The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.4) - Sky of Ash

Submitted: June 16, 2019

Reads: 527

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Submitted: June 16, 2019




The Ashen Sky



In a single motion, I split the air leaving a viscous crimson streak trailing just behind my sailing brand. Of course, it wasn’t my wound from which it bled. Just a few feet from where I stood lay the mutilated carcass of a trow, a gash along the length of its body being the obvious cause of its grisly demise. I slid the bloodied blade into the sheath at my waist with a satisfying metal click.

I bit my lip in dismay of my current lack of conclusions. This village was in shambles, torched and charred to a point far beyond recognition, and this singular trow was so far the only possible perpetrator. There could be more of them, as there often were with these tribe-like goblins, but it still seemed beyond their abilities. A specimen as lowly as their sort didn't possess the means nor the brain to have set a blaze of this degree; it was more likely that they were here only for the spoils now that the town had been compromised, left unguarded after its residents faced extinction.

A tense sigh fled from my lungs as I scoured the streets for possible tracks or other signs of what could cause such calamity. There was no way I could turn and leave without a verdict, this wasn’t the first but the third allied town to go up in flames without an official explanation, and I was the sap they looked to for answers. Cornika, Thorwell, and now Crodmill had all suffered the same fate. What’s more is that Crodmill was much closer in proximity to Abdera, the kingdom from which I hailed. Although the scale of the two cities was incomparable, anything capable of this level of destruction could still pose a significant threat, even to a city as large as ours.

There was one thing in particular about the scene that made my blood curdle under my skin just as it had the last time: the lack of survivors. The charred remains of countless men, women, and children alike littered the streets in swaths. Not a single soul's cry rang out from beneath rubble, not one life left intact. It was only due to passersby that we were made aware of the villages' burning.

I had my hand cupped to my nose as I searched every inch of my surroundings. It took all of my willpower to keep from retching, not just from the sight of it all, but from the abhorrent smell of singed flesh that wafted through the air. What was I missing? I kept asking myself.

Escaping from my thoughts I found myself being surrounded by trow, nearly a dozen of them crawling from the debris with the ash on their faces to show for it. One of the varmints only amounted to fodder for the hard steel on my waist, but with these numbers, I would quickly be overwhelmed. Trow, a species of goblin native to the northern territories, were nothing but filthy scavengers, even less intelligent than others of their kind. Each of their faces was as equally warted and flaxen as the next, their hunched and crooked bodies no less appalling to the eyes. Not sophisticated enough to permit the use of any true language, they communicated in simple grunts and squeals.

I back-stepped and drew my short-sword. How could these low-lives have managed a feat as this? There were no weapons clasped between their warped fingers, nor did they bear torches, only small scraps of cloth bound to their skin serving as the most basic means of protection. Trow weren't known for their warm relations with other species, and they seldom traveled in groups larger than these, so this was most likely the extent of them.

With a firm grasp I flourished my blade in wide arc. The closest of the scoundrels leapt towards me, falling victim to my well-timed slash. Its skin was cleaved with little resistance, causing it to shrink back with an ear-splitting cry. There were too many of them, for me to escape I’d have to tap into that which gave me life, I’d have to resort to using magic.

The name certainly carried illusions of grandeur, but it was a commonality of all things livings. Through the veins of all man and beast flowed the energy we referred to as magic. What was more of a spectacle was when it was given form, bent to one’s will. Most commonly it was used as a simple tool for our convenience, but in the hands of the adept, it could prove a formidable weapon. Still, the ability to hold the elements in one’s fingertips carried its share of dangers. While magic was powerful, it drew from a limited resource, and to expend it would spell death to the practitioner. Thus warriors such as myself chose to wield magic with more subtlety.

I leveled my sword with the ground and swept my palm across the cold metal. Upon my touch, it grew colder still as a thin layer of frost formed out of the surrounding air. Soon, the length of the blade had been encased in and artificially extended with ice. With a swing now wide enough to sever the trow at a safe distance, I could better fend off the horde, though it was ultimately too late to matter.

Beneath my feet the ground shook violently, a fierce wind zipping in every which direction. Each impish creature scurried away from me, seeking shelter from whatever greater threat had arisen . Whatever wretch had caused this calamity was airborne, bearing wings powerful enough to bend the wind to its will. The only such beast known to me was the griffin, but it had to be exceptionally large to scare away a goblin hoard, and larger still to force the earth into a tremor.

I reached for a bow to replace my sword, but a deafening roar caused to me to grab my ears in agony. In the seconds following the sound, my peripheral was filled with billowing flames, my nose likewise filled with an acrid smell. The newly risen ash had darkened the sky, blotting out most of the sun from my view. Despite the intensity of the heat, I was frozen where I stood, held in place by fear’s deathly cold grasp. Only through a narrow break in the pitch-black cinders could I catch a glimpse at the culpable monster.

From what I could see of its wings they stretched the length of several abodes, many times larger than those of a griffin. The dancing light reflecting off its countless scales was blinding in effect, forcing me to shield my face until the reptilian creature was completely hidden behind the plumes of smoke. When finally it was clear what had caused all of this chaos, my eyes opened wide in equal parts awe and terror.

Making sure that my bow was well-fastened, I broke into a vigorous sprint, clouds of loose debris being kicked up in my wake. I was letting out a shrill whistle to alert my companion when my wide strides combined with my panicked state caused me to stumble over the rubble in my path.

The hard earthen floor was most unkind in my fall, sending a jolt of hot coursing pain through my body as the taste of blood filled my mouth. It was impossible to focus with thoughts racing at a pace that I had only wished could be matched by my legs. Not only was I experiencing fear of an unparalleled degree, I was struggling to wrap my brain upon just what I’d seen.

Stumbling back to my feet, I saw that the ash had now all but blocked the sky in its totality, momentarily keeping me from imminent peril.

My horse whinnied loudly and anxiously as it approached. “What in the hell is happening?” A distressed voice called from similar origin. It was an Abderan guard whom I had instructed to watch the perimeter while I surveyed the plaza.

“We leave now!” I demanded firmly but with a shakiness to my voice. I vaulted on top of my horse and sharply pulled the reigns in the opposite direction. He still had questions for me, but I had no time to provide answers. Without delay I had my steed enter a gallop, looking back into the darkened sky as I did so.

We rode side by side atop our respective steed. “Why are we rushing away from Crodmill? Shouldn’t we be apprehending the bandits that caused it?”

“It was no man, our culprit is some variety of wyvern. One I was unaware existed until now.”

“Spare me your lunacy, that's not-” he was swiftly silenced by the tremendous gale that very nearly threw us off of our mounts. The ash had all at once been blown away, revealing the full breadth of the brilliant ruby giant. A single wing-beat sent it soaring past us, a lengthy shadow cast over us as it passed beneath the sun's rays. “By God's bones, from where in hell did that monster rise?!”

“From the depths,” I said with my eyes still glued to the winged demon. Despite my concern, it seemed unaware of our presence, circling back to Crodmill to roost as it had been doing prior to our arrival. As it flew quickly by I could just make out its features, from the long tail to the four clawed limbs tucked tightly to its body.

Beasts of the draconic sort were a rarity, particularly so granted our region's colder climate, and so I had ruled them out in my reconnaissance. Moreover, I was aware of only a few species, the sizes of which couldn't hold a candle to the creature that flew overhead. Though I was curious, my gaze didn’t linger. I had miraculously slipped beneath its notice and I wasn’t about to push my luck further.

We rode back at a speed much faster than we had on the way here. All the while I struggled to cope with the rawest and most primal form of fear I'd ever experienced, along with another feeling that I couldn't quite place. It was the strangest Déjà vu, as if somewhere in the deepest reaches of my mind, I'd triggered some kind of dormant memory. For the time being, I concluded that it was best to let it out of mind. It was a topic best addressed at a later date.

© Copyright 2020 Ignis Vulpes. All rights reserved.


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