flASH fiction: Volume 3: Still Smiling (26)

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Still Smiling
Jason Pere

The Vermillion Council were on the verge of declaring a mandatory sanctuary across all of Frostdale but Master Hanzz had been able to hold off such a command for the time being. While bringing all people of the region inside the protection of the great city’s seal wall would greatly alleviate the warriors and resources Fosrtdale’s Master of Arms had to invest in keeping the chimera at bay, Master Hannz argued such a command could be folly. Were people to be forced to abandon their homes and flee to the city it could incite a mass panic and destroy what faith remained in the military efficacy of the northern Amurai. Some of the older Councilmen said that Master Hannz was being prideful and vain with the refusal to declare sanctuary but all could sense some value in the man’s resistance to the notion. Were the people of Froatdale, forced to run today if would only cause them to live in fear tomorrow.

The chimera would not stop. The snow in Frostdale has become a terrible shroud of scarlet instead of its normal white. The blood of man and beast alike soaked the frozen ground in the northern region like never before. The people of the wintery city were veterans of the woes brought on by the monstrous creatures that roamed the wilds but the viciousness of the creatures had intensified to greater proportions as of late. In the days since receiving their proposed savior, Rin Northfell, the people of Forstdale had only come to know a greater measure of strife and tribulation. The chimera attacked with intensified savagery and all people of the north could sense that something sinister was impending.

Rin’s patrol of Amurai had been pushed to the point of breaking with the persistent chimera raids of Frostdale’s outlying villages. The endless killing weighed on the men and women adorned with the hound’s sigil as well as the magically imbued boy who lead them. The already taxed resources of the Frostdale Amurai were forced to tap into reserves of fortitude that they had never know. It was a grueling march just to keep place with the unyielding devastation that the creatures of the red rains continued to visit upon the settlers who chose to live outside the seal wall.

The monsters had changed their tactics slightly in recent days. While vile the things had set upon exposed villages and hamlets in time prior now the chimera attacked more brazenly. The things still set upon fixed encampments and homesteads but the attacks no longer had a probing quality about them. Before it was plain to see that the beasts were only testing defenses and the Amurai’s ability to respond. Now the things attacked without any purpose past the destruction of what lay before them.

The chimera now attacked the Amurai directly. The twisted things ceased bating the armor clad warriors with inciting raids and ambushes. The protectors of the ever frozen land were now prey of the creatures just the same as the unarmed and unarmored farmers of the realm. The savagery of the chimera was unrelenting and brutal. The things pressed and pursued the Amurai without end. What had once been a precise and ordered patrol into the wilds had become a running battle where every day was met with more spilled blood that the previous day. Despite the heavy cost of the campaign against the monsters, the Amurai’s moral was not shaken as each new morning saw more of their brethren sent to the afterlife. Death in service to those not able to defend themselves was the nature and the way of the Amurai. If it was anything that cast an ominous shadow over the besieged patrol, it was the continued uncertainty of Rin as he tried to find his way as a commander and leader. Most of all it was the palpable tension that hung in the air between Rin and Errow. The commander and his assigned advisor maintained a civil appearance to all who marched with them but everyone could sense the silent enmity that passed between the pair. Even in the midst of the current assault by the horrific creatures the unspoken animosity between commander and advisor was just as present as the enemy.

Errow was forced to release his grip on the hilt of his broadsword where it was embedded in the gut of a ram-like chimera as a sizable wigged beast resembling a vulture swooped in low with killing razor talons. He dodged a strike form the airborne chimera that would have seen him torn in half. The Amurai rolled through the powdery top layer of snow and felt the frost burn his face as he came up to his knees. He looked back to where his weapon lay, impaled in the corpse of his latest kill but the madness of combat prevented him from entreating any notion of retrieving his lost blade. Before Errow could scan the anarchy for a replacement broadsword he heard Cassidy’s voice find him in the middle of the blood and snow.

“Behind!” Cassidy shouted to Errow with alarm. She only cast a fleeting glance in her brethren warrior’s direction before returning her focus to her spear. With a nimble sidestep and a powerful thrust she deeply penetrated the midsection of the perverse creature she was battling.

After registering the waring of his comrade, Errow heard a shrill cutting shriek come from above and behind. He did not turn to look but threw himself once more upon the frozen ground. He felt a rush of air on the back of his neck and smelled the stench of rot and gore as something passed within a hair’s length of him. As he lifted his head from the snow he saw the wings and tail feathers of the vulture-thing that had nearly ended him once already. The creature, having missed Errow, griped one of his fellow Amurai in its deadly talons and carried the condemned man to a crushing death overhead of the combat. The Rustwatchborn Amurai glared vengefully at the beast as it cast the corpse of the man for aloft and circled for another diving attack.

“Appreciated,” Errow called to Cassidy as the warrior woman slew another chimera with a well-placed spear strike. Cassidy did not respond verbally but offered Errow one of the smiles that he had unwillingly grown so fond of. The expression from his friend told him everything he needed to know. Errow forced his attention back to the battle and the pressing threat of the circling airborne menace.

As the vulture beast screamed overhead and made ready for another attack, Errow navigated the fray and searched for a serviceable bow. He still had a few shafts in his quiver but his longbow had been splintered and reduced to kindling within the first few moments of the chimera ambush. To his dismay any of the ranged arms he was able to locate among the fallen bodies of his brethren were in a similarly destroyed state. A nearby blood freezing shriek signified to Errow that he was out of time to search for a proper projectile weapon.

Errow looked up at the ominous form of the vulture crashing down of the combat once more. He grabbed a close by spear from where it was stuck in the earth. It was not a proper javelin, nor was he as proficient in the use of such a weapon as he was practiced with blade or bow but it would have to do. Errow checked the edge and balance on the spear and was satisfied with it’s ability to fly straight. He led his target and took aim at the vulture as the beast descended upon the swirling melee between Amurai and chimera. As the vulture made its screaming dive Errow raised his spear and prepared to throw it. The warrior was focused and determined to bury the tip of his weapon in the monsters stinking maw. Errow was on the verge of hurling his weapon at the beast but before he could and explosion of ice and wind nearly took him off of his feet.

The next thing Errow was aware of was the corpse of the vulture beast sliding through the snow and coming to a stop at his feet. The thing had been shredded by a great number of icy lances. The unmistakable sound of Rin Northfell’s laughter broke across the conflict and filled Errow’s ears above the fading sounds of men at war.

“Ha, now you join them,” Rin said from his position of the flank of the combat. He unleashed pair of electric blue magical bolts form each hand. When the arcane energy hit the front ranks of the dwindling chimera number three of the mighty beasts were instantly entombed in solid blocks of ice.

Errow looked on as Rin continued to dispense with the chimera foes through the application of unmatched magical strength. The boy brought down on the combat all the fury of a deep winter’s blizzard. He slew a beast with each waive of his hand. The Amurai had suffered more losses during the fight but it was plain to see that Rin’s presence here would secure the victory for the Argaian warriors.

“Look out!” Cassidy called in Rin’s direction with a high pitch of alarm in her words.

Rin spun to face the new threat and he saw one of the familiar white bear breed of chimera thundering though the snow at him. Rin readied a blot of freezing energy that would slice the creature in half. He cracked a grin as he prepared to bring nature’s fury on yet another one of his enemies.

The white bear roared with a bestial savagery but it seemed to lack the intensity of it’s larger brethren. As the thing pressed through the white frosty powder underfoot the wind swept across what had appeared to be the creatures face to reveal a cloaked man underneath a bear pelt. The wild man sported scars and deformities that made him scarily recognizable as human. The man was marked on his forehead with a goat-like image, the same as the other fanatics the Amurai had previously encountered. He rushed in on the young Amurai commander while brandishing a shoddy looking hatchet.

Upon seeing his mortal foe Rin’s face went deathly pale and the magic he wielded in his hands ceased to crackle. The boy was frozen in place and seemingly paralyzed. While he had revealed in the destruction he brought down on the chimera, seeing a man of flesh and blood on the other side of battle rendered Rin nearly catatonic.

“Kill him,” shouted Errow vilonelty as he witnessed the lunatic man about to strike on the commander.

Rin only stood wide eyed and fearful in the snow.

Errow took aim with the spear he had prepared for the vulture. The conflict was nearly over but the last bits of fighting obstructed the space between Errow and his charge. It was an impossible throw to make. Errow was about to shout again but his words never came out.

With miraculous speed of foot Cassidy deftly negotiated the battlefield and intercepted the scared man with a hard body tackle. The Amuria and chimera minion when down in a crash of blood and ice. Cassidy rose up to her feet while the scared man lay motionless and dead in upon the cold ground.

During the whole exchange Rin never moved or said a single word. His eye were locked on the corpse of the dead bear cloaked man like a child who had just woken from a nightmare.

As the Amurai finished off the last of the chimera Errow made his way to Casidy and Rin. The man’s blood ran colder than the winds ripping across the wilds when he saw Casidy turn to meet his eyes. Errow wanted to look at her exotic bright red hair and heartwarming smile like he had become accustom to but the only think he could see was the hatchet buried deep in his comrade’s chest.

“Cassidy,” Errow said with breaking voice.

The Froastdale woman said nothing. Her hand prodded at the weapon embedded in her torso for a fleeting moment. Her body quickly became bathed in a scarlet torrent as she bled profusely from the lethal wound. Cassidy met Errow’s eyes one last time before falling back to the snow.

Errow stood beside Rin and looked over Cassidy’s lifeless body. He felt grief that he did not know he was capable of feeling. She lay still and peaceful with the most beautiful smile Errow had ever seen gracing her lips. The mourning he had in his heart for the woman he had loved too late was only exceeded by the animosity and rage he felt for the boy at his side.

“I do not care your rank or your supposed destiny. I do not care if you are supposed to be some great hero who will save us all from the chimera. I do not care if it sees me dishonored and dead in the end. Should your failure to act ever cost the life of one of my brethren again, I will kill you,” Errow said coldly to the shaking boy standing next to him.

Rin silently wandered off and left Errow in his grief.

“Cassidy Merryweather you blasted woman, do you never stop smiling?” Errow said as hot tears streaked his face and pushed back the cold of Forestdale’s barren wilds.

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