"No they did not. In fact they headed in the other direction, or so the tracks of their automobile suggest."
Reyna casts her eyes towards the horizon where the nearest Aerthan city lies just beyond.The Aerthan thugs knew what they were doing. As soon as they crossed the border out of the reservation, Reyna became powerless to stop them. Irritation tickles at the back of her thoughts but she chooses to ignore it. After taking a deep breath, Reyna turns her gaze back to the shepherd.
"I'd like to thank you for doing what you did by stopping that boy before he did something that could have gotten a lot of people hurt."
Don't you mean; thank you for stopping the kid before he sucked the life out of every living thing within a hundred yards?
The urge to whack the stallion for his sarcastic comment makes Reyna shift in the saddle slightly. Sensing her irritation, the big red horse snorts and shakes his head, enjoying the fact that he was able to ruffle his rider's feathers.
-->Need help or questions answered in regards to RPing? PM me! I'm more then glad to help!<--
Ren tensed again at the Ranger’s words, eyes narrowing. She had sensed the child’s power? And had done nothing? Or was she waiting until later to report her findings so they could take the mother and the boy at the same time? Blood began pounding at his temples, a single vein rising to accommodate the rapid flow, pulsing with his accelerated heartbeat. He could feel adrenaline pushing through his body, all this caused by the morning findings and the knowledge of what was to come.
“And you haven’t reported what he is yet? Will you give them time to escape, or will it be tonight? There is nothing I can do of course, but tell your masters today, and their lives are forfeit.”
The hand in his lap clenched into a fist as he willed his body to calmness, hoping the Ranger caught none of the small signs that would indicate any change in his persona or body.
Eomer draws in a large draft of air, scenting the adrenaline beginning to rush through the shepherd's veins. Red ears swivel to fix on the dark haired man seated on the hay bale. The stallion shifts his weight until it is evenly balanced on all four hooves, preparing himself in case the engel decides to become aggressive towards his rider.
Feeling the stallion shift into a ready stance makes Reyna sharpen her attention on the shepherd, causing her golden eyes lock onto the blue ones across from her. The threat behind the shepherd's words does not escape her. She stays silent a moment and lifts her chin with a defiant look in her eyes. When she finally speaks her words are cold and tinted with a slight hint of irritation.
"I should warn you that threats will have no effect on what I may or may not choose to do, boy. I'm a bit disappointed that you'd jump to conclusions so quickly, as I'd had the impression you had been gifted with some brains. You do not know me, and should not pretend that you do. I treated you with respect, why should I not be treated the same?"
A gentle breeze cuts across the field and causes the wisps of auburn hair framing Reyna's face to dance. Sunlight finds the feather pendent hanging from her neck and reflects off it, causing it to glow the same fierce metallic gold reflected in her eyes. Mentally prepared for the worst, Reyna does her best to ignore the small bit of hope that the shepherd might realize she would never harm the boy or his family, but yet it still lingers.
Ren's eyes narrowed as his body calmed down further, half afraid now that the ranger had taken notice of the slight change. He would give her no further cause to be curious about him if possible, for he knew his family would be doomed if his heritage were ever discovered.
"I meant no disrespect Ranger, only that you are one of them. No matter your blood, the uniform is Aerthan. For me to think any differently..."
He let the thought hang in the air for a moment and then fall to the ground, shaking his head slightly. The sounds of cows lowing in the distance, growing closer now, gave him cause to shift his body to the edge of the bale, feet hanging off the side, the goad still resting in the straw by his right hip. He was unsure of the meaning in the Engel's words, but dared not to hope that somehow this Ranger was on the side of her own people, when to them it seemed she had given up on them in lieu of a better life, and easier life. To hope was to be disappointed, for she could just as easily be searching for information about any Engel underground, or upcoming rebellion, even though there had never been a successful Engel uprising.
A hundred possible responses flit through Reyna's mind. As tempting as the thought of defending herself is, she knows it would only endanger the very people who hate her so. Logic wins out over emotion and she just gives the shepherd a cold look, and tugs the brim of her hat. Eomer responds to the hint of her legs and departs at the canter. The ranger and her mount quickly disappear amid the tall grass.
A hawk cuts across the open sky, circling briefly above the shepherd. A flock of sparrows scatter as the bird of prey approaches them, but the hawk ignores them and continues on. It too disappears from sight eventually.
Reyna focuses on her patrol, riding along the main roads and keeping an eye out for any trouble. Engels and Aerthan's alike divert their gaze when she rides past. Occasionally some one gets up the nerve to mutter a curse in her direction or sneer, but mostly people just act as if she doesn't exist as she trots by.
He watched her leave in silence, blue eyes squinted against the sun, thoughts tripping and racing over one another in an effort to sort one another out. He wanted to believe her words and actions so far spoke to a sympathetic official among what amounted to the enemy, but that train of thought was quickly snuffed out in light of reality.
Ren grabbed the goad from the hay and jumped the few feet to the ground, slipping the tool into its holster at his right hip and walked toward where the cattle grazed. It tore him up inside that when the sun set that family would likely be taken, never heard from again. He and his mother had been saved that fate, but there was nothing he could do that wouldn’t endanger his family.
Anger fed into his veins once again, and if it wouldn’t have frightened the animals nearby and likely brought back the Ranger, he would have screamed his frustrations into the sky. Instead he walked, and thought.
Kahli left the schoolroom before the last word her teacher spoke died in the air, door rebounding off the outside wall, feet leaving the wooden porch to land in the dust of the road, never pausing in her steps as she ran toward the center of town. Rage boiled within her core, painting her cheeks a ruddy crimson. One hand pumped at her side as her legs ate the ground, her left resting against the butt of her Scythe, holding it flat against her lower back. Her book lay forgotten on the desk she shared with a boy from their village.
Today their lesson had been on the importance of turning in those Engels that could endanger the safety of the village, of their duty to their Aerthan benefactors. It had taken every fiber of will to keep silent, to sit there before the pompous bitch of a teacher and not smash her pudgy face in. She had dared use the unfortunate family of the night before as an example of the violence that could erupt if family lineages were left in the dark and not reported.
People in the streets paused for a moment to watch the young girl pass, several whispering with their heads together, pointing. Some looked fearful, others apprehensive, and still some angry. She knew she should slow down and walk, calm down and bring her emotions under control in order to appease the pacifist Engels that was her world.
Unfortunately, she didn’t care at the moment. She stood back and watched her world fall apart day after day, fire after fire, and like those flames she could feel them building within her core, the heat threatened to rip her to shreds.
Past homes and shops she ran, not pausing even when her steps carried her past the smoldering remains of the latest victims of the perpetual violence. Into the small forest she fled, through the thick trunks of ancient trees that made a half-circle around the village of Stane, and finally into the fields that her family worked. The cattle would be in the south fields at this time of the day, if her brother kept to his normal schedule.
As she ran through the knee-high grass her right hand reached behind her shoulder and gripped the top of her Scythe, at the same time the fingers of her left hand gripped twin clasps attached to the leather scabbard and popped them free. She pulled the large object up and around in front of her, the part in her right hand looking like nothing more than a large hinge with several metallic catches to keep the tool open once unfolded. It was meant to be a blacksmithing tool, something for pounding large chunks of molten steel when a hammer wouldn’t work, though it had never been used as such.
She flipped it so that her right hand gripped the bottom portion, that which had rested at the small of her back. She gripped this, and with strength only a Smith could wield she depressed a series of latches set into the handle, releasing the second half of the Scythe and allowing it to swing out and lock into place, forming a solid piece of metal in a slight crescent shape. From tip to tip it was four feet long and weighed over a hundred pounds, seemingly solid except for the oval in its center that functioned as a hinge, and a place to grasp if needed.
Her knees bent slightly and her body turned, feet gripping on the soil beneath the brown grass at her feet, bracing her lithe form as her body twisted, right arm whipping back, then forward, releasing the Scythe into the air. It made a soft whisssssssssssking sound as it spun in a blur through the air, travelling just above the high grass that marked the pasture before her, only five feet or so above the ground. Stalks and seed sprayed into the air wherever the weapon passed as it made a wide arc, gaining altitude as it reached the end of its flight, then falling back toward the girl. She stepped aside and reached out, grabbing an end of the blade, spinning with it as she took in its momentum.
She spun at the sound of her brother’s voice, back straightening as anger flared anew in her veins. He stood there, arms crossed and face disapproving.
“You know better than this, Kahl. Think of someone other than your-“ His words were cut off as a wordless growl escaped her throat and she spun, whipping the Scythe out and sending it hurtling toward Ren, some hundred yards away, at the edge of the tall whey-grass. Swathes of the golden plant vanished before its advance, coating the air in tan seeds and white fluff. Kahli did not wait though; she followed in the blade’s wake, feet barely touching earth as her anger became a living entity within her.
Ren’s eyes widened at the sudden and unexpected outburst from his sister. He knew she was volatile, had known it for some time now, but never had he seen her this way, in such a state. Without thinking he stepped out of the path of the spinning tool, but only had a moment of thought before she was upon him, a whirlwind of thundering fists and flying feet. One of her small hands, clenched and a blur, struck for his face but his open hand was there first. He took the force of her punch and used her momentum to force her arm away, only to be replaced by her other, aimed this time at his gut. He treated this one the same, hands grasping her wrists.
Her knees bent and with little effort her body was airborne, flipping upwards, leading with both feet. He had no choice but to release her and leap back, just in time to catch the soft sound of the blade returning for its mistress. He spun to his right and began to shout for Kahli to look out when he saw his sister land atop the spinning thing and bare it to the ground. Her body folded with the force of her downward push, then exploded forward and toward him, form spinning midair to bring her left foot around. He moved forward to grab her leg, but at that instant it was brought down and her right leg shot out as she completed her turn, catching him in the chest and sending his own body soaring backward and to the ground.
His chest exploded in pain, incredulity painting his features more than anything else as he pushed himself up. Her father had been a Blacksmith, their mother a Shepherd. No Smith could fight like this, and he could tell the girl fought with instinct rather than skill. This was in her blood, and it was singing. If he didn’t put a stop to it soon, she could very likely kill him without ever realizing it, caught up in what seemed to be the Blood Lust.
“Kahli! Stop this!” he yelled, even as she ran toward him, hands bladed and eyes burning.
He didn’t have time to look around to make sure none watched, not that it mattered now. If anyone had witnessed even a moment of his sister’s attacks, their family was forfeit. They may have to leave in any case, for if she would explode at him in this manner, what would happen-
Further speculation was cut off as she bent her body and launched her form through the air, long dark hair flowing out behind her, violet eyes almost glowing with that unnatural energy that raged through her veins. Her right arm shot out, led by her bladed hand, but was turned away as Ren moved forward as well, his open palm pushing her arm up as before, then shot down to block her second attack as her left hand rushed toward his chest. This time his hand closed upon her wrist, but his body continued moving forward. He spun as their forms met, pivoting on his right foot and releasing her wrist while his left leg swept up and backwards while he spun, catching her in the small of her back with the side of his knee.
She stumbled and was sent sailing forward, but her body was already preparing itself for the fall, hands reaching out to the ground, palms flattening against the soil. Before she could complete the act of jackknifing into the air though, Ren finished his spin and pulled Filaments of power from the air, from the ground, from the very grass that had survived the winter. At once the golden color became a dull tan, the grass grey, and the air humid as particles of power finer than split hairs were ripped from their places in the world, and fed into his body. He gathered that power in the time it took his lungs to breathe in, and expelled it in a single push forward.
His body was at one place, several feet from his sister, and then he was simply there, open hand planted solidly in her middle. The expanded force of the punch sent her body crumpling and flying through the air, hands dragging along the ground, body beginning to tip over from sheer gravity. Still within the thrall of the expanded power, Ren flowed forward and caught her unconscious form before she could fall. He knew that her body could take much more punishment than what he had just delivered to it, but the force of his strike, coupled with the shock of being hit so hard and the loss of Blood Lust, had knocked her out cold.
He laid her down gently in the prickly grass and sighed. Plans would have to made for them to leave… soon
The routine of riding her patrol settled Reyna's emotions. The stallion's big white hooves eating up the ground and with every step taking them further from the village of Stane. On a typical day Reyna would ride all the major roads and trails, followed by a patrol of her section of border to protect. Occasionally she would be ordered to escort a merchant and his goods, or a party of Aerthan's crossing the reservation on their way to another city. Today was not one of those days, just a few items of mail to deliver and then it was back to her regular rounds.
The sight of a patrolling Ranger is no oddity in the reservation. Most Engels don't even look when a "green coat" rides by, as showing interest could be taken as an invitation for interrogation. Reyna and her stallion keep moving with Derek flying ahead and then circling back. As the sun lowers in the sky they don't stop moving.
Ryder casts a glance at the horizon, noting that the sun is not quite setting. The rustle of skirts and petticoats behind him brings his attention back to the task at hand. A large wagon sits ready to be hitched, full of items to be brought to market. Bushels of apples, bags of feed and stacks of hand woven blankets fill the back of the wagon. Rose will stay behind while Ryder brings the wagon to the burned house outside of Stane. So far he'd moved quite a few families out before the Aerthan authorities could get to them. All the right officials were bribed in order to make his passage as smooth as possible. Any other resistance would be taken care of by his adopted daughter.
Several hours passed with Ren simply sitting in the brown grass, his sleeping sister laid out beside him, chest rising and falling slowly as she slept away the immediate effects of her power rush and his almost savage blow to her body. As she began to stir he placed a hand on her chest to keep her from moving.
“Lay still for a few more moments,” he said softly.
“Wha… what happened?” she groaned and sat up anyway, pushing away his hand. Her large violet eyes blinked as she looked around, confused for a moment as to where she lay. “I barely remember leaving school and walking through town, then nothing.”
“Blood rush. It means mother has some explaining to do, I’m thinking.” He stood, and as she showed no inclination of staying seated he helped her to her feet, and then helped her secure her Scythe to her back. Together they left the fields, heading for home as the sun sank lower along the horizon.
The seekers had been thorough, and finally in the end the man admitted he was a Mentalist, but swore that he had not used his powers in well over twenty years. That made no difference of course as he was sedated and relieved of his head.
“Make preparations to take the rest of his family, tonight,” one of the robe-clad Aerthan men said to a soldier standing at attention just inside the questioning room. The soldier saluted, hand to abdomen accompanied by a small bow, turned and left the room.
Ryder waited until the sun was almost set before starting off. The two horses pulling his wagon trotted along at a steady clip, their bare hooves striking the ground in union. A few people raise a hand in greeting as the wagon passes by, Ryder waves in return but doesn't slow his team. His late night trips were nothing unusual. In order to get to the markets in the farther corners of the reservation he'd need to give himself plenty of time.
Only the sound of the dirt road grinding under the wheels and the hoofbeats of the horses broke the dusky silence as the wagon leaves town. The dying rays of the sun turn the black hides of the horses a orange-gold before they slip into the shade of the forest.
By the time the sun had set no one around Stane had seen a Ranger since Reyna had left that morning. A few travelers reported seeing her heading towards the Ranger Outpost near the village of Kessal. Knowing there was no Ranger nearby made people relax just slightly. Darkness falls and the people of Stane go about their even chores and tuck themselves in their homes for the night.
A few miles outside the village Reyna waits. Using a large rock for a seat, she sharpens the edges of her knife on a whetstone to keep her hands busy. Eomer grazes nearby, his bridle off of his head and hooked onto the front of his saddle. Eventually all light fades from the horizon, revealing a partly cloudy night. A slight breeze stirs the hair at the base of her neck and sends a chill down her back. She should be wrapped up in her bedroll next to a fire somewhere, but instead she's here, waiting and watching.
Ren stopped as the name shattered the calm of the night. He and Kahli had taken their time walking to the village, each wrapped in their own blanket of silence, watching as as the moon rose from its bed to cloaked itself among the stars. They had been talking silently, about what had happened and about what it may mean, when the woman's voice began calling out the name of her son. He knew the voice, and knew the name, to be of the wife whose husband was taken the night before and who he had found standing beside a smoldering rubble not twelve hours ago.
"Go home Kal, I'm going to go see what's up."
The girl looked as though she wanted to protest, but then rubbed her middle, sighed, and continued walking toward their small house near the center of town. Ren cut through some of the other homes that ringed the outer portion of the village and came upon a scene lit by several torches held in the hands of a few of the towns braver citizens. They were discussing a search through the village, but most already held that look of forlorn sadness on their face that meant they already were giving the boy up for dead. Obviously, he had been taken, just as his father was the night before.
Alex stood among the outskirts of the Aerthan town, where electric lights shown in windows, sounds of autos rumbling down the streets, and well dressed men and women walked arm in arm down wooden sidewalks. Some noticed him, a few thought he was nothing more than another street urchin beggar and gripped purses tied to their sashes or belts. A few though, knew him for what he was and regarded him with a mixture of wariness and fear. He was an Engel kid, one like those they had often seen working in the coal pits outside of the city. They knew stories of Engels of old, when the race possessed powers that the Aerthans didn't understand, and in a way feared more than anything else. One in all though, they gave him a wide berth. It was easy to do, considering he stood in front of a tavern, in the middle of the street. A few figured that soon an auto would come racing around a corner and end their curiosities with a spectacular crash.
Alex had a purpose though. The place he stood before, he knew it to be a bar, a tavern, a place where men gathered to drink the water that tasted like fire and meet women. He couldn't know how he knew this, or why this particular one drew him as iron to a lodestone, but within his small heart he knew that some of the men responsible for his father's demise and the burning of his home sat within the building.
He drew in a breath, and with that breath he began to draw in life. He could see streams of gold flare out from his body and lash into the tavern, bypassing glass and wood alike to strike at the individuals inside. He couldn't pick and choose, barely even knew what he was doing as it was, but he felt each chord latch onto something and PULL. Power began to fill his small frame, a torrent of it rushing into him like a damn breaking on the might Algonia river. It was too much to contain in his small bones, so seconds after he began it started to roll off of him like waves, pushing sand and dust away in shimmering golden waves of pure energy.
And those within the bar began to die.
When Ryder had found the burned out house empty of life, he'd continued into town, keeping an eye out for the woman and her children that Derek had described to him. Moonlight lights the road leading into Stane. Ryder keeps the horses at a walk, so he can listen for anything that might be out there. His vigilance is rewarded when he hears a woman yell the name of a boy repeatedly. He adjusts the direction his team is traveling, and comes upon a group of people standing around a woman looking distraught. Ryder reins in his team, making sure to keep his distance. It is early yet, he has time to see where this will go, as it is starting to look like things got even more complicated.
Reyna had enjoyed a brief nap while she waited for the sun to set completely, knowing her animal companions would keep watch while she rested. When she awakens, her muscles are cold and stiff from lying on the hard ground. Stars blink above her in the deep dark of the night sky, and she lets her gaze linger on them as she stretches out. Once the blood is once again moving in her veins, she stands up and brushes herself off. She runs through her routine before climbing into Eomer's saddle, weapons check, tack check, and an extra glance around her just in case. Once mounted, she unties a bundle at the back of her saddle. With a deft shake of the wrists, a black cloak unfolds, shedding dust. Another brisk shake is given and then she wraps the garment around her shoulders, successfully covering her green coat. She gives her mount a silent signal, and he moves off, heading for the burned ruins of the widow's house outside Stane.
Ardelia was up, dressed, and prepared to make her rounds before the first rays of sun hit the ground, as was usual for the Grower. Her house was one of the largest in the village, located just outside the central garden. She passed the empty marketplace stalls as she walked down the short path. The village was still quiet at this time; the villagers would start waking up by the time she would be finishing her inspection of the garden.
The garden itself was small, roughly the size of one of the huts. At the center of it, two large boulders were surrounded by bare ground, and the rest was taken up by short patches of grass. A single tree stood closer to the edge of the garden, its almost-bare branches spreading out towards the garden, just above the single bench.
The Grower began with the boulders. Pressing her palms into the ground right next to them, she sent out her power towards the underground spring located just below the rocks. Slowing, she coaxed the water to travel up through a new passageway and burst out of the ground. She forced it to travel up the boulders and then come down the other side, creating a small pool, which slowly seeped back into the ground and into the waterway. This little bit of magic created a small spring at the center; the sound of gurgling water now broke the morning silence.
Ardelia smiled and stood up, moving towards the first patch of grass. She held her hands out above it, reaching towards the roots of the grass and a little below, feeling her power latch onto them with invisible strings. She slowly pulled the strings up, and with them the grass grew taller, colorful flowers springing among the blades of grass until the patch turned into a beautiful flowerbed. Once done, she moved on to the next patches of grass and repeated the process until the entire garden was covered in flowers and tall, green grass.
Her last stop was by the tree. Placing her hands on the trunk, she sent her power through towards the branches, where green leaves sprung up, quickly creating a canopy of green above the bench, which would provide a cooling shade throughout the day once the sun arose. The Grower looked at her handiwork, satisfied with the results. Although it took a small bit of her power, the garden would bring a lot of smiles to the villagers, for it never looked quite the same from day to day.
Walking past the village hall on the other side of the garden, she made her way to the outskirts of the village, where the farmlands began. She walked through, carefully inspecting all the plants, giving a little bit of power here and there to speed up their growth and cure any diseases that cropped up, which rarely happened where a Grower maintained the land. As she walked through, the farmers came out of their homes to begin on their day, greeting her and thanking her for her work, sometimes stopping her to just chit-chat or ask some questions about their plants.
Past the farms were the groves and orchards, just large enough to provide enough supplies to the villagers and leave a little extra for trade with other villages. She checked on the trees and the bushes as her last point of inspection. By this time, the sun started its slow climb up the sky. Although tired, instead of heading home, she walked towards an old, dead tree standing just on the outskirts of the village territory. Even though she has tried many times in the past, the tree would not respond to her attempts at giving it life-force. A sad smile crossed her face as she looked at the tree before sitting down, her back against its trunk. In her childhood, she spend many days playing here with her friends, but even then the tree was already dead. When she was younger, she always thought that her powers just weren’t developed enough to awaken the tree, but now she knew that this tree simply lived out its last and did not want to continue in the cycle. Comfortable, she slowly drifted into sleep.
Ardelia jerked up and looked around, trying to find the source of the sound that she heard. Nothing aside from the distant sounds of the village. She began to rise up when the sounds came again, this time accompanied by a strong jolt from the tree’s trunk that nearly knocked her off her feet. She turned and looked at the tree, it was somehow…different. Although it looked the same, there was something about it that she just couldn’t place her finger on. She placed her hand on the trunk sending out strings of power throughout the trunk and into the ground below the dried-up roots. She felt…something there, something that was not quite part of the tree but was practically infused with it. She could feel it vibrating in response to her power’s touch, thrumming with its own power. Ardelia wasn’t sure how, but she knew that it’s response was telling her that the time wasn’t right yet, and so she ceased her attempts to find out more about this discovery.
Deep in thought, Ardelia made her way back to the village.
People around the boy began to fall, ashen faced and lifeless. First to their knees, mouths opened in silent screams, eyes bulging as they sought to fill their lungs with something, a power, a fragment of life that would pull them away from the cliff’s edge as it crumbled beneath them. His luminous eyes radiated with a green intensity that was reflected in the tavern’s windows. A man burst through one of those windows, clutching his throat, then his chest, then his throat as his body hurled itself into the street to lay twitching among the dirt and cobblestones.
An auto raced around the corner and drew Alex’s attention. He turned to glance at it and a golden snake of thread whipped from his thin body and slammed into the vehicle, though it made not a sound nor gave evidence to its presence. Instantly the driver released his grip on the helm of his vehicle, the thing hit a hole in the ground, and careened into a bakers shop on the opposite side of the street, away from the tavern. The boy turned back, his solemn, sunken face watching as the chords of brilliant life began to wink out as life in the tavern was snuffed from existence.
In the background sirens wailed, the sound of marching feet running in rhythm pounded into the night. An Engel attack they had been told, the like of which hadn’t been seen for a dozen years. Scores dead. But they were to take the culprit alive, for the Syndicate wanted him.
The arrived to find nothing but the dead it seemed. Men, women, and a child in the street all lay unmoving in the glow of filament-powered lamps. They stopped in their tracks, bewildered and horrified at the sheer number of bodies.
“Search for survivors!” The Captain of the squad yelled. The soldiers, all in black leather armor with a single tower emblazoned on the breast, spread out to check for pulses. One picked up the boy and yelled that he had found one.
Instantly he learned his mistake, for large dark eyes, glowing with that phosphorescent light of an Engel, opened. He could feel the hatred pouring out of them and wrapping around his body like a coiling serpent. He tried to scream, but only managed a gurgle as he fell to the ground. Men all around the Captain began to fall to the street, dead, before he finally raised his stick to his shoulder, aimed, and fired a non-lethal shot at the child, taking in on the head. Some men began to rise, most did not.
Ren lifted his head at the distant sound of alarms, faint almost to the point of being inaudible over the long distance they had to travel. In that instant he knew, and was afraid.
Reyna had been content to let Eomer keep his pace slow, his steady four beat gait almost completely silent. Her hair had been completely tucked into her hat, and the hood of her cloak pulled tightly over her head, keeping her face in the shadows. If she'd had the time she would have left Eomer somewhere safe, and instead ride the mare she kept as a backup. Most people didn't look at horses twice, but the stallion's white legs were far more noticeable then the plain black ones of the mare.
A ruffle of air tickles the side of the ranger's face, announcing the return of Derek. The hawk circles and then latches his talons onto the wool covering Reyna's shoulder. Moonlight reflects off of the golden eyes of the hawk, as he focuses his gaze on Reyna's shadowed face.
We've got trouble. There is lights and sirens coming from the city. My cousins who fly on the edge of the city mentioned seeing an engel boy amid dead bodies before the commotion scared them off.
Fear grabs at Reyna's innards, as she processes what the hawk's message means. The boy had killed Aerthans. No one would be safe now, only the villages hidden deep inside the territory might not be attacked outright. The Aerthans would head for Stane first, after they'd dealt with the boy. The image of the widow cradling her babe in her arms flashes across her mind's eye, spurring her into instant action.
Find my father, warn him, Derek. NOW!
The hawk leaps from her shoulder at the same instant the stallion launches into a gallop, hooves pounding the ground, sending the small animals nearby scurrying. Her heart in her throat, Reyna rides like death itself, unstoppable. She has to do something to save the lives of her people. The boy's attack would mean her job no matter what, as the Aerthans would expel or kill any Engel ranger in retribution after they'd slaughtered any engel civilians they could get to.
Ryder had noticed the dark haired man who had been near the widow shift, as if trying to hear something far off. Then the ears of his horses twitched, and turned to focus in the same direction the man had turned his head. Fear crawled up the big man's spine, sending a chill to his heart. He could hear them now, sirens. His hands tighten on the leather reins. Then a call of a hawk cuts through the darkness, screaming out with a clear intent of warning. Ryder casts his eyes upward, sees movement and sticks his arm out. With a whoosh of air and a flutter of feathers, Derek lands on the outstretched arm. The hawk quickly repeats his message to the man, causing Ryder to grimace.
Ask one of your wild brothers to warn Rosie and the boys, so they can get away. Then stay with my daughter, be her eyes in the dark.
The hawk considers Ryder's words for a moment, then ducks his head in acknowledgement. Ryder swings his arm upwards, giving the hawk a boost into the air. The night swallows the bird of prey, leaving just a cold feeling in Ryder's heart in the dark.
Citizens of the Dane Prefecture gathered around the site of the massacre, for that’s what it was. Bodies lined the street in front of the tavern, each shrouded in white linen, like a row of bones against the stark black stones below them. Soldiers in the black leather uniform of the Syndicate and the Lord of Dane stood before the bodies, holding back sobbing loved ones and curious onlookers as well as those wishing to get descriptions for the morning post.
On the opposite side of the street were gathered hundreds of men and women, most holding the long staves with Filament bubs attached to their tops, pulling in the slight power in the air to give light to their surroundings, one of the few technologies the Aerthans had managed to discover and make use of by way of the magic of their own world. The lights cast halos that left some in rings of light, others on the edges of darkness. They were all frightened and nervous, murmuring in low and angry voices that sought to push away their fear.
“This is only the beginning”
“I knew this would happen one day-“
“-let them live on our doorstep and this is what we get-“
“I think we-“
“-long time ago should have-“
“-more than burn down a house, we need to-“
“-once and for all kill those thankless freaks.”
The murmuring continued to grow, first to a buzz, then a low roar. Several men left the group to return home or to their shops, but not for the night, only long enough to grab weapons or tools that would become weapons.
Likewise, the Captain of the original troop of soldiers, most of which lay shrouded before him, fought down a rising surge of rage. The men in that row of the dead had had families, lives, all of which were destroyed now by one child, for the Emperor’s sake. If a single child could do this, what did that say for their entire race?
“Lieutenant!” He called out, and instantly heard a fist strike the leather breast plate of the soldier standing five feet behind and to his right.
“Sir!” the young man replied, voice quivering with either excitement or fear, or perhaps both.
“Gather the Fifth Legion, we are going to eradicate the threat.”
He heard the officer turn, boots click together, and then he ran. Another voice spoke from behind him, low and worried.
“Without the Lord’s consent, Denale?” It was Terram, his Blade Bearer.
“This decision has been made in haste, and will be forgiven if it is frowned upon,” Captain Denale said as he turned to face the other man. Unlike the rest of the soldiers, Terram wore a suit of armor gray in color, though also emblazoned with the Tower of the Sun on its chest. Peeking over his back was Denale’s Arc Blade, and on his right hip rode a large revolver, the mechanisms within the weapon making a soft thrumming sound as they spun, keeping the thing fully charged at all times.
Apparantly some of the citizens had heard this pronouncement and lifted up a cry for blood. Before he knew what was happening several hundred were running, literally running, in the direction of the village of Stane.
Denale smiled, for soon that’s what it would be; a stain.
Ren looked to the widow, the mother, the woman clutching her youngest son to her breast while the far-off sounds of alarms and sirens suddenly ceased. It could be unrelated, it could have nothing to do with the boy, that morning and that feeling.
No, Ren thought to himself, it is him. He remembered the feel in the air as the child pulled on the very fabric of their lives. He had felt the quivering anger and hatred that seethed in the boy’s soul, and would have eventually erupted; it was just unfortunate for them all that it happened here, now, and could end very, very badly.
He looked around at the people gathering, saw the fear reflected in their eyes, eyes that softly glowing in beat and time with the flickering flames of the torches.
“What are we going to do?” One of the men asked, an apron over his slim form, denoting himself as a baker. His long-fingered hands were linked before his stomach, twisting over and over.
“Was it him? The boy? What are they going to do to us?” Another said, a woman this time.
Ren lifted his hands and made a silencing gesture, then said, “We don’t know what has happened, it could be that the boy is lost and the sirens have nothing to do with us. I’m sure the Rangers would be here already if it was something to do with the boy, there’s no reason to worry-“
“It is the boy,” a deep voice said from the shadows. Ren could make out a wagon and horses, with a lone man sitting behind them. He thought he heard the flapping of wings, but couldn’t be sure as the murmur of the villagers began once more in earnest. “It is trouble, young man.”
Before Ren could reply, or ask how the man knew, the sound of hooves thundered and shattered what quiet remained of the dark night. They came from several directions, leeching the last ounce of reserve from many of the gathered men and women. Several of them broke from the group and began to run toward their homes or shops, not for weapons or tools, but to hide and pray.
As a woman rounded a corner that led to her home, a rider burst from the path she was about to take, a long-bladed spear reaching out to slip between her shoulders and jaw, nearly severing her head from her shoulders. People began to scream as the Aerthan Rangers erupted from the darkness, riding down those that fled, encircling those that did not.
Kahli burst into her home as the sirens began in the far off city, but she heard them. Her mother met her in their small family room, drying her hands on a towel, the front of her brown dress wet from washing dishes.
“What’s happening, Kal? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” the girl said breathlessly, stopped in the doorway and turned to the night outside. “The boy, Alex was missing and then sirens from the city just now…I have a bad feeling.” She turned back to find her mother just behind her, also staring out into the night. Her blue eyes shone with the faint light from their hearth and the few candles that were lit behind them.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” her mother said, backing away from the doorway, though there was hesitation in her voice and a worried frown that drew down her eyebrows.
“Ren’s father wasn’t the Fist, was he mom?” Kahli said suddenly, catching her mother off guard. “He was the shepherd; you are the descendant of the Fist of Hevyn.” The girl nodded, seeing the shocked look in her mother’s eyes.
“I had an episode today and tried to kill Ren, but he stopped me. Said there was no way I should have been able to do what I did. I didn’t say anything to him, but I think that’s the only explanation.”
“That is a dangerous thing to say, Kahli, for all of us.” Her mom said, looking beyond her daughter to the darkness beyond. “If someone passing by heard even a fraction of what you just said…”
They stared at one another for a full minute before the girl sighed, but smiled despite herself.
“I always knew I wasn’t meant to be a blacksmith, I just knew it!” She said in excitement. If she was destined to be a Fist, that meant she was destined to fight. Not to just sit around and wait for the Aerthans to decide it was time to massacre them, but to actually fight back for her people.
“No, daughter. You will be a blacksmith, you will marry and have a family, and you will carry on our family line. That is what you must do.” Her mother said solemnly, stepping close to take the girl’s chin in her hand. She tilted the teen’s head back so they stared into one another’s eyes. “That is our duty,” she finished in a whisper. “That is how we fight.”
Kahli was mesmerized for a moment, but then jerked her face away. “I wasn’t born to breed, mother, I was born to break our people away from this slavery. And I will.”
They watched each other for a few moments more, and then in the distance, but within the village, the screaming began.
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