Hey guys! Not much in the way of fantasy tips today–I barely have time to post this as it is. I’m working on the latest Demigod Diaries, so expect to see that up on the DD Blog soon! Speaking of the DD Blog, there is now a Claiming Time section, so head on over there to get claimed. And now for the bulk of this post: chapter six of Wrathgate, by Jonathan Shelnutt. 🙂 (**a reminder to both Jonathan and Isa Daughter of Athena–you both have yet to claim your contest prizes. J=editorial/short story on the site; I=guest post)
Chapter 6: Cithara’s Tears
Emily Katherine Weaver was not an emotional person. But really, this was pushing it. Focus, determination, and perseverance would usually describe Emily, but at the moment she felt like a ragdoll being battered about by emotions fiercer than the strange hot storm raging outside. On the plus side, her brother was back.
That was where the plus side ended.
The Ashen had always held a sort of morbid fascination for Emily as a child- their beauty, their grace, and, above all, their almost divine skill in combat, honed over hundreds of years. Their grudge against humanity was their main flaw, but really, who could blame them? Thousands of innocent elves had been slaughtered by the ancestors of humankind a long time ago. The Ashen were humanity’s self-created punishment. Personally, Emily would happily forgive the Ashen for all of their heinous crimes in a heartbeat if it would mean peace between the races.
That is, Emily could have forgiven them until she stepped through the door into the beautiful city of Cithara. Or what had been a beautiful city, before the water ran red and the sky burned. Emily’s history teachers had never told her that the Ashen could fly, that their magic could destroy a whole city in a matter of hours.
About a dozen Ashen were perched on pillars of smoke and flame above the burning city, hurling down magical infernos. Just as Emily followed William out of the house, dragging James behind her, one of the infernos struck nearby and the whole building shook.
“Towards the docks!” Emily’s voice sounded braver than she felt. “Quickly!”
“Right!” William led the way through the streets, avoiding the toppling buildings and the fires. The siblings had fled all the way to the main avenue before they halted.
“Wait!” William said.
Emily took a moment to survey the situation with the luxury of the view from the wide road. A band of marauding Ashen warriors were marching down the avenue up the hill. Arrayed around the cathedral were the remnant of the guards, valiantly locking their shields and creating a bristling wall of pikes. The airborne assault had taken the city guards entirely by surprise. The people of Cithara were everywhere: crouching under piles of rubble or overturned carriages, weeping over their fallen families, or frantically trying to put out the fires that swept through the city. A glance down the other side of the hill revealed that most of the elves were already sailing away in their ships.
“We have to hurry.” Emily said, starting towards the commercial district and the docks once she had surveyed the scene.
So far untouched by the Ashen, nothing was burning on the commercial side of Cithara, and there were not as many people. A few straggling sea elves were rushing down away from the action towards the docks, but almost all had already left. Emily glanced down the street where James had worked and saw that the apothecary shop’s windows were dark.
Good, she thought, at least Arnen and his wife are safe.
Suddenly, when the gate to the sea was finally in sight, William stopped.
“Wait. I have to make sure that Bethany escaped.” William motioned for Emily and James to halt and took a left down Potter’s Lane, towards the market where she worked.
“William, we don’t have time to check on your…” Emily started hotly.
“Bethany’s not my…” William protested, then stopped because she was. “It’ll just take a moment.”
Emily scowled and followed. She glanced at James, who was quiet, and shivering despite the hot rain. Emily could tell he was just barely holding back tears.
When she looked back, she saw Bethany, who somehow managed to keep her grace and beauty sitting on a stone bench even through the pouring rain and horrible circumstances.
“Bethany!” William shouted. “Are you okay?”
“William?” Bethany’s soft voice was barely audible. “You shouldn’t have come. Oh, I told her you wouldn’t come!” She stood, holding out her arms.
“Told who?” William said. He, Emily, and James were within five yards of Bethany now.
“Told me,” said the Ashen girl, stepping out of a doorway, spinning a heavy obsidian stone sword in her hand. With her other hand she snatched Bethany by the neck and lifted her high. “I didn’t get to meet you when you visited. My brother sends his regards.” The girl was addressing James.
“Put her down.” William snarled.
“Now!” Emily shouted. The three Weaver children’s daggers came out of their sheaths with a hiss.
“Would you like to dance?” the Ashen girl said, tossing Bethany in a heap behind her.
With a battle cry, the three Weavers sprang into action. Actually, James flanked the Ashen to her right, Emily gracefully dive rolled and came up on her left, and William leaped magnificently and slammed his iron dagger against the obsidian sword.
At first, the Weavers thought they could win. Although William and Emily’s flimsy daggers both shattered against the obsidian, James’s was steel and refused to break. While James had the Ashen distracted, Emily kicked up, around, and then her heel came down with a sickening crack on the Ashen girl’s head.
“No!” shouted the Ashen girl. “Umbris!”
A wall of darkness exploded from her obsidian blade and knocked the Weavers down. The Ashen girl began screaming in Elvish while she strode over to the place where Bethany lay unconscious. William growled and sprang towards her, but not soon enough.
The obsidian blade came up dripping with blood.
Emily looked away, and saw James.
Weren’t his eyes blue?
* * * * * * * * * *
“Why does he hate me, father?” said the young Ashen telepathically. “I was just trying to help him.”
“He is human, foolish boy!” said the King of the Ashen with his mind. “You can never trust them. Why did you help him?”
“What did he do to us?” the young Ashen asked. “Were you going to hurt him, father?”
“The humans are a disease on elven kind. A curse, if you will,” the Elven King glanced around at the deserted council chamber. “Our warriors are curing the world even now.”
“How do you know, my king, that all of the humans are evil?” the child said.
“Marcus. Marcus.” the child thought he saw a flicker of a smile cross his father’s face. “Watch how that boy is repaying your aid even now.”
The king stood up, spread his arms, and spoke a spell. “Valencia aryala Arin,”
Before Marcus’s eyes the air began to shimmer, and then a picture emerged.
“Arin?” Marcus asked. “She is in Cithara?”
“Your sister asked to go herself,” said his father. “Very patriotic of her, don’t you think?”
The two watched the moving picture in the air.
Arin stood in a street next to some marble buildings with a sword in her hand. The boy that Marcus had met earlier and two older children that he did not recognize were also there. But perhaps it was not actually the boy that Marcus had met earlier, that prisoner, because his eyes had been blue. Marcus distinctly remembered that.
“Bethany!” cried out prisoner-boy-with-wrong-eyes. He had a gleaming dagger in his hand. Arin laughed in the way that always gave Marcus the shivers. The three humans advanced on Marcus’s sister and began attacking her.
“They are hurting her!” tears came to Marcus’s eyes as he watched James’s knife slash across his sister’s shoulder. “Why are they hurting her, father?”
“Because they are human, Marcus. That is what humans do. They hurt people.”
“No, father. That boy wouldn’t hurt anyone for no reason! I just know it!”
“Look into his eyes and tell me that he wouldn’t.” The Ashen King’s voice was cold.
Marcus looked into the prisoner’s wrong-eyes and saw that he would.
In the picture, Arin howled and escaped on a pillar of smoke. The older boy went out of the picture quickly, and the girl and prisoner-boy-with-wrong-eyes followed.