Thursday, February 21, 2019
They ran, for hours, it seemed, but surely the woods were not so far away. Erlis stopped long enough to use magic to partially heal Connor's arm, at least enough to stop the bleeding.
"Rendon is dead," Connor said softly.
Erlis looked down at the ground. "I know. I saw him fall as we tried to batter back the trolls."
Erlis looked at him, his eyes narrowing, a flash of anger there that Connor felt an echo too. A moment later Erlis shook his head. "There's too much I don't understand. Lord Northgate was already to the High Tower. He had to know, too. I'm not going to make judgments yet."
Connor said nothing more, using his own anger as a shield against physical pain and mental rage. He could hold on to resentment, but he couldn't keep to his feet. Weakness swept over him, and he went to his knees, pulling Antisha with him. They were barely into the woods.
"Go," he whispered.
"No." She pulled him back up. "Don't fight me. We have to get into the trees where Galen can't easily feel us amongst all the other magic."
He'd heard that the woods were filled with incredible creatures of magic; griffins, unicorns, fairies, and even dragons in the far mountains. The fae left such places to them.
Maybe not where they should go --
No choice. Erlis took hold of his other arm --
Everything went dark for a while. Just dark and blessedly empty of pain, memories, anger, and despair. Part of him hoped not to come back.
He awoke hours later. Light streamed through tall trees, casting shadows around the little spot where they all rested. Mid-day, he thought and stayed still, trying to fight back all the emotions that battered at his aching head. He didn't want to remember. His breath caught in a little gasp as he moved his arm --
"Awake this time?" Druce asked softly, sitting beside him. The others might be sleeping, or at least resting somewhat.
"Yes," Connor whispered. He forced himself to sit up and ran a hand through his hair, trying to push it out of his eyes. "How far are we?"
"Not far enough," Druce replied, looking out into the woods. "But then I don't think we could ever get far enough."
Connor understood the feeling. His arm ached -- he concentrated on that rather than thinking about what they'd left behind -- the horror he had ignored, along with the loss and the betrayal.
The others began to sit up a few minutes later, all of them too worried to stay here much longer. They knew of a pond nearby and had not stayed there because they all feared it was too easy for someone to use magic to look at such a place. The water tasted cool and helped to ease his headache. No one said much, though. He could see the worry in their eyes that verged on panic.
"Can we keep going into the woods?" he asked at last.
"I can't think of anywhere else we can go," Druce admitted with a quick glance around them. "We have some cover here, at least, both physical from the trees and magical as well. He won't be able to track us once we're well into the woods. We've rested as much as we dare."
No one argued.
"We don't dare use any magic," Antisha added. She stared to the south, as though she saw some path through the dense trees. "Even when the rest of the magical beings are around us, we don't dare. And there's a problem. Not all of them are friendly and safe for the fae."
"Good point," Druce said. "We'll have to deal with that when it happens."
No one argued though Connor thought that might be more from shock than agreement. At least Druce and Antisha were thinking clearly. They started out with the others falling in around them and heading in the direction where Antisha had been staring. Neither said anything, so Connor assumed they had already discussed the situation and knew where they were going.
He didn't ask. He didn't care.
They hadn't gone far before Erlis, keeping close to him, shook his head and said. "It's a long way, you know. So many dangers -- and who knows what we'll find?"
"Where are we going?" Connor asked.
"We're going to the Royal Court."
Connor nodded. He wasn't sure it was the best place to go -- so far away they could take months traveling to get there. He feared they didn't have that much time.
Every sound startled the others, and more so for Connor who had never been this far from Northgate Keep in his life. He'd traveled very little into the woods with Lord Northgate when he was younger. Unfortunately, there had been trouble.
"I may be a problem," he said aloud.
Druce looked at him with a frown, but it was Antisha who shook her head. "You came and pulled me out of the wall. If you hadn't, I couldn't have used my magic to help the others."
"Lord Northgate stopped bringing me anywhere near the woods because some of the creatures were interested in me, a human, in a place were my kind never should have gone."
"Doesn't matter," Druce said. "You are with us. And quite honestly, we're most likely all a problem. We don't know, for instance, if Galen and that slinky son of his have allies here."
"I'd find that hard to believe," Antisha replied and never slowed. "The woodland beings aren't apt to take sides. They may not be allied with Galen, but they'll be no help for us, either."
"What does Galen want?" Connor asked.
Antisha dropped back to walk beside him, on the side opposite of Erlis.
"I can guess at what Galen is doing, but I can't say for certain. If I knew he was allied with other Gate Lords, it might be clearer."
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Trolls moved close by with a grumble of words and growls, and the shadows paused close to the opening. Connor stepped back into the darkness, moving carefully -- so careful not to step on bones -- and away from the door until he reached the back wall.
There he found that the trolls had dragged his father's casket away from the wall and tipped it on the side. He slid into the little space behind it and crouched down. Hardly a heartbeat later the huge doors pulled open, trolls growled and grumbled, and one came in --
The troll didn't stay. Unfortunately, the troll left the door open, and light and sound flooded the crypt. Connor dared not move and feared to even breathe too loudly despite all the horrible noise beyond where he hid. He kept low and looked over the casket and out to where his friends were dying ... and for the first time in his life, Connor felt useless because he was human.
He shifted slightly, and his hand brushed against something odd -- a piece of paper. Connor picked it up; not very old, he thought. A hastily scrawled note, the ink smeared in places --
I'm sorry. I don't know if you'll even see this. I did the best I could, but I already regret what will happen.
Watch for Lord Northgate's move -- we have worked it out as best we can. Get as many of them away as you dare. It's the only hope the land has.
Liam had scrawled his name.
Damn him. Liam had known what would happen. He had known Rendon would die, and probably others by now, and he'd done nothing to stop the event. Liam could have done something to prevent the trolls from getting in -- surely he could have done stopped this! He could have --
Connor savagely crumpled the paper and tossed it aside, not even caring if the trolls or anyone else noticed the move. He almost shouted his anger, but everything seemed to freeze up in him, the rage so strong he couldn't move or think.
He stared at the courtyard where he could see the edge of the magical wall and know his friends were dying. Trolls lingering here and there, digging at debris and grunting and growling in disgust. Connor could see the stairs where Galen, Ordin, and others who worked with them stood. Galen had shoved Liam down to his knees, and Ordin kicked him hard enough in the chest that Liam tumbled down the stairs. Connor winced despite himself, even though he wanted to do much the same thing.
Then he could hear Galen's voice above the other sounds; a loud, demanding shout tinged with anger that was getting out of control.
"You will tell me what I need to know, you little wild lands bastard! You will work for me!"
Before Connor could react to those words he heard a deafening roar as a powerful wind swept through the area, and the world began to glow with a light so bright it almost blinded him --
Antisha was the first to fall out of the wall that had begun to flicker.
Get as many of them away as you can.
Connor darted from the cover of the tomb and straight to Antisha who looked at him, her face pale and her eyes large. She looked stunned and lost.
"We have to get the others away! We have to get out of here!" he shouted above the roar of the wind. He'd grabbed hold of her, and she seemed to come more to her senses. Connor couldn't hear what she was saying -- but then magic bloomed in her hand and spread out over the wall.
People fell out in a tumble, but Druce grabbed Nylia and came to them. Magra, though, headed straight towards Ordin and Galen; the two were retreating into the building, dragging Liam along. They hadn't seen yet --
Ordin was yelling in anger. They had no time.
"Come with us!" he shouted. "We have to get out of here!"
Trolls stood steady against the wind, but the light appeared to blind them. One stumbled into Connor and swiped at him, catching his arm in a painful scratch. Nylia yelled and sent a stab of lightning into the creature, and it fell dead. Druce grabbed her, though, before she went to her knees. Antisha caught hold of Connor and Erlis rushed over to help them. Magra and Isole joined them, but others were moving against Galen. He tried to yell at them to come along, but he was going a little light-headed, and Erlis just dragged him out of the area --
"Where do we go?" Nylia asked, panicked. "We're too weak to fight --"
"Out of the keep," he said, gasping. He looked back at the High Tower, from where light and wind still flew. Lord Northgate was up there --
Liam had told Lord Northgate what needed to be done.
And he, too, had done nothing --
Erlis dragged him away. Someone attacked a troll in the way, and both the fae and the creature died. His eyes ran with tears -- the bright light, he told himself. The wind.
They rushed out through the broken gate and down into the ruined village where there had been another battle he hadn't even guessed at. Bodies lay everywhere, and blood splattered stone and wood.
They kept going, though they soon left the main road and darted between cottages broken open like toys. Connor didn't look at the bodies, though he saw signs of battle everywhere. They didn't die without a fight here.
The glow of the High Tower began to falter. He wasn't the only one who stopped and looked back as the light died and the wind, which had followed them fitfully, died away with a soft moan of sound.
"The Gods keep him safe," Antisha whispered.
And then they ran again.
Thursday, February 07, 2019
After one last glance at the body of his friend, Connor turned and began to scramble over the fallen stone and down the other side. The odd light from the courtyard remained to the right along the edge of the building, but nothing moved on this side in the kitchen gardens. They'd been trampled though, the scents of herbs strong.
Connor slid down by the bushes and crouched there, listening and watching. A couple trolls stomped by, their huge, hairy feet barely inches from him. He thought they both sniffed, but if they smelled human, they must not have known what it was. They kept going.
Connor crawled forward, looking around the side of the building.
They were just shoving Druce and Nylia into the edge of a glowing wall that flickered with power. Perhaps another thirty people were already in there, and he feared they might be the only survivors from the Keep.
There was another light, though -- and he looked to see the High Tower glowing far above them. Lord Northgate had made it there, then. The light gave him hope.
"They won't survive long like that," someone said, not far away.
"No matter. We'd kill all of them anyway. Lord Northgate knows they're there. He won't let them die."
"He's not done anything yet."
The shadowy figures walked on, past him and into the garden. He'd been lucky not to be spotted.
Couldn't stay here. Needed to get clear of the area and find a way to help the others. Liam -- damn Liam for his secrets -- had said he was their only hope. He didn't trust --
No matter what else had happened, Connor suspected Liam had pushed him in this direction for a reason, and he could not believe the Seer would join forces with the others --
Though he looked at the wall and didn't think he saw Liam there. Didn't see Antisha or Ordin either, and that gave him a chill.
Couldn't stay here. Couldn't see how to get to the wall. Liam could have given him a better answer. Where was Liam? With whoever was in charge? Had he sent Connor running so that he wouldn't be there to help the others?
Damn him --
A glance around showed him one place he might go, at least for the moment. He hadn't often visited the tomb of his parents in the last few years, but it sat there by the far wall, dark stone and probably not something the others even noted more than to search. The door stood partly open. Had they realized it was the burial spot for humans? He hoped not.
Connor had to take a chance. Get inside that little area and lay low until he had a way to help. Not much time, though. He had to save the others, whether Liam wanted it or not. He couldn't decide which might be true.
Connor moved along the shadows again, inching his way out from the keep wall and into the more open area. The destruction helped. The trolls had pulled down everything they could and left it in piles all across the area. The horses were all dead, he realized. So were the people who had worked in the stables.
Damn them. Damn Liam. Damn --
The light of the wall grew brighter just when he least needed it. Connor threw himself into a pile of wood, ignoring when something caught at his arm and drew blood. He looked to the wall and held his breath, knowing this couldn't be a good sign, not the way those in the wall tried to move --
Gava, who was about midway along the wall, began to wither, her arms and legs moving frantically and her mouth open in a scream he was glad he couldn't hear -- though it seemed, still to echo in his mind. He wanted to help! He had to do something --
She glowed, and then in a burst of light, the cloth burnt, skin burnt -- muscles and bones, until fine ash spread out and fell from the wall.
He had started to stand to yell -- but he couldn't find the words. He might have screamed something, but it was lost in the howls of pleasure from the trolls. He didn't care if they saw him.
Liam walked out of the shadows and into clear sight so that everyone looked his way.
"You won't win, Galen."
A man he hadn't noticed stepped forward from the doorway; not very tall for a fae, but looking so much like Ordin that he knew this had to be his father.
"So, the Seer finally comes to light. Good. Ordin --"
Ordin came out of the Keep. He had his hand on Antisha's arm, and for a moment he thought --
She glared at him, and there was magic in that hold. Not enough, it seemed. She yanked free, and he looked at her with a frown.
"Come on, cousin," Ordin said with a smirk. "You don't want to be on the losing side."
"I want nothing to do with you or your loathsome snake of a father."
Ordin grabbed at her. She darted away, and he must have expected her to attack. Instead, she threw herself into the magical wall, trapped with the others.
"Stupid bitch!" Ordin yelled, but his father hit him. Liam took that moment to leap at the two, as though to attack, though he had to know -- truly had to know -- that he had no hope.
Giving Connor a chance. Everyone was focused on the sudden fight, and Connor took the opportunity to dash straight to the tomb and throw himself inside, squeezing past the enormous wooden doors without moving either of them.
The trolls or the elves had been in here. Connor kicked something and realized it was a bone and felt a new wave of illness. He didn't want to look, and with his heart pounding, he stared at the crack of light by the door, gasping for breath.