Table of Contents
Alright, let's get this party started.
Kieran stopped the wagon on the hill, gazing down at Harketon. His breath caught in his throat. Beside him, Nia covered her mouth with one hand, and even Khory and Elena looked sick. Standing next to the wagon that he had carried over the raging river, Seven Winds Dancing simply shook his head sadly.
Below them were the remains of what had once been a city. Now, nothing remained but the waves. Even from here, Kieran could smell the scent of death, and he simply stared, stunned.
â€œThe future of the North.â€ Seven Winds Dancing spoke softly, but grimly.
â€œWhat happened?â€ Niaâ€™s voice was barely above a whisper. â€œWhat would do this?â€
â€œThe dam broke.â€ Khory pointed shakily, raising one hand towards the mountains north of the village. Bits of stone littered the banks of the river that was rapidly widening into a lake. â€œThis time of year, even, that lake should have been mostly frozen. It all melted, and something broke up thereâ€¦â€ He trailed off, and shook his head. â€œAll the water hit the city at once. They never had a chance.â€ He swallowed faintly, and then clenched his jaw. â€œA lot of â€˜em probably didnâ€™t even have time to realize what was happening.â€
â€œThatâ€¦ that must be thousands of people.â€ Kieran frowned, looking towards shore. â€œThe spirits must have started setting up the graveyard over there.â€ Hundreds of small stone monuments were laid out along one shore, a veritable forest of masoleums. â€œTrying to stop the shadowland from spreading any further.â€ His voice was hard, and his eyes were like two stones. Slowly, he turned to the others. â€œThis stops here. All of those peopleâ€¦ I will stop it, if it takes my life to do it.â€
â€œEasier said than done.â€ Seven Winds Dancing pointed out towards the lake, where a tangle of rocks jutted out. â€œTheyâ€™ll have the master imprisoned under stone and water, to keep him from breaching the crystals they used. But thereâ€™s going to be an army between us and them. One Exalt, a god, a god-blood, a splinter, and a mortal? No. Not nearly enough.â€
â€œIt gets worse.â€ Kieranâ€™s heart leapt into his throat, and he turned quickly as Sirrim melted out of the undergrowth, his expression solemn. â€œThereâ€™s another Wyld Hunt enroute. And these ones are much better-equipped. You only beat them past the river by a few minutes. That stopped them, but theyâ€™ll be here within half an hour. And theyâ€™re out for your blood.â€
â€œLovely.â€ Kieran considered grumpily, and then brightened. â€œActuallyâ€¦ that might be lovely. If we can hideâ€¦â€ He looked around at his friends. â€œIs there any objection to having the Hunt fight a real threat? Just for a change of pace?â€
â€œAre you thinking of tricking them into combat with the elementals?â€ Khory slowly started to smile, and the others joined in one by one as Kieran nodded.
â€œI think I have a plan, but itâ€™s going to be tricky. The Hunt will hate this. Theyâ€™ll want it stopped as much as we do, and they might just charge in. At which point, we can slip through and get at least a decent portion of the way through before we get stopped. What do you think, Sirrim?â€
â€œCould work.â€ The Lunar stroked his chin, and then sighed. â€œBut weâ€™ll have to be very quiet. If the elementals see us, itâ€™s done. And if the Hunt doesnâ€™t, they might not investigate enough.â€
â€œAlright, then. Hereâ€™s the planâ€¦â€
â€œWhat do you think, Seregard?â€
â€œBad.â€ The Dynast closed his eyes for a moment, refocusing, and then looked. â€œThere is a shadowland forming on the east bank, the town is in ruins. Iâ€™d be surprised if anyone was left.â€ He turned to Lodaris. â€œIs this the sort of water-witchery that confronted you at Gemmelâ€™s Reach?â€
â€œYesâ€¦â€ Lodaris was shaken, but found his resolve. â€œBut applied much more devastatingly. We have to ride further in.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t even know where to look.â€ Sarrah looked around the town, ashen-faced. â€œThis is a disaster. Thereâ€™s no sign of anything recognizable except ruins.â€
â€œThereâ€™s the lake.â€ Juani spoke absently, looking around intently. One hand was on her sword, though, and her knuckles were white. â€œAndâ€¦ there!â€ She pointed, her voice filled with venom, and the others nodded slowly as they saw what she had seen. A small cart, parked by the lake. â€œThat is his. Hurry, he must be nearby.â€ Leaping from her horse, she started down the hill, quickly joined by the others.
As they approached the shore, Lodaris nodded slowly, his weapons drawn and his Charms prepared. This was the same cart, there was no doubt about it. He mused aloud. â€œThis new terrain favours rogue spirits. We must act with caution.â€ He tuned his senses to the spirit world, looking for dangerâ€¦ and gasped. â€œDragons above, theyâ€™re everywhere!â€
Spotted, the elementals began to reveal themselves. Dozens of them. Scores. Hundreds. Water elementals of every shape and size, filling the lake, watching the Dynasts and the suddenly-nervous soldiers with hate-filled eyes. Finally, one of them spoke. â€œImmaculates.â€
â€œYou are in violation of the Celestial Order.â€ Lodarisâ€™s voice echoed across the lake. â€œLeave your master now, and return to your duties!â€
â€œNo! Our Queen will reign forever over water and wind!â€ The elementals screamed in fury, and started to move forwards. The sky rumbled, and the Dynasts set themselves to fight. Lodaris had only a moment to wonderâ€¦ queen? Not king?
Then, as the elementals began to press around him, and his sword sang a song of fire, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, the people dropping from the sky, landing quietly on the island in the middle of the lake. And then it was too late to do anything but let battle be joined.