Autumn Harvest, Shredder’s Day 5, Year of the Lion number 427; September 4, 1738 Agathon
I can’t write about it now. Oh, gods. I can’t believe it.
Autumn Harvest, Shredder’s Day 6, Year of the Lion number 427; September 5, 1738 Agathon
This won’t be easy to write, but I want to get it down before I lose the details. I’m not sure the reality has hit me yet. I have many things to decide. Many. What do I do? Where do I go?
Yesterday was the worst day of my life. I could have died. My friends died. I didn’t know such evil existed. I don’t understand it. It’s beyond me. Maybe if I just work through it the words will… Come.
It started out a day like any other day on our travels. We left Casozali and followed the coast eastward. After crossing the Drybard river, we’d turn north, still following the coast, to Portville, Rausula. The air was dry and warm, but the breeze blowing in from the ocean was refreshing, despite the salty taste and smell. We were on a well-traveled road, even though we went the whole day before without seeing anyone else coming or going.
As we approached the Drybard river, we went up and down several hills. Kreon Bospero called them “dunes.” Interesting word. The way wind blew the sand over them created interesting formations, like ocean waves semi-frozen in sand.
Ahead in the distance, we saw a faint column of smoke. The grey column dissipated as it merged with the wispy white clouds above. While the others in our group struggled against the heat of the afternoon, I felt the counteracting chill from my dragon card. Perhaps it did have a redeeming quality. It’s not like I can take off my fur like the guards can strip their armor and riding cloaks. Which they did. They had.
We crested the last hill before the river. A long, wooden bridge spanned the crevice, crossing to the hill on the far side. The cliff faces on either side were steep and rocky. The river below, only a few hundred feet down, wasn’t very large. Barely more than a creek. Yet the bridge made the crossing manageable. We’d have to cross single-file, but at least it was wide enough to for our wagons.
It occurred to me that whatever was generating the smoke was not there. There were no fire pits or campfires on this side or the far side that we could see.
Lena arranged our party for the crossing: two guards in front, two in back, and the wagons in order. Hers was the first wagon where Alani and I rode. Dyfar and Gwenore were in the next. It was crowded, but the three of us, along with our driver, rode on top.
The bridge was probably five hundred or so feet long. As we crossed, I smelled something odd as we got to the middle. Brimstone? Rotten eggs? I wasn’t sure. But I didn’t see anything. “What’s that smell?” I asked. The others looked at me questioningly. “I don’t smell anything,” Alani said.
Suddenly, a man appeared out of nowhere. He was wreathed in flame and larger than any man I’d ever seen; and he seemed very angry. He swung his arm like throwing a spear and a ball of flame shot toward us. We dove out of the way but Alani and the driver weren’t fast enough. They were completely engulfed. I could tell Lena was injured, but Alani and the driver weren’t moving at all. I managed to avoid the blast completely. The horses reared up, but they had nowhere to go. The two guards in front drew their swords and closed in on the demon. I heard the two in back shouting for the others in the caravan to abandon the wagons and run back off the bridge.
I looked back at the demon, or whatever it was, and he waved his arms in another pattern. Suddenly, erupting from the bridge itself, a wall of fire appeared, corralling us in. We could not run. We either had to go forward toward the evil thing, or jump over the side of the bridge, probably falling to our death on the rocks below. This was no bandit looking to steal our money and treasure. This was something spawned in hell and bent on the destruction of all that is good.
Lena spoke some strange words and pointed. Bolts of colored light shot from her extended fingers and struck the man square in the chest. By now, the two guards in front had closed and started attacking. The demon’s hands rose up and in them were two great curved swords, one in each. Easily he parried the guards’ attacks. His counter attack slashed across the chest of one and he went down in a pool of his own blood. Lena repeated the spell and hit the demon again. He noticed the attack, but he didn’t seem to care right now.
I was unsure what to do. I looked back at the wagons. Alani wasn’t moving. The others in our group were huddled between the wagons. The last wagon in the line was burning. I wasn’t sure if anyone was trapped inside. Kreon and the other guard were still working their way forward to join the battle. I climbed onto the bridge railing to get out of their way.
The demon raised his blades and cleaved the other guard, like a chef chopping a carrot. Instantly, the blades were gone and he threw two blasts of fire at Lena. She raised her hand and an invisible shield blocked them, deflecting the terrible fire. She shouted at the two surviving guards as they passed, “He’s too much for us! Get everyone to safety! I can’t hold him!”
Kreon saw me on the railing. “Grab a rope, Kabize! Help them!” He charged forward with a scream, his own blade held up. I saw the coiled rope on the wagon, leaped down and pulled it from the hook and ran back to the others. I could only see glimpses of the battle as I helped the other families climb over the ledge of the bridge to get past the barrier of fire. Lena continued to throw spells at the demon as the two remaining guards engaged. I was the last to make the climb, though I didn’t need the rope. My claws dug into the wood easily. While they weren’t fighters, the traders and merchants in our caravan weren’t stupid. They knew how to tie themselves onto the rope at intervals so that if any lost their grip, none would fall.
I turned back to the battle once more. The demon was still standing in the same spot. The bodies of the four guards lay before him and he was focusing on Lena. She was tough, but I could tell that she was losing. I took a step toward her. She saw me from the corner of her eye. “No!” she hissed. “Go! They are your flock now. Protect them!”
At this point, the demon’s next flaming volley hit her and she was thrown back. She tumbled over the rail and I watched in horror as she fell. I couldn’t see where she landed, but I knew there was no way she could survive such a drop.
By now, the group had made it past the flaming wall and were running to the safety of solid ground. The fire had spread and all four wagons were ablaze. The horses were panicking, but there was nothing I could do. As I ran, I heard as the demon killed each of the animals. The bridge was on fire now, sending black smoke into the sky.
I thought I heard a deep, cackling laugh.
I realized then that in less than a minute, everything I knew was changed. As we reached the hill, Dyfar said, “It doesn’t seem we’re being followed.”
I said, “We should keep going and put as much distance as we can before we have to stop.” We fell into the demon’s trap. I have no idea what it wanted, other than to kill us. Seven of us were forever gone. My friends. My mentor. My patron. Gone. Likewise, our things were gone. All our trade goods, our supplies, and most of our money. It will take us four or five days to get back to Casozali, but I don’t know that we have a choice.
Today we went as far as we could. We’re not being followed, but like the prior two days, we’ve seen no other travelers. I spent a couple hours hunting and only caught a couple desert rabbits and a snake. Gwenore trapped a few crabs on the beach which helped. Other than saying what had to be said to keep going, no one talked spoke. We walked in silence.
I thought of the words the oracle, Propheta, had told Kreon, “By your sword, the paradox shall live.” Kreon is dead. His prophesy is unfulfilled.
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