Darkening Sky, Chapter 6

  • Chapter 6

     

     

     

     

                    ‘Yamayubi!’ Harrow shouted, his voice tinged with frustration as he brought his hand down in a smiting motion. The dummy in front of him remained standing. No green lightning bolt in sight.

     

                    ‘That makes it the two hundredth attempt,’ Torako said, walking forward. ‘All right, obviously practice isn’t working out. I’m not the sort of teacher who believes that simply repeating a motion again and again would allow you to get better. Talk me through your difficulties – what are you having trouble with?’

     

                    ‘When I am in contact with the target,’ Harrow hissed, trying in vain to suppress his irritation. ‘I have little to no difficulty shifting the negative polarity of the sky above because I can physically shift the positive polarity of the target itself. From a distance, however…’

     

                    ‘You cannot focus on one or the other, without losing sight of the balance that you have to achieve in order to generate a lightning bolt,’ Torako finished for him. ‘I understand. The further you are from a target, the harder it is to actuate the polarity change. Even after half a century of practice, my range is only around twenty feet. Unfortunately, there is no way to gradually step up training for this spell. You either manage to produce a polarity difference great enough for a lightning bolt to form, or you don’t.’

     

                    ‘I suppose I will simply have to try again, then.’

     

                    ‘If it’s the mindset you are having trouble getting into, I suggest the ambidexterity exercises you used to practice in the nursery. They may seem basic, but your abilities at performing contrasting tasks at the same time will improve greatly if you practice some of the more complex routines.’

     

                    ‘Very well, Master,’ Harrow conceded. Then his eyes glittered as he was struck by a thought, and he stretched out an arm. ‘But first, once more. I feel I may have figured it out.’

     

                    He concentrated, then, with a tingle of delight, felt the air shift along with the sparking in his fingers.

     

                    ‘I have it,’ he whispered. ‘I have it! Yamayubi!

     

                    The sky opened with his kiai and he smelled ozone. Then Master Torako let out a yelp and dove at him, his leap carrying both of them to the other end of the training field.

     

                    A brilliant green lightning bolt descended – not on the dummy, but on the spot Harrow had been standing one brief instant before. The Finger of the Mountain pressed down on the Po’ Tun masonry with a resounding boom. Despite the millennia of enchantments heaped onto Tsukikage’s architecture, a layer of fine cracks spread out on the cobblestones from the point of impact.

     

                    ‘That was foolish,’ Torako scolded. ‘You tried to shift the polarity of the air in front of you, and not that of the target itself? While I would normally approve of finding ways to work around a problem, a shortcut like this could prove lethal. Think! Magicka is conductive. If you do not contain the spellwork to the target, you will inevitably attract the lightning bolt back to yourself!’

     

                    ‘Apologies, Master,’ Harrow mumbled, his hands shaking. That single lightning bolt had drained him of every drop of magic.

     

                    Studying him, Torako subsided. ‘I know how much a single Yamayubi can take out of its caster – especially one still so young. The session is over for now. Get some rest; meditate; perhaps brew some of your Waxleaf tea. We will continue tomorrow if you are able.’

     

                    Feeling shame seep into his exhaustion, Harrow sat up, opening his mouth to apologise again.

     

                    ‘Don’t worry,’ Torako said, waving him off before he could utter a single word. ‘I know this is giving you more trouble than you’re used to with lightning magic, but that is to be expected. The Finger of the Mountain is not such a simple spell that you can master it in the three short months you’ve been practicing.’

     

                    I cannot even perform it properly, to say nothing of mastering it, Harrow thought, but refuting his instructor would be disrespectful, so he simply said ‘Thank you, Master’ and left for his quarters.


     

                    Only four of them made it all the way up the mountain.

     

                    Actually, no, scratch that. Longinus wrapped his cloak as tightly around himself as he could as he trudged on through the shin-deep snow. We’re barely three-quarters of the way up, and already I’m struggling with every breath. No wonder the rest of them froze.

     

                    They had started out with a party of twelve. The first to leave were a team of quintuplet Bosmeri treasure hunters. Halfway up the Jeralls, one of the sisters forgot to keep a good scarf tied around her delicate elven ears. Frostbite claimed one of them, and that had been it. ‘It was a miracle enough that we survived birth,’ the Wood Elves said in unison. ‘We will not throw our lives away so easily.’

     

                    One of the two Nords hired had snorted when they left, sneering ‘Snowberries’ and spitting on the ground. Then they had come across the first warlords. Stupid, stupid, we really should’ve tried to pick up more Nords for this freezing wasteland trip, Longinus thought, his teeth chattering. Despite their best attempts at staying off the beaten path, once the mountains got steep enough there really was no choice but to stick to the flat sections of land. The clan that intercepted them was a small one, but well-armed. The Nord fought valiantly, then a stray arrow flew just above the rim of his buckler and into his eye.

     

                    After that, tensions had grown taut. Their two spellswords, Tarenia and Regus – Old Mary and former Legionnaire, should’ve known they wouldn’t get along – were constantly at each other’s throats. Things came to a head just in the morning, with Regus accusing Tarendar of stealing his only black soul gem.

     

                    ‘Please.’ Tarenia flicked her hair. ‘Don’t put me on the same level as you. I have no need to compliment my natural skill with soul gems! Unlike some people.’

     

                    After that, bloodshed had been inevitable. Tarenia took a gladius in her gut, but shot an ice spike into Regus’ throat just before she expired. The snowy ground of their camp was stained entirely red when the sun began to set, and there were now two more corpses to bury.

     

                    ‘Foolish woman,’ Vorstag shook his head. The Nord – the only Nord we have left, Longinus thought, scowling darkly – fished a black soul gem out of Tarenia’s pocket and rolled her corpse down the ditch they just dug. ‘You did take it after all.’

     

                    ‘Give it to me, you won’t find a use for it,’ Longinus called. After a second or so of deliberation, the gem sailed into his open palm. He smirked. Not that he expected much resistance – Nords were superstitious folk and even a hardened sellsword like Vorstag shied away from human souls. Well, well. It’s full – wonder who’s in here? Nice to meet you, whoever you are. You’ll be powering a whole new quiver’s worth of arrows.

     

                    ‘More fodder for your enchanting,’ Culverin yawned. ‘How dull. I’ve half a mind to use it for study. I could use another fresh soul for my experiments.’

     

                    ‘I thought Dunmer frowned on necromancy,’ Longinus said, pocketing the gem hastily.

     

                    ‘Who said anything about necromancy?’ Culverin said lazily, twirling his staff. ‘And I am not most Dunmer.’

     

                    Longinus studied the Dark Elf, clad in brightly coloured robes. The colours on the light fabric doubtlessly stood for one of the Great Houses, but Longinus didn’t know enough about Dunmeri nobility to put a pin on it. Still, knowing that instantly made Culverin seem far more interesting. Apprenticed to some magister once upon a time, he deduced.

     

                    ‘I suppose not,’ Longinus said, pulling on the wool of his cloak. ‘That why they kicked you out?’

     

                    Culverin’s face darkened immediately, as did his voice. ‘Watch yourself, Imperial.’

     

                    ‘Try me,’ Longinus grinned. His teeth were crooked and far more yellow than brother dear’s perfect set. When Lencius smiled – and it didn’t happen often – it put people at ease. Longinus, on the other hand, smiled every day, knowing full well how unpleasant the sight was. ‘What, you cuck the wrong woman? Steal your master’s jewels?’

     

                    ‘You know one Third Era spell,’ Culverin growled, a spark of sorcery lighting up his fingertips. ‘I know dozens.’

     

                    ‘It’s all in the way you use that one spell,’ Longinus growled back, reaching for one of his Marked arrows. ‘Want me to demonstrate?’

     

                    Vorstag beat a slow retreat, clearly unnerved at the display of magic.

     

                    ‘Gentlemen, please,’ Relnar said, appearing between them. He made no move to draw the sabres sheathed on his back, but his presence alone was enough to make the two stop bickering. They had witnessed the Redguard's blades in use only once, but that one, brief, twenty-second fight – no, massacre – had been enough. He had never seen a more potent swordsman. Prefers ‘Sword-Singer’ himself, though. Damn fool actually wants to revive the Ansei title.

     

                    Culverin backed off first. ‘Very well,’ he said, his hands disappearing back into his pockets. ‘We’re short enough on manpower as it is.’

     

                    ‘Less people to share the rewards with,’ Longinus shrugged, lowering his bow.

     

                    ‘I know you are both inclined to violence,’ Relnar said, his voice even. ‘But let us try to maintain control of our urges and cooperate, at least until the job is finished.’

     

                    Culverin nodded, and Longinus acknowledged the Redguard with an irritated little twitch of the head. That tone of his was beginning to grate on him – along with the fact that they had all unconsciously accepted Relnar as their de facto leader. Talking as if he’s got the moral high ground. You’re just another mercenary, another soldier of fortune, like the rest of us.

     

                    ‘All right, Sword-Saint,’ he said with only the barest trace of sarcasm. ‘What’s our next move?’

     

                    Relnar gazed at him. ‘I see no reason to change our original plan. We continue up the mountain, and we can afford a slower pace now. Our comrades’ passing may be unfortunate, but we are also left with their supplies. Let us make camp for now. It would be unwise to continue after nightfall.’

     

                    Longinus spread his arms wide, tilting his head to a side mockingly. ‘Whatever you say, boss.’

     

                    Relnar frowned. Before he could reply, Longinus walked past him. ‘I’ll scout up ahead, just to be safe,’ he said. ‘You can set up the camp while I’m at it. I’ll be back in thirty minutes.’

     

                    He was back in ten.

     

                    ‘Warlords,’ he rasped, running full pelt into the half-finished camp.

     

                    ‘Where?’ Vorstag leapt to his feet, his trusty axe sliding out of his belt and into his grip. Culverin stood more slowly, his palms coming afire with magic.

     

                    ‘Right behind me,’ Longinus said, nocking an arrow. The first of his pursuers came into view as they cleared a hill, and he loosed, the rune on the arrowhead humming as it parted air. An explosion threw up a plume of snow, sending three corpses tumbling.

     

                    ‘Are you mad?’ Relnar exclaimed, unsheathing his sabres. ‘You could bring an avalanche down on us! Culverin, that goes for you too. Watch your magicks.’

     

                    ‘Don’t worry,’ the Dunmer said, shooting Longinus an angry glare. ‘Unlike some people, I know restraint.’

     

                    Yeah, yeah, hate the Imperial, Longinus rolled his eyes, switching to poison and paralysis arrows.

     

                    Culverin and Longinus took out ten more before they even managed to close in on the camp, and then they retreated behind Vorstag and Relnar when the warriors came within ten feet.

     

                    The brunt of the wetwork went to those two from that point – though Relnar did most of it. Vorstag got in a few hacks and chops, taking the arm off one man and even cleaving the head clean off another. Then the Redguard whirled in, a blur of speed and flashing blades, and the heads of six others adorned the ground in front of Vorstag. The difference in skill was palpable. It didn’t help that their foes were wearing flimsy leather.

     

                    ‘You encroach on my territory, outlanders!’ A voice boomed from over the hill, and for the second time that afternoon Longinus couldn’t resist the urge to roll his eyes. Do all of the warlords say that?

     

                    ‘In accordance with the laws of the Empire,’ Relnar shouted back. ‘This land belongs to no one!’

     

                    ‘The Empire?’ The warlord crossed over the hill and Longinus had to laugh. ‘Warlord’. More like a ragged bandit. The man’s scale armour was obviously cobbled together from scraps. It was in worse condition than theirs, and they had been on the road constantly for two months. His large gut poked out under an ill-fitting chestpiece. ‘What is this Empire you speak of? There can be no greater Empire than the men of Clan Byrnjar!’

     

                    That struck the four of them temporarily dumb.

     

                    ‘I… don’t think he’s ever been outside of the mountains,’ Vorstag said, stifling his chortles.

     

                    ‘The frog in the well knows not the size of the ocean,’ Culverin sneered.

     

                    ‘Well, aren’t you the elven sage today,’ Longinus sneered right back at him.

     

                    Relnar did not join in. Instead he raised both sabres in a rigid salute, crossing them in front of him.

     

                    ‘It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, O Warlord of Byrnjar,’ he said solemnly. ‘I am Relnar at-Alhara, a Sword-Singer of Rihad. I thank you for giving me the privilege of this Sword-Meeting.’

     

                    ‘Oh for the love of the Divines,’ Longinus groaned. ‘Just kill him already-’

     

                    ‘A Sword-Swinger?’ Warlord Byrnjar roared in laughter, drawing a massive two-handed blade. Like the rest of him, it was thick, amateurishly crafted, and unbearably ugly – a sharp contrast to Relnar’s two elegant sabres. ‘And you think that being able to swing a sword is worth bearing a title, do you?’

     

                    The warlord rushed with his men, only to be met by a firm line of gleaming steel. Relnar smiled grimly, his stance still and tranquil. Then the tips of his swords trembled, reflecting the light of the dying sun, and the slaughter began.

     

                    Three large brutes came at Relnar from the front, swinging clubs at his seemingly unprotected head. The Redguard’s smile stretched out for a fraction of an inch as his sabres glimmered, moving so fast they almost seemed to multiply.

     

                    ‘Two Blades Become Four,’ Relnar said. In a single second his body went through sixteen motions. The three men fell, eviscerated before they knew what had happened. Gore dyed the already faintly red snow a bright crimson.

     

                    ‘Bastard!’ A woman screamed, flying at him from the side brandishing two axes.

     

                    ‘Axes of bone,’ Vorstag murmured, fingering his own. ‘A poor match for steel.’

     

                    ‘Lion’s Teeth Exposed in Thunder,’ Relnar intoned, sidestepping to answer her – not too quick, not too slow, meeting her mindless leap with both his blades. One sabre arced down from above, the other up from below, like the jaws of a great beast. The first blade plunged down between the woman’s collarbone and neck, the second between her kidneys. The Redguard give the swords a twist, then tore the swords out through her back.

     

                    ‘Five Arrows Split the Sky,’ Relnar continued, and became a human tornado twisting in the dusk air. Warlord Byrnjar squinted, looking upwards. His eyes widened and he raised his greatsword in a futile block. Relnar smiled as he found his mark. ‘The Screech of Descent…’

     

                    The two sabres dropped like twin fangs, burrowing deep into either side of Byrnjar’s neck, where his armour parted. The warlord let out a single death gurgle, then crumpled to the ground a corpse.

     

                    ‘…upon Helpless Prey,’ Relnar released his breath, sheathing his sabres. ‘That’s all of them.’

     

                    ‘Actually,’ Longinus said, pointing. ‘You missed one.’

     

                    Relnar looked at the retreating figure in the distance as it disappeared over the hill and his eyes widened in shock. ‘What on- why didn’t you shoot him down?’

     

                    ‘Well, I’d hate to interrupt your fun,’ Longinus shrugged innocently. ‘You looked like you were really enjoying your little mantra.’

     

                    ‘The codes of the Ra Gada are not jokes,’ Relnar snarled. ‘More importantly, why-’

     

                    ‘Think about it,’ Longinus said, gesturing at the twenty-odd bodies strewn about in the snow. ‘If a force of only this many was enough to merit the warlord himself coming, then there must not be a lot of men left back at their fort. And I don’t know about you lot, but I’d rather sleep with a roof over my head than a fur tent.’

     

                    ‘Very well,’ Relnar agreed. ‘Let’s follow the survivor.’

     

                    They caught up to the fleeing warrior a little while later. Culverin froze his legs in place, then leisurely walked up and slit his throat. They stared as one at the crumbling ruins in front of them.

     

                    ‘A fort,’ Culverin sniggered. ‘You call this a fort.’

     

                    ‘I’d still rather sleep here than out there,’ Longinus said defensively.

     

                    ‘All right, all right,’ Culverin answered. Even through his magical protection from the elements, he was shivering from the cold. ‘Let’s see then…’

     

                    The Dunmer’s hand lit up with the red glow of Detection magic, and he snorted. ‘Six men, gathered around one campfire. Only six left behind to hold down the fort. If they’re of the same calibre as the ones from earlier…’

     

                    ‘This should be easy enough.’ Vorstag hefted his axe and began to advance.

     

                    ‘Don’t bother,’ Longinus drawled, driving the point of one arrow into the ground between his feet. ‘I’ll take care of them without even crossing the front gates.’

     

                    Relnar cocked an eyebrow. ‘The walls are in poor condition, but still tall and strong.’

     

                    ‘I’m not planning to shoot through them,’ Longinus scoffed, drawing his bow and aiming it directly skywards. The arrow glowed purple as he touched the shaft to his chin.

     

                    Mark.

     

                    He loosed. The arrow spat upwards, trailing magic.

     

                    Recall.

     

                    His body shimmered, then disappeared and reappeared where his arrow was, eighty feet in the air, far above the fort’s wall. From here, he had a perfect angle. The six men looked up at the archer’s silhouette backlighted against the sun, their mouths dropping open in astonishment.

     

                    Draw exhale release. He loosed an arrow before he dropped more than five feet. Repeating rapid shots were a specialty of the family. Longinus was even faster than Lencius in that regard – but Father was always so fond of saying he could never match him in accuracy.

     

                    Well, now I have magic, you rotting old fool, Longinus thought bitterly. And it no longer matters.

     

                    It was an arrow with a fire rune this time, and it whizzed straight into the campfire. An instant later, a great blossom of flame ballooned out and engulfed all six of the warriors.

     

                    Before Longinus’ falling form could pick up speed, he cast Recall again. The arrow he’d left on the ground glowed with energy, and he rematerialised in front of his erstwhile comrades, rolling upright to his feet and absorbing the impact from his short drop.

     

                    There was a moment of silence, then Culverin coughed. ‘Well, I won’t lie. That was very clever. “All in the way you use that one spell”, eh?’

     

                    Longinus didn’t answer, tapping a forefinger on his head smugly. They stared at each other a while, their smiles slowly fading off their faces as the last of the burning Brynjars stopped thrashing and lay still. The silence solidified, becoming awkward, suspenseful. The four mercenaries shared an uneasy chuckle. None of them met each other’s eyes. Yeah, I don’t trust any of you either. And now that he came to think of it, he was beginning to regret showing his hand even before they found any of the relics they had come here for.

     

                    ‘Well,’ Relnar said, breaking the uncomfortable mood and gesturing towards the now-empty fort. ‘Shall we go in?’


     

                    ‘Don’t worry, Ambarro-to, Harrow-to,’ Diia ventured, trying her best to sound as cheery as possible. ‘I’m sure you’ll both manage eventually.’

     

                    ‘Hmph,’ Harrow said, his eye twitching. He crossed his arms.

     

                    ‘Aggh,’ Ambarro grumbled. He’d been trying to produce black flames all day to no avail.

     

                    ‘Eehm…’ Diia scratched her head. ‘How about another round of skewers? The yakitori’s off today, so it’ll be on me!’

     

                    The two boys glanced at each other at almost the exact same time, then turned back to her and perked up.

     

                    ‘It’d be rude to keep brooding when you’re trying so hard to be uplifting,’ Harrow smiled, clapping his hands over his cheeks once in an invigorating gesture. ‘All right! Another round of yakitori, Master, if you please.’

     

                    ‘Well, Diia’s buying, right?’ Ambarro chuckled. ‘No reason to mope now, eh?’

     

                    Diia smiled herself. ‘Oh, you two. Don’t get too much, all right? I’m still saving up.’

     

                    A steaming plate of chicken skewers was set down on their table. Before they could dig in, however, a Po’ Tun on courier duty ducked his head into the eatery, waving a scroll.

     

                    ‘Kits Diia, Harrow and Ambarro, receive your mission briefing.’

     

                    All three kits sighed. Harrow put a hand wistfully on his cheek, making it look as if he was pouting. Diia took the scroll, sliding it out of the leather wrapping and unfurling the missive.

     

    TSUKIKAGE SHINOBI DEPLOYMENT - MISSION PRIORITY: LOW

     

    Diia, Harrow, Ambarro,

     

                    The village is experiencing a heavy drain in manpower due to the massive deployment of operatives to every province of Tamriel in our intelligence-gathering efforts for the Empire’s war machine. As such, the task of day-to-day security and thinning the warlord hordes will often fall to pre-Shadeclaw kits such as you.

     

                    A small clan by the name of Byrnjar has begun a slow but steady march up to Mount Furiya. There are always some of such men every year. Your sole objective is to eliminate the warlord. According to our scouts, as of yesterday night, the warriors have made camp in an abandoned Imperial outpost. They will not have gone far, if they have moved at all.

     

                    This is a strictly conventional mission and should not present much difficulty to you. I appoint Diia as team captain. Remind the warlords of the Jeralls once more why they fear the ghosts of the night.

     

    Grandmaster Takarro

     

                    ‘Seems like a by-the-books mission to me,’ Ambarro shrugged, tightening the shuriken holsters in his sleeves. ‘Low-priority, too. Let’s get it done quickly, I want to keep training.’

     

                    ‘A pity most of the adults are either on sentry duty or out on missions,’ Harrow said, moving Whisper’s sheath to a position on his belt easier to draw from. ‘Although it’s always good to accumulate more experience. We should not get reckless and let our guard down.’

     

                    ‘Of course,’ Diia agreed, rising from her seat. ‘Can you keep my order on the tab, Master? We should be back by the morning for breakfast.’

     

                    The amiable Po’ Tun who ran the eatery nodded, then wagged a teasing finger at them. ‘Yakitori in the morning? That’s not very healthy, kits.’

     

                    Ambarro stuck out his tongue playfully as they left the hall, pulling a hood and cowl over his face as he closed the door behind him. His teammates did the same, with Harrow taking special care to conceal the pale shade of his skin.

     

                    The clock tolled midnight, and as the moonstone gates of Tsukikage opened, their glow briefly illuminated three blurred shadows as they sped out into the mountains.

     

     

     

     

     

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Comments

4 Comments   |   KaiserSoSay and 2 others like this.
  • The Lorc of Flowers
    The Lorc of Flowers   ·  September 10
    I see that Sword-Singing has got into your story as well. I'm glad! Relnar kicks quite some ass. And good to see the chat we had about Mark and Recall be put to good use as well. :)
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      The Lorc of Flowers
      I see that Sword-Singing has got into your story as well. I'm glad! Relnar kicks quite some ass. And good to see the chat we had about Mark and Recall be put to good use as well. :)
        ·  September 10
      Yep, it was very helpful, Karver-jo. You're the beeeest!

      *hugs*
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 10
    Team Kits on another mission. Somehow I don't think it'll be by the books. :D and that Longinus fellow kicks ass.
    • A Shadow Under the Moons
      A Shadow Under the Moons
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Team Kits on another mission. Somehow I don't think it'll be by the books. :D and that Longinus fellow kicks ass.
        ·  September 10
      Nope, it won't be by the books at all. >w0