flASH fiction: Volume 3: The Thaw (01)

FB flASH fiction

The Thaw
By
Jason Pere

Errow finished clearing the frosty tunnel of corpses. The Amurai warrior looked at the two formidable stacks of bodies that his small detachment had spent the better part of the morning sorting. The chimera dead were mountainous in comparison to the slain Amurai but that fact made it no easier for Errow to lay his brothers and sisters in arms to rest. With the deepest reverence the armored warrior covered the face of last the dead man he had dragged out from under a massive chunk of ice inside of the tunnel. The ground under the Errow’s feet had been soaked red from the blood of men and monsters alike. Errow counted the covered and wrapped bodies of the Amurai who had given their lives defending the tunnel. Seventeen dead, from the chimera’s latest assault on the snow swept walls of Frostdale. The man then cast his eyes towards the hulking mound of talons, fur and teeth that belonged to the dead chimera beasts. The creatures were so far twisted that it was impossible for Errow to tell exactly what sort of animals the things had been once upon a time. The Amurai fighting man spat on the icy ground and scoffed at the assembly of slain beasts. He wished that there was some way for him to further inflict pain and suffering upon the creatures for the lives that they had taken. Errow felt like burning the dead chimera was too gentle for the anguish they brought to the people of Frostdale.

“That will be the last of them, I should think,” came the dauntlessly chipper voice of Cassidy as she approached her fellow Amurai.

Errow turned at the sound of Cassidy’s voice. His eyes first went to the locks of red hair that were protruding from the hood of her heavy fur lined cloak. He then met her icy stare which contrasted her warm disposition as he spoke. “Seventeen, this time. With the dead from before, this tunnel has cost us two score of our own,” Errow said with a tone that thirsted for retribution.

The woman’s who had interrupted Errow brooding let her eyes show a hint of grief and mourning before she forced the morbidity from her face. “I do not know why we need this tunnel so badly. There are plenty more entrances and exits to be used on the seal wall. I wonder why the chimera keep on attacking this point. This it their third assault on this tunnel in a fortnight,” said the woman as her fingers traced the outline of the rampant armored hound embossed on her breastplate.

Errow frowned and regarded the near two dozen bound corpses before gazing off into the eventual black nothing of the tunnel. “I suppose the beasts attack this tunnel because they know we will die defending it. I should think that the chimera need no greater motive,” he said glumly as his hands also went to the Amurai crest embossed on his armor.

Cassidy gave a thoughtful and reflective accessing scan of the bloody scene before casting her view into the furthest reaches of the tunnel as well. “A case could be made to the forgemaster and builders to seal this tunnel completely. I am sure that Master Hannz and Father Rhodes would be agreeable,” she said with an evident measure of hope in her voice.

The dour Amurai warrior pulled his eyes form the darkness of the tunnel and let his gaze wander up the gigantic side of the seal wall until the enormous barrier of ice disappeared into the clouds overhead. “Perhaps but what good would sealing this tunnel really do. The chimera would just find somewhere else to attack,” Errow remarked with a cynical inflection and crack of his dry split knuckles.

The warrior woman shook her head in frustration with enough force to make several more of her curly red locks break loose from the warm fur hood of her cloak. Her face had turned a slight shade or scarlet. Weather the change in her complexion was due to frustration or the chilling air that blew through the streets of the vast city, was a mystery to her fellow Amurai warrior. “I must ask, are all folk bread of Rustwatch stock possessed of such grim dispositions?” Cassidy asked with a huff and a smirk.

Errow turned his head slowly and stared at the woman next to him. His eyes were narrowed to dagger points and he spoke with a cutting in his voice to match. “The people of Rustwatch have earned the name, Iron Men, for good reason. Our bones are hard as steel, our veins course with the potency of molten copper and we’ve all the cheer of a cold block of lead.”

Only the wind sounded in the frigid streets of Frostdale before the silence was broken with the melodic song of Cassidy’s laughter. “Errow Cutwick, only you could be so humorous and so aggravating at the same time.” The Amurai pushed the man standing next to her in friendly playful manner as she continued to giggle.

Errow did not take kindly to the jest at his expense, innocent as it was. The Rustwatch born man rapidly formulated something that would pass for a retort. “What of those born of Frostdale? Are all of you so unrelentingly joyous all the time?” he asked with all the poise of an embarrassed child.

Without a moment’s hesitation Cassidy responded with a big smile and a bigger laugh, “Yes, every one of us and every moment. We born here in the ice and snow understand that Argaia can be cold enough on her own so we make every effort to keep a warm spirit. People can not live within these walls of ice forever, long as it may have been.”

Errow’s brow fell to the palm of his hand as he endured more of his companion’s infinite mirth. “I would like to think that we could know more of what lies beyond the seal wall past the scouting and scrounging that we do. You know that the chimera who dwell in the deepest of the wilds would stop any hope of that. They make this lot look like little more than snow under the boot,” he said while gesturing to the pile of dead chimera.

“I know the elder chimera are a force that we dare not challenge but perhaps the new commander will be able to change that,” Cassidy said with a wishful lofty quality reflected in her icy blue eyes.

“What new commander! Master Hannz is still in his prime and a fine leader. You have a hard task finding a better example of what an Amurai should be then he is,” said Errow as he sent shock and surprise ringing though the snow that filled the streets of Frostdale.

Cassidy’s bright blue eyes went wide as she took in the sudden outburst of the normally calm and reserved fighting man. “You mean to say that you did not know of the news? It is all the rest of our comrades and many of the city folk have been speaking of for some time? You see, it would not harm you to be a little more outgoing and talkative with your fellows,” she said with a haughty toss of her long curly red hair.

Errow ignored Cassidy’s further mockery of his introverted way and quickly prioritized the fount of questions that flooded into his mind. “What city has this new commander served previously?”

“I do not believe that he served in any city before. I did not hear any accounts,” Cassidy said with a timid but thoughtful tone.

The words hit Errow like a ballista bolt ripping through the trunk of his body. “You mean to tell me that he is not one of our own. We will be serving under a man that is not Amurai!” he nearly shouted the words as his skin began to flush a furious hue of red.
“No he is not Amurai,” said the Frostdale born warrior with a downcast stare.

“And what, is our Master of Arms supposed to take orders from someone who has never donned the Hound’s Sigel?” Errow boomed as he thumped his gauntleted hand against the crest on his breastplate and then drove his finger into the same emblem etched on Cassidy’s armor. “You think that Master Hannz will stand for such brazen dishonor. What gives this new man the right to preside over our order?”

“I do not know if he will hold authority over our Master of Arms but I heard that the new commander is possessed of great magic. Fought off an entire pack of chimera, single handed when they attempted to set upon one of our villages beyond the seal wall,” Cassidy responded with fervent passion as she cited the exploit.

“Magic?” Errow gawked at his battle companion as he said the word. “Magic enough to fight off an entire pack of chimera on his own…and in the wilds. There is no sage in all of Argaia who could possess such magic as what you speak. You and everyone else have been taken in a fantasy, I would say.”

“It is true, I swear on my honor. It is why Father Rhodes went beyond the seal wall. The Vermillion Council summoned a conclave to discuss the matter,” protested Cassidy with a zealous fire burning in her blue eyes.

Mention of the hallowed order of scholars and holymen seemed to instantly disarm Errow’s agitated state of being. “The Council summoned a conclave?” spoke the man in a tone that was only just louder than a whisper.

“Indeed they did, and some time ago it was,” Cassidy said with an unmistakably judgmental raised eyebrow. “Father Rhodes should be returning to our Abbey with the new commander any day now.”

Errow took some time to ponder over the mass of information that had just been presented to him. “Perhaps you are right and I should make greater effort to speak with my fellows,” he said with a humble tone that he was clearly unpracticed in utilizing.

Cassidy only smiled bright and wide from ear to ear.

“Do not get so full of yourself, girl. I said, perhaps,” Errow said with a fast return to his usual stoic and hard demeanor.

“Oh, of course I expect you to ever be the skeptic,” Cassidy responded with a singsong quality.

“And just because this might be an action that is sanctioned by the Vermillion Council that does not mean that I have to like it,” grumbled the man from Rustwatch as he tugged and pulled at the ties of his fur lined cloak while he tried to warm his chilled body.

“Oh goodness I would never do such a thing. Far be it from me to expect Errow Cutwick to like something. Why if you were to find something you enjoy I do not know how I would ever recognize you. I am not confident that you even know how to smile,” Cassidy mocked with a brazen and juvenile quality. She set her face in a beaming smile and came within obnoxiously close proximity to the other Amuari.

Errow tried to evade Cassidy’s onslaught of cheer and good will. He forced himself to pout. The man wondered how she was able to bear such a genuine grin amidst such a solemn grim display of violence and death within only a stone’s throw. Errow looked to the covered bodies of his fallen brethren but even that did not help to assuage the creeping tug at the corners of his mouth. “There is something wrong with you. Smiling at a time like this, when good men and women have given their lives,” Errow snorted with all the stoic composure that he could muster. He did not want to give into the silent challenge that his compatriot had issued and physically remove her from his proximity.

Cassidy’s smile went undiminished and she continued encroaching on Errow’s personal space. “I told you that they do not teach us how to be sad in Frostdale. There is more than enough sadness already, especially in places like Rustwatch. Our brothers and sisters died hero’s deaths in defense of the city and so that good folk might live. That is reason to celebrate, not mourn,” she said all the while grinning in an unbearably pleasant fashion.

“Enough, I yield,” blurted Errow as his resolve shattered and a smile found its way on to his lips. The man’s vocal submission was insufficient enough to deter the Frostdale woman from pressing in on him. He finally pushed Cassidy away before she nearly toppled him over.

“Well fought sir,” Cassidy said with the imitation of a noblewoman’s curtsy. “I will have you smiling more often. I would say it suits you.”

Errow found that the sudden rampant levity of the situation was fast making him uncomfortable. “I best be one my way and see to the pyre for these,” he said with a quick nod at the pile of dead chimera. He started off down one of the streets that would lead him to the carpenter’s hall. Before he got too far he turned and called back to his fellow Amurai. “The new commander, do you know his name?”

Cassidy called to her friend in a voice that was warm as the sun on a clear day, “Rin Northfell, is what I head it was.”

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