flASH fiction: Volume 3: Dawn of The Great Cleansing (18)

FB flASH fiction

Dawn of The Great Cleansing
By
Jason Pere

The morning had yet to break though the last moments of darkness in Frostdale. Even when the sun finally made its daily accent into the sky over the freezing realm of ice and snow nobody would be able to tell the difference. The shroud of winter that perpetually hung in the sky over the great city made the distinction between morning and night a trivial matter on most days. All who dwelt within the seal wall of the great city relied on the lighting and snuffing of the torches and braziers that populated Frostdale for a semblance of regularity and passage of time. The people of Forstdale knew it was time to begin the tasks of the day once the nightly fires were quashed and smothered. The one exception to this was Rin Northfell, his day had not stopped with the previous setting of the sun.

The boy could feel all of Argaia flowing in his veins. He tasted the salt of the sea spray in the ports of Lighthouse Bay on his lips, he felt the warmth of the hot abundant springs in the Evermist Valley on his skin, he could smell the rancid stench of rot and smog that permeated the polluted streets of Blackcloud. To one extent or another the boy felt a connection to every creature that drew breath in all the world. Rin could sense the sun starting to rise in the sky behind the curtain of grey that reined over the namesake city of his homeland. The night was about to be silently vanquished by the sun but the boy had not slept a single moment during the quiet hours.

Rin’s belly was upside down. He recalled a fever that had nearly robbed him of his sight when he was barely more than a baby. All the combined misery that he felt in those days of sickness offered poor contest for the swirling whirlpool of anxiety that was presently harbored within his core. Rin knew it was not his youth that was the source of his unease, at least not directly. Children had to grow up fast in Frostdale. It was a necessity for those who wished to survive in the harsh ever-winter climate. What was more, while Rin was scarcely into his fourteenth year yet he knew that he bore the might of ages deep in his bones. He was not the first boy bread of northern stock that had to acquire comfort will killing at a young age. Rin knew well that, outside the seal wall of Frostdale proper it was often the choice between your own life or the life of whoever or whatever might have crossed your path on a given day. It was not the act of shedding an enemy’s blood that caused the boy to fret. He had seen combat and ended more chimera with the magic in his blood than most seasoned and decorated Amurai regiments. The men and women in the barracks had mostly welcomed Rin with open arms, in true fraternal northern fashion. He had even begun to grow fond of several of the armor clad warriors during the few days of sparing, exhibition and mock combat. What set the boys belly in a twirling knot was the fact that he was heralded as some great icon of hope and strength. Men and women looked to him at the northern spearhead of the Vermillion Council’s great army. Rin knew that he was no leader as much as they senior Fathers, Abbots and Master of Arms might have suggested he was.

Rin felt the biting wind of this place slice over his bare arms and leave and harsh numbness on his exposed skin. He rubbed his hands vigorously over his arms until feeling was restored. The boy blew some warm air into his hands and felt the tingle of the cold dissipate. With the chill of snow and frost repelled for a time the boy steeled his body for the sensation of frigid flagstones under his feet. Rin flung the covers from his bed where he had known no sleep and placed his feet on the floor of his barracks room. The stone underfoot was like dancing on icicles. The wicked cold shot up though Rin’s legs and lodged in the base of his spine. With a shiver he quickly made his way to the small chest at the foot of his bed. The chest was full of clean clothes that the Amurai had provided for their new commander but Rin bypassed the fresh items for his familiar articles. He withdrew his worn and cracked jerkin, leggings and doeskin boots. As soon as he had his garments in hand he quickly returned to sit on the bed. Rin delighted in being free of the chilling grip of the cold floor. The irony struck the boy and put a small grin on his chapped lips. Rin chuckled at the notion that he could wade into a horde of chimera without fear but the touch of a cold floor on his feet turned him into a miserable squirming little thing. He set about putting on the rest of his clothes and dressing himself for the day.

Rin had nearly finished tying the laces of his second boot when a knock at his chamber door caught his attention. Two quick raps on the broad wooden planks filled the small room with all the warmth of a glacier. Even the sounds in Frostdale were infected by the oppressive cold of the realm. “Yes? Who is there?” Rin asked with a voice that sounded a little more timid than he had expected it would. Coupled with his lack of sleep the tone he projected carried an absence of strength that he found upsetting.

“Errow Cutwick, Commander. Master Hannz bid me collect you this morning,” came a voice from the other side of the door.

Rin heard a gruff and surly measure of fortitude in the man’s speech. Errow’s voice was not possessed of the softer edges and gentle sublet lilts that were native to the people of Rin’s homeland. Rin cleared his throat and prepared the deepest register of his voice that he was able before speaking next. “The door is unlocked you may let yourself in,” responded the magically adept adolescent. Rin was pleased with the tone of his voice this time. While his nerves were on edge his pitch no longer betrayed that fact.

The door to Rin’s chamber creaked open and Errow regarded the boy with disapproval that was ineptly masked behind a visage of duty. The Amurai stepped into the room but continued to loom just inside the doorway. “Good morning, Commander Northfell. I trust that Master Hannz has informed you of my role,” said the man born of Rustwatch with corpse-like enthusiasm.

“Yes, you are assigned as my personal guard and battlefield advisor. It is a pleasure to meet you face to face finally,” Rin said with a warm smile. He finished lacing his boot and hopped off his bed. The boy held out a steady hand, offering a proper greeting to his newfound guardian. Rin’s smile held strong but he felt his inner cheer fade a little as he searched the other man’s face for any traces of friendship and found nothing but emotionless coldness that could challenge the freezing winds that swept the barracks courtyard.

Errow reluctantly took the hand that Rin had offered to him. “Yes, Commander,” responded the Amurai with the bare minimum of what would pass for politeness.

Rin felt the stoic cold withdrawal of Errow sap his optimism. The rampant lack of warmth that the other man exhibited cut like a chimera’s talons and fangs. The boy could see the man’s darker features and hear the traces of a foreign accent in Errow Cutwick. It was clear to the boy that growing up far from the cold of Frostdale had made this man unable to adapt to the chill that was ever present in the domain. Life behind the city’s seal wall and patrolling the wilds had turned this man into little more than a block of living ice. “You do not care for me much, do you?” asked Rin with steady eyes and a firm voice.

Errow wavered like he had been physically hit by the bluntness of the question. “I do not know you. I can not say if I care for you or not,” he responded after a brief moment’s contemplation and careful choosing of words.
“Well then I look forward to making a favorable impression on you,” said Rin with a renewed smile.
“We can only hope. See that you lead my brethren well and have them return from their duties safely and my respect will be yours,” said Errow flatly but with a genuine element.

“Lead…” Rin murmured under his breath. He felt the weight of the word press down on his shoulders like an avalanche of winter’s snow.

“I am not the most veteran warrior in the city but you may lean on my experience,” Errow said with something that was part statement of fact and part offer of aid.

“You would be a poor advisor if I could not, eh,” jested Rin with a thump on Errow’s sturdy armored shoulder.

The Amurai from Rustwatch squinted his eyes and pressed his lips together like he was fighting to keep some unpleasant words withheld. “Your first patrol is due to leave now, commander,” Errow said after some moments of visible discomfort on the heels of Rin’s abrasive familiarity and humor.

“Yes, of course. I am ready,” Rin said as he motioned for Errow to lead the way to the courtyard. As the boy followed his guard the words he had just spoken replayed in his mind on a loop. I am ready, echoed inside Rin’s head as the pair made their way through the barracks halls and corridors. The three words terrified the boy with their implication. For all his might, potential and power Rin could not help but feel like a fraud. Every step that he took closer to the courtyard and assembled Amurai patrol only intensified his self-doubt and fears. By time Rin and Errow set foot on the flagstones of the courtyard, the boy wanted to scream under the terrifying pressure that was crashing down upon him. Rin found himself longing to engage the chimera in battle singlehandedly. The prospect of fighting a one man war was ever so less frightening than being responsible for the lives of the brave men and women who idolized him as some kind of savior.

“What are your orders, commander,” Errow asked with full discipline as he stood at attention before the gathered unit of Amurai.

Rin had no words, only fear and nervous sweat streaming down the back of his neck.

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