The Floating City - Chapter 9

Apologies for the missed week. The good thing is that now I am most of a chapter ahead in my own writing, which makes things easier. The bad news is that I am traveling a lot over the next few weeks, so expect an irregular posting schedule until the end of February. After that things should settle down and I hope to bring it back to once a week. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy! As always, questions and comments are welcomed.

The Northern Wastes, Part 2

 “Dar-Alos curse it!” Syd yelled, as Roshan stumbled to his feet in confusion. His ears ringing as she continued to bark orders. “That’s torn it. Simon, cover them. Trentor, get your crossbow out!” She turned to Roshan, “can you use their equipment?”

“Uh… I think…” he began, but Syd cut him off.

“Then do it, or get out of the way!” She whipped her own weapon, a beautiful horned recurve bow, and, kneeling, stuck five arrows into the ground in front of her, leaving one on the string. Trentor was pulling out a small, collapsible crossbow from his packs, hand-spanning it as he locked a bolt into place. Simon had leapt both the kneeling camels and the tangled, senseless pile that was Rika and Isa, and had placed himself between the two women and several of the onrushing raiders. He had sheathed his two-handed flamberge into a long scabbard on his back, and had instead drawn a short sword akin to the one he had tossed Roshan. Roshan wondered at the change, but as he watched, Simon flicked out the blade as an arrow whistled toward him, cutting it out of the air with a calm assurance.

To Simon’s left, Roshan noticed Rika’s crystal studded targe lying just by her outstretched hand. Hoping that Rika and Isa would be alright, he scrambled over the nearest camel, which gave him a reproachful look, and scooped up the shield. He examined it in a rushed fashion. The runes were hard to make out, but it was still glowing with a bright yellow light, so he assumed that the crystals were still active. ‘Rika had moved it something like this…’ Roshan thought as he made an exploratory swipe toward one of the charging raiders.

The shield triggered with a whoosh, a blast of Fòrsa as a wind gust billowed towards the raider, blowing him off his pony and thirty yards through the air. He landed with a sickening crunch, but Roshan didn’t notice, as the backdraft from the wind had tumbled him back over into the ring of camels. He came up sputtering with a face full of dirt, looking for the shield. With a sinking feeling, he saw it hit the hard-packed earth with a ringing metal clash over twenty paces away. Syd shot him a raised eyebrow, before turning back and loosing an arrow that took a rider in the throat, tumbling him off his horse and to the ground.

The five remaining riders were closer now, and their return shots were coming faster and more accurately. Simon was still casually blocking any arrows that came near him, but Trentor, who was guarding his back with a small shield and his tiny crossbow, gave a strangled yell as an arrow hit his foot and pinned him to the ground. After the death of so many of their companions, the raiders were out for blood. However, they were content to take their time and whittle them down from a distance.

Syd’s bow, and Trentor’s crossbow, were the groups only ranged weapons, and Syd was running out of arrows as she kept the three riders on her side of the circle from closing in. Roshan knew he had to act soon.

On the ground inside the circle Roshan spied the shattered remnants of Isa’s staff, and knelt to examine the wreckage. As he ducked down an arrow flew over his head and he flinched, but continued digging through the pieces looking for the left-over crystals.­­ Deep inside the ruined shaft, he found three crystals and crowed in excitement, but his elation was quickly tempered by the state of two of crystals. One was inert, dead, and the other shattered into tiny pieces as he touched it, but the third still glowed with an inner yellow fire. The crystal itself was as fine a specimen as he had ever seen, perfectly formed and cut, with ruins etched in the beautiful calligraphic style of Thes. He saw the runes for wind and fire, and guessed that this crystal must be for calling the fury of the storm down, while the other ones had been for directing and channeling that power. ‘I can work with this,” he thought, forcing himself to not panic. 

Without turning, he reached around and snatched the sword Simon had given him from where it had lain, forgotten since the opening minutes of the battle. The sword was a gladius, with a short, wide blade and a leather wrapped hilt, it lacked a cross guard, but that didn’t matter for his purposes. He stabbed into the ground in front of him, and went to work. Pulling some wire and his pocket knife from the recesses of his cloak, he scratched a few more symbols onto the crystal, modifying Isa’s original work. Then, he affixed the crystal to the sword with the wire, wrapping it around the top of the pommel. Copying the moves that Isa had done earlier, albeit much more carefully, he gave the sword a few experimental twirls.

“Alright!” he yelled in exultation as the crystal started to glow more brightly.

“Stop messing about and help!” Syd yelled, as she fired the last of her arrows, narrowly missing one of the circling raiders, who ducked.

“On it,” Roshan shouted back. “I hope this works,” he added to himself in a lower voice. He sighted down the blade and felt the warmth as a tongue of lightning licked out and left a smoking crater in the dust at the feet of one of the bandits. The raider’s pony stumbled, throwing him off the ground, and Trentor finished him off with a bolt.

“Excellent,” Trentor called. His voice sounded a bit strained, but otherwise he seemed in good humor. “Can you get the others?”

There were three raiders left, Roshan aimed the blade again and picked off another with a crackling boom. The remaining two pulled up short, and started to ride away.

“Get them,” Syd ordered. “They will bring back more, and we will not be able to outrun them for long. We need time!”

Roshan aimed for a third and final time, released a bolt of actinic yellow that crashed into one of the last riders with a titanic boom. Syd scooped up one of the many arrows that had been shot at them, and fired it back in a high, arching shot that hit the rider, tumbling him from his saddle on the steppe earth.

His adrenaline abruptly faltering, Roshan leaned over and threw up. Limping, Trentor made his way over to him, and patted him gruffly on the back. “First fight?” He asked, gently.

“Is it always like this?” Roshan responded, still feeling shaky.

Trentor shrugged. “What, crazy, messy, and terrifying? Yes, but, you do get used to it.” He looked at the bodies spread around them in a wide circle. “Maybe not that part,” he said soberly, “but the rest of it”. He patted Roshan on the back again. “You did good, kid. Lots of people lose their heads in a big dust-up like this.”

Roshan looked at him quizzically. “You’re not more than five years older than me…”

“It’s not your age, it’s how many miles you’ve traveled.” 

Syd came over to them, as Simon checked on Rika and Isa. “How is the foot, Trentor?” She queried, sounding concerned.

“A little leakier than it used to be, but it’ll be fine. Quite a little skirmish, huh?”

“We have had worse. If you are feeling up to it, can you check the mounts? Simon is going to see to the bandit’s remains, once we are assured that Rika and Isa will be okay.”

“On it,” Trentor said crisply, and limped off to see to the camels. Several of them had arrows caught in their thick, shaggy fur, or sticking out from the saddles, but none appeared to be hurt. As he left, Syd looked at Roshan.

“That was some fine work. We would have been in trouble, else.”

“Thanks…” he muttered, glad his dark complexion hid his blush.

Syd dipped her head, accepting his response. “We still have work to do. Can you examine Isa’s staff? We must know what happened, so it does not happen again.”

“Uh, yes,” Roshan nodded. “On it,” he said, smiling.

********************************* ************************************** *************

Rika opened her eyes slowly, and winced as the light sent a pain shooting through her throbbing head. She groaned, and felt someone hovering over her.  “You’re awake?” Roshan said, surprised. His voice sounded distant, like he was speaking from the other end of a tunnel.

“No,” Rika replied without opening her eyes. “Go away.”

“How are you feeling?” Roshan asked, not moving.

“Like a camel sat on my head.”

“I’ll get Simon,” Roshan made as if to move, but Rika flopped a hand at him weakly.

“No, no, I’m fine. This isn’t the first time Isa has knocked me unconscious,” Rika said lightly.  “At least, I assume it was it her?”

“Oh…” Roshan sounded startled, but quickly mastered himself. “Uh, yes. I don’t know if it was her fault, but she definitely knocked you out. What do you remember?”

Rika chanced opening one eye, and held it open as the room wavered and came into focus. She was lying on a camp roll on the hard-packed earth, while above her was the curve of a tent awning. Trentor was next to her, and Roshan was on his knees leaning over her, his stubbly face concerned. “Trentor, you’re here too? I remember the beginning of the fight…” she murmured, as the memory began to surge through her. “What happened? Is everyone alight?” She asked, suddenly worried.

Roshan made calming gestures with his hand. “Everyone’s fine, a bit banged up, and Trentor’s got a hole in his foot.”

“A hole in his foot?!” Rika exclaimed loudly, and then winced as her own voice hurt her head.

“Caught an arrow clean through. Would you like to see it?” Trentor asked.

Rika shuddered “Never mind. What happened to Isa?”

Roshan grimaced. “Her staff exploded. She blew into you, and knocked you both out. She’s fine, although with some bad burns on her arms and chest.”

“Her staff…exploded…” Rika repeated, incredulous.

“Yes,” he stated, gravely. “As far as I could tell, she used three crystals in a tiered system. The first drew in Fòrsic energy, the second channeled it, and the third released it.”

“That sounds about right,” Rika said. “I helped her come up with her initial designs, although she built it herself. What happened?”

“The crystal that managed that managed the release failed… unexpectedly. The channeling crystal had nowhere to send the energy, and cracked. Isa was very, very lucky, the explosion should have killed her. Instead she is just severely burned.” At Rika’s anxious look, he added “she’ll be okay, Simon is tending to her now.”

“Simon’s a fine medico,” Trentor added. “Have no fear.”

“I know. How long was I out?”

“You’ve slept most of the day, but you started coming around soon after Roshan here crisped the last of the raiders,” Trentor said, smiling broadly. “Setting up tents for you and Isa was one of the first things we did.”

“Roshan did what?” exclaimed Rika, wincing again.

Roshan’s skin darkened, was he blushing? “I... repurposed the charging crystal and made it release the energy, too.”

“It was amazing,” Trentor interjected.

“Well well well,” Rika mused, “Good job. I didn’t think you had it in you?”

Roshan’s flush deepened, but he was saved by Syd poking her head into the tent. “Simon says Isa is awake. As soon as he feels she is capable of riding, we leave. How are you feeling, Rika?”

Ignoring Trentor’s proffered hand, and her own aching head, Rika sat up. “A bit tender, but I’ll live.”

“Good,” Syd said. “It is unwise to linger in a battlefield.” She looked up, outside of the tent, and then turned back to them. “As soon as the sun touches the tips of the mountains, we leave. We have a long way to go.”

Chapter 10 can be found here.