breath. The fire consumed everything. Her vision reduced to small pinpricks of light and fuzzy colors. Five more men fell to her flames. With the immediate threat reduced, Marcy let the fire extinguish, but not before her vision blackened entirely. She felt hands at her back. They kept her steady. Her air returned, and with it her vision.
“Are you alright?” One of the archers asked. He was the same person who kept her standing when she would have fallen. She nodded, her throat too dry to speak.
“Let me see that,” a woman ran up with salves and bandages, intent on tending to Marcy’s hands. They were worse than she thought. Clear fluid filled bubbles covered her fingers and palms. The pain as the woman cleaned and covered them was intense, but she did not flinch. She was raised in Suriax. Suriaxians often engaged in a battle of wills called proelignisium. The premise was simple. You cause your rival pain through fire. They do the same to you, and the first person to give up loses. Every Suriaxian participated in at least one or two proelignis matches in their lifetimes.