NOTE: Serial prequel (distant past) to The Unknown Sun which is soon to be published. This work of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and I retain full copyrights of the following original material.
“Fight? How? We have nothing.” Aggie moved to the old woman and held her shoulders. Her eyes, dark with fear, darted between the imposing men, the wraithlike Elf, and Emaranthe. Igoras let Aggie help her to her feet and the two women huddled together and waited. Behind them, the crowd of villagers were muttering and stifling cries of fear.
“You have us,” Ivo hefted his sword and replaced it in the sheath at his side easily. From the piles of their belongings he pulled free a shield just as battered and ancient as his armor. He slung it over his shoulder were it vanished much like Emaranthe’s staff did.
“Madame, what lies on those cliffs?” Jaeger’s axe vanished as he moved to stand beside Ivo. Standing side by side, helmless, both Aggie and Igoras could suddenly see the resemblance the two men shared.
“Why, you are brothers!” Aggie gasped. Two pairs of eyes pinned Aggie like arrows. Lethal arrows.
“Yes.” Ivo jammed his helm on and turned away. “The Dro-Aconi cares nothing for life. We were brothers in life, and now we are brothers in eternity.”
Jaeger said nothing, his eyes remained fixed on Aggie. Agony tightened his features into a mask.
“Aggie, what is over to the west?” Emaranthe moved between the women and Jaeger, easily breaking the spell. Jaeger blinked and moved away, unable to speak.
“Why, there is an abandoned mining town at the base. There used to be mines up there too, but no one’s worked them in years.” Igoras called after Ivo, who hesitated a long moment, some distance off. Jaeger snarled softly.
Everyone ducked, startled and looked up at the sky as thunder rumbled and echoed off the narrow ravine walls. The sky above them was blue but to the West pitch black thunderheads began to roll and billow over the west cliff, darkening the sky into an unnatural inky purple. The fair breeze turned stiff and cold as the wind changed direction.
All eyes watched the rolling clouds with horror. Aggie dropped her gaze, her mouth wide to ask what was happening, but noticed that the four strangers hadn’t cringed with fear. Four pairs of glittering eyes watched her and her people steadily as if gauging their reactions.
“What is it?” Aggie swallowed.
“The minions of the Dro-Aconi have come calling it seems.” Jaeger jammed his helmet on. His eyes glinted furiously in the depths of the eye slits. Emaranthe pulled her hood up, shading her fiery gaze.
“I have been waiting for over a hundred years for this!” Ivo growled as he too put on his helm and pulled his massive sword and shield from their holsters. He wielded them easily with his massive strength.
Jadeth hummed irreverently as she lithely swung the great hammer to the other shoulder. Her jewel bright eyes reflected the still blue sky above them, but seemed to glow too, from an inner power. She moved easily, almost a glide, and stood beside the men. Her chain link dress moved like metallic water as she walked.
Emaranthe’s lips twisted into a small, bittersweet smile as the villagers stepped back, silent and afraid.
“Wait, what minions?” Aggie stammered and shoved her way back to the front of the crowd, who had pushed and shoved to back away.
“The minions are walking death. You’d best pray to The Four that you find it before it finds you.” Ivo rumbled and turned away, he gestured with a gauntleted hand and their four stallions appeared in the shadows of the huts and moved toward their owners.
“The best we can hope for is to keep the battle away from the village. Stay here, stay on guard.” Emaranthe’s voice rang out over the pawing, snorting horses and the whispering crowd. Her gold eyes flared as she studied the villagers, their reactions.
“We will hopefully return.” She smiled sadly at Aggie and Igoras and then with a blur of movement, all four mounted and vanished into the spreading darkeness.
The rumble of thunder shook the ravine walls. Brief cracks of lightning lit up the purple clouds from deep within, casting terrible shadows across spires of rocks that dotted the valley.
“There are no signs of minion movement on the valley floor, Emaranthe.” Ivo glanced to his left at the small, hooded figure with pale braids. She didn’t look back. “What do you suppose they are waiting for up there?”
“Us.” Her voice was oddly raspy and both Ivo and Jaeger frowned. Only Jadeth continued to ride, humming lightly, as if the world wasn’t trying to end all around them.
“Which one is leading the attack do you suppose?” Ivo shouted over another rumble of thunder.
No one bothered to answer as they the halted the stallions at the path that lead up to the mines. Cut in a narrow ribbon in the ravine wall, it was a lengthy ride up dozens up tight switchbacks. The inky sky cast purpled shadows all over, making visibility poor at best, even though it was barely noon.
“We should walk. They are at the head of the trail. No generals, only minions so far. Skeletons.” Jadeth slid from her horse, keeping her electric eyes on the distant plateau the trail led to. Only her Elfin eyes could see at that distance. Being human, the rest were at a disadvantage visually. She shoved her stallion away and it loped back toward the river bed behind them. The others followed suit quickly. They knew better than to not trust her judgment
“Let’s go.” Emaranthe said. Gold eyes burned in the gloom as she slid her staff from the shadows at her back. It too, glowed, almost in anticipation.
Ivo freed his shield and sword with a growl and slammed them together with a ringing crash. The ringing of metal on metal was as a battle cry.
Jaeger too, pulled shield and axe loose. The axe swung in a slow, deadly arc as he too, smashed shield to weapon.
Jadeth hovered to the rear, her huge hammer shouldered, glowing an iridescent green, and jeweled eyes wide in the gloom as she watched the trail.
They moved as one unit, without having to strategize or plan. The sand and stone trail was steep and twisting, but they covered the miles at a steady, slow run, weapons and shields readied.
They neared the top and halted. Jadeth moved to the front, made her way to the rim, and dropped into a smooth crouch as she surveyed plateau.
“About twenty minions, all skeletons. They are milling about, on guard. Still no generals.” She hissed down to the others. “The mines appear to be more to the north from here, they’re guarding a road it appears.”
“Twenty? Pfft. I can eat them for breakfast.” Jaeger snorted and gripped his axe so tight the chainmail of his gauntlet creaked under the strain. “Ready?”
All eyes flicked to Emaranthe. Her lips twisted into a small, crooked smile as she closed her eyes.
Flames, white hot, erupted from her staff, engulfing it in a layer of heat. The flames slithered and curled, twisting and crackling up her outstretched arm and spread over her shoulders, head, and then slid and twisted down her body until she was fully encased in living flame. The inky gloom around them seemed to cringe away from the unnatural shield of fire.
She opened her eyes.
“Ready.” Emaranthe’s voice echoed from all over as if magnified from within the crackling flames.
Ivo spun on his heel, and leaped the edge onto the plateau in a blur of motion. Jaeger followed on his heels. Emaranthe glided over the edge, staff aloft, her fire burning furiously. Jadeth leaped easily to the plateau top and quickly swung her huge hammer in a huge circular arc over her head. Her eyes began to glow as the mace did.
Ivo let out a howling roar. The ground beneath them vibrated from the force and the milling undead seemed to jerk in reaction and then as one turned eyeless skulls toward him. Their gaping jaws opened as if unhinged as they screamed back in fury. Shredded strips of clothing clung to filthy moldering bone as they surged forward in a horrible mass of death.
The tide of skeletons reached Ivo and Jaeger simultaneously. The brothers swung their weapons in heaving arcs, connecting with decay and bone so hard that skulls shattered and bone exploded all around. Grunting with fury, Ivo shouted at the skeletons again, gaining their attention. Using the distraction, Jaeger swung his axe high with both hands, decapitating half a dozen with a snarl of rage. Bits of grimy bone rained all around.
Heat burned behind the two men in warning. Of one accord they ducked…just in time to escape a blast of fire that swept mere inches over their heads. The fireball engulfed the front line of minions, sending flaming bone and rags rocketing.
“A little close there you know!” Jaeger snapped over his shoulder as he cleaved the nearest skeleton. A decrepit arm sailed past to land at Jadeth’s feet. She didn’t seem to notice, but swayed her hammer smoothly. The green glow pulsed every so often and her eyes remained focused on the battle.
Emaranthe heaved her staff skyward and a rain of flaming rock sailed down on the remaining skeletons. Pummeled and burning, they didn’t seem to know who to attack. Using their confusion to end it, Ivo swung his huge sword in a singing arc and sent bone and rags clattering across the plateau.
Both men sank into a wary crouch, waiting. No more skeletons staggered from the shadows of the plateau, but both knew that being complacent was like to being dead. Again.
Emaranthe sighed and the flames flickered and drifted as they snuffed out around her.
“Too bad it isn’t that easy, is it?” she shot a look at the still purpled, cloudy sky and surveyed the plateau wearily. Towering rock formations dotted the plateau and a narrow dirt trail wound now to the east, toward the mines.
She let her staff stab into the rocky dirt and leaned heavily on it for a long moment, her head bowed and blond braids trailing almost to the ground. A dry breeze, hot and fitful, dragged one over her face. She ignored it but stared down at the gruesome chunks of bone and filth at her feet.
“We need to keep going.” Ivo gripped her arm gently, startling her upright. Wide gold eyes blinked foggily up at him. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. Let’s go.” Emaranthe stared down the narrow path as another peal of thunder shook the ground. “Death awaits us.”