NOTE: Serial prequel (distant past) to The Unknown Sun which is now published. This work of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and I retain full copyrights of the following original material.
P.S….if you haven’t read the prior chapters here you go!
“Stop!” Jadeth hissed as she slid into a crouch behind a pillar of rock.
The rest slipped behind her and ducked into the shadows. Jewel bright eyes narrowed and focused on a distant movement far down the winding trail beyond several towering red rock formations. Lightning forked the inky sky and shadows jerked and danced.
“What do you see?” Ivo shifted his position until his back was to the stone beside her. His eyes never left the trail behind them.
“Hmm. Movement. It’s in the shadows of a cliff and blends in too well. I cannot see what it is from here.” Jadeth frowned back at Emaranthe, catching and holding her gold eyes steadily. “I’m moving closer, stay here.”
Gold eyes blinked in consent, then vanished as Emaranthe tugged the worn hood back over her hair. Both men made to protest, but a vivid sapphire glare sharper than a dagger stopped them cold.
Hissing and muttering, beneath his breath, Jaeger jammed his axe back into its holster and Ivo’s glare remained on the lithe Elf as she slipped from the shadows and darted into the open, scarlet braids flapping behind her long narrow ears.
“She’s being foolish.” Jaeger said flatly.
“She’s doing what she feels she needs to,” Emaranthe hissed softly. “She hates not being able to contribute more.”
“What?” Jaeger frowned down at Emaranthe but couldn’t catch her eyes beneath the hood. “She keeps us alive. Well, more or less. If you can call us alive.”
“She wishes she could fight.” Ivo sighed heavily, still keeping keen watch over her rapidly vanishing form.
“She never told me that,” Jaeger glanced at his older brother, then back down to Emaranthe. “Why? She was reborn as a Healer.”
“I was reborn to burn with fire, to own it and make it mine, it lives in me.” Emaranthe whispered as a sharp, cold wind snagged the hood and whipped it free from her fair braids. Emptiness burned in her eyes. “But it was fire that killed me, in the end.”
Gold eyes flicked up and locked on Jaeger’s pale blue and then Ivo’s clear green and held their gazes without blinking.
“So I must love what killed me, you see.”
Both men flinched as their memories stirred dark thoughts. Thoughts they’d never wanted to remember.
“So Jadeth both loves and hates her calling. She told me her story once. Long ago.” Emaranthe whispered as a peal of thunder shook the stones around them. Lightning, white hot and very close cracked all around. Shadows jerked and danced wildly in the light.
The inky sky settled again and Jadeth reappeared silently beside the two men just as the last leaping shadows vanished.
“Gah! Will you stop that?” Jaeger snapped, startled, as he casually looked to his left. Stifling a grin, Jadeth threw Emaranthe a sly wink before dropping into a cautious crouch. The others followed suit and the foursome traded worried looks.
“What did you find?” Ivo struggled to keep his voice down. The wind was picking up again, making whispering difficult.
“It was a villager,” Jadeth caught three pairs of startled eyes, two of which immediately narrowed suspiciously. “I’d not seen him before, but he was…” she swallowed thickly, and her long ears folded against her red braids in grief. “…too wounded for me to save.”
The suspicion fled and turned to sorrow.
“Ah. I’m sorry Jadeth.” Jaeger sighed and shot the purple sky a reproachful look.
“You did your best, don’t let the sorrow get to you.” Emaranthe smiled in the gloom and braced herself as another gust of wind whipped her cloak about her shoulders.
“We need to move. It is getting worse out here.” Ivo shifted to his feet smoothly for someone wearing several layers of heavy armor.
“The way is clear until…the body.” Jadeth swallowed again. “I saw nothing else.”
Lightning forked the sky and simultaneously thunder rumbled and echoed all around. Above them, unnaturally purple clouds shrouded the plateau in a gloomy haze.
“Hurry.” Emaranthe said as she jerked her hood up against the screaming wind. “We must hurry.”
As one, they darted from the shelter of the outcropping and moved at a smooth, ground eating trot up the narrow path, all eyes wide and wary. The couple of miles to the body of the unfortunate villager were a blur of thunder, lightning and howling wind.
They slowed to a wary halt at the edge of the shadows and paused to bow respectfully to the dead, their right hand over their hearts.
“Be at peace, friend, may The Four bless you and keep you at their side.” Ivo sighed wearily and turned, jamming his helm back on his head with a gauntleted hand.
“I wish I was.”
Ducking into the howling wind, they moved up the narrow path. The inky clouds now stretched over the entire valley, leaving only a small patch of red gold sunlight to filter through on the far western rim of the ravine. The shafts of orange light from the setting sun mixed with acrid purple. The waning daylight made the unnatural purple sky even more sinister as they wound their way up the steep path.
“We’re going to have to find shelter. It’s no use to fight in this unnatural storm and darkness.” Ivo grunted and shot the roiling clouds and vanishing sun a glare. Emaranthe frowned, but said nothing. He was right.
“Here, try this way!” Jaeger stopped as they rounded a bend and found a faint trail leading into a narrow gorge. “Stay wary.” He gripped his axe with both hands and led the way.
“I don’t like this.” Ivo frowned and let the women go first. He preferred to watch their backs.
“I wonder what is down here,” Jadeth slung her hammer over her left shoulder and tipped her head to stare far up the sheer walls. “This whole place is larger than it looks.”
Emaranthe followed silently, her staff held loosely in her left hand as gleaming gold eyes searched the shadows of the cliffs. Like, Ivo she didn’t like this one bit.
The narrow ravine ended abruptly at another sheer wall and the four stood in silent contemplations of their options. Though the wind still howled furiously, it didn’t quite reach so deep into the blind canyon.
“We must stay here. There is little choice with the sun setting.” Emaranthe slid the hood off her head and sighed as she scanned the slightly oval shaped dead end. “It could be worse; we could be in the open.”
Ivo grunted and stowed his swords as Jaeger did likewise with his axe. They had nothing with them, so setting up camp was as easy as sinking to the ground, which both men did with pained, weary grunts.
Jaeger leaned against the crumbling sandstone wall and closed his eyes, feeling a weariness he hadn’t felt in a long time. Behind his eyelids a small, flickering glow lit up the dark. He didn’t bother opening them.
Emaranthe cupped her hand beneath the tiny hovering flame and held it aloft like a lamp. It shivered and twisted in the sharp wind, but burned steady, casting a golden puddle of light on the four friends sitting in a circle.
“Why haven’t we seen more of the Dro Aconi?” Jadeth spoke to no one in particular and for a long moment no one answered. She too closed her eyes and leaned back against the cliff wall.
“Because they are waiting for the right moment.” Emaranthe stared at the tiny fire-lamp in her gloved hand. “They know we are here.”
“What are they doing? Mining the ore doesn’t need an entire invasion. Those skeletons were puppets, our people whose bodies were severed from their Souls.” Jaeger opened his eyes and frowned at the now pitch black sky. “There must be something else going on.”
“What else is here?” Jadeth sighed and dragged a scarlet braid over her left shoulder. She chewed on the tail of the braid, her long ears flattened back as she thought.
“Not much. These villagers lead a simple life. The ore was all they had and even then they never truly knew its value.” Emaranthe lowered her hand and let the fire writhe and flicker out of her hand until it hovered above the bare stone floor. She sat back and pulled her knees to her chest, her cloak and robes bunching about her legs. Propping her narrow chin on her knees, pale braids dragging into the dirt, she watched the floating flame with wide, enigmatic eyes.
Ivo stared at her, noting that she looked more like a young child than ever. He knew better however, knew that the decades of battle and death had hardened her, perhaps more so than either he or Jaeger had been. Something about dying, repeatedly, made one grow up awful fast.
Abruptly Jadeth dropped her hair and her ears shot up. Emaranthe, too sat up, her head tilted as she listened to the howling wind.
“Incoming!” Jadeth bolted to her feet just as a louder, more audible wail echoed down the long, narrow gorge. Her hammer sang as she swung it high over her head, the green glow instantly casting all in an eerie light. “More minions, I think. I hear their bones.”
Ivo hurtled to his feet, his heavy armor clattering as he slid his shield and sword free. He crouched, shifting agilely on the balls of his feet. Fury darkened his face and even Jaeger kept his mouth shut as he moved into a defensive position if front of the women.
Emaranthe’s tiny fire guttered and blew out as the wind strengthened and the wailing and clattering bones grew louder. She too pulled her staff free and moved to stand beside Jadeth. Vivid blue eyes met with sad golden ones and both women smiled wearily at each other.
There was no rest for the immortal.
Emaranthe closed her eyes and let the heat rise from within her. She felt it curl, writhe, and slither from somewhere deep in her soul. Flames erupted and swirled at her feet in a macabre dance. They continued to hover and circle her in an endless writhing motion at knee height.
Burning gold eyes slammed open. She was ready.
Jadeth felt the heat emanate from her tiny friend and despite the approaching danger, she couldn’t pull her eyes from the mesmerizing sight, and emboldened she tightened her grip on her hammer and turned to face the approaching horde.
Forced to march in a tighter formation by the narrow ravine walls, they appeared around the final bend in rows of 4 abreast. This time, however, there were more than skeletal minions.
Zombies, basically no more than skeletons with still attached half decayed flesh and marginally higher intelligence, shambled disjointedly behind the first few rows of minions.
Ivo snarled and clanged sword to shield before dropping into a deeper crouch. Seeing this, Jaeger moved to stand close behind, his great axe ready.
With a roar, Ivo launched through the air, sword swinging. He cleared the thirty foot distance to the front line of minions with ease and landed amidst them with an earth shaking rumble that shook rock and dirt from the cliffs above. Skeletons and zombies crunched, scattered and screamed beneath the force of his leap.
Jaeger reached the front lines at nearly the same time, having darted into action at the same time as Ivo. His great axe swung wide and bits of bone scattered and rained all around.
Still growling in fury, Ivo spun about, his swords flashing and gleaming in the distant green glow of Jadeth’s hammer. The skeletal minions fell quickly, but the Zombies posed a slight difficulty as dismembered limbs had the disturbing ability to continue to fight.
Emaranthe saw a mini horde of body-less forearms and hands scratching and clawing across the ground, intent on attacking the men. She plucked a large ball of fire from the miasma still dancing furiously about her legs and hurled it at them. It hit dead on, exploding and scattering even more flesh and bone and setting other skeletons and Zombies afire. Infuriated, a group of skeletons detached from the mass and turned toward the women, disjointed jaws wide in ear splitting screeches.
Jadeth swung her hammer over her head and the green light intensified, bathing the whole gorge in a sickening green glow. Electric blue eyes wavered between the rapidly approaching skeletons and the two men fighting furiously amid a sea of decay, bone and screams. She swallowed and focused on the men. They needed her more.
Emaranthe raised her staff and a pulse of fire, like a living vine, swept out in a fiery arc. It swept aside the first few in a blast of heat and flame, sending bits of flesh splattering into the sandstone walls.
“Get away from them!” Jaeger’s cry drifted from somewhere in the approaching mob and as the women watched, a large bloodied axe rose above the moldering heads and sheared through most of them with a single blow. “Why. Don’t. You. Die!”
Without warning he staggered and fell, his roar of pain nearly drowned out by the wind.
“No!” Jadeth screamed. She leaped forward and swung the hammer in a blaze of green.
Emaranthe sucked in a breath as he vanished beneath a gruesome dog pile of skeletons. She could hear their bony fingers scratching and clawing at his armor.
“Ivo! Help!” Emaranthe cried out and rushed toward the horrible sight, her terrified scream nearly lost in the ghoulish howls of the minions attacking Jaeger. She didn’t dare launch fire at them without risking his life and as much as he could be reborn, each time an Immortal died, a piece of their soul was irreparably wounded.
Ivo turned and took in the scene with a single horrified look. All he could see of his little brother was a blood streaked iron boot.
“No!” Ivo howled and spun, leaping into flight across the gorge, shield and blade ready. He landed at the edge of the mass, and swept his shield across the nearest few, sending them flying. Another bone crunching swipe unburied the lower half of Jaeger. His legs arched and kicked valiantly, seeking to fight his way free. Blood streamed from jagged gashes around the gaps of his armor.
Both women reached the still struggling mass of zombies and skeletons at the same time and Jadeth, tears streaming much like Jaeger’s blood, hovered at the fringe, dancing carelessly away from scrabbling skeletons in a frantic effort to heal him. Her hammer glowed even brighter as she neared him and the flow of blood slowed measurably and then began to reverse flow and slid back up toward his numerous wounds.
Hands glowing with white hot fire, Emaranthe too struggled past scrabbling, boney fingers to reach him. Each time her hands touched a flailing, defleshed body part it burst into flame and broke away with howls of terror. She flung half a dozen burning zombies and skeletons away before she reached his bloodied upper torso.
“No. Come on.” Emaranthe gasped and dropped beside him even as Jadeth flung herself beneath a Zombie’s outstretched arm and hovered her hammer over his barely moving body.
Ivo couldn’t stop his assault to see if his brother lived, but kept it swingly wildly as more and more skeletons ambled and shuffled closer, decrepit hands and moldy fingers grasping and clawing.
“Ivo, quick! Come here!” Jadeth screamed over the screeching horde, her hammer glowing furiously green. Ivo spared a frantic look and saw his brother draped over Emaranthe’s lap, his body so dark with blood he couldn’t see flesh. Jadeth’s hammer kept glowing, but the wounds seemed to hardly move to repair now.
Heat burned deep inside Emaranthe as a cold burning fury built. Her eyes, already glinting with fear and anguish, darkened into molten gold and began to glow in the darkness.
Ivo saw and threw himself toward the huddled, bloodied group just as a wave of heat began to burn and writhe. The fire enveloped all four, encasing them with flame. Shielded in impenetrable heat and fire Ivo dragged Jadeth closer and shot Emaranthe a worried look.
Her eyes glowed white hot and both Ivo and Jadeth huddled closer over Jaeger to better shield him from the still advancing horde. Bony hands that touched the living fire shield immediately burst into flame and crumbled into ash.
“I can’t stop Ivo,” Emaranthe whispered, her voice echoing oddly within the fiery dome. “I can’t hold it back any more. Stay close, don’t move.”
Her fiery eyes slammed shut and her arms flung wide, staff aloft.
Fire exploded from her tiny body in a violent, raging super nova.