Lights on the Horizon

Thanks for the concept art Rustin!

The Axle, Rustin Swartzentruber

Marvo sat with legs crossed atop a rock at the water’s edge, the unfinished net laying across her lap. She looped the netting needle through the loops of rope unconsciously as she looked out to the sun setting far out to sea. She liked to work in these last hours of the day. These were the hours Danos would have returned in. It had been nearly two years since the sea had taken him, but she still came, and still watched the setting sun. Beside her, in his basket, their son murmured in his nap, and Marvo smiled. His first birthday was fast approaching, the day when Mirloc children were given names. She had not decided on his name yet.

Out on the horizon, the sun made contact with the distant waters, and Marvo could imagine hearing the hiss on the wind as the water boiled, rising up in a wall of vapor around the ball of unquenchable fire. Marvo sat and sewed on the shores of the Sunderlands, waiting for the day to end.

Rical was more than half a mile above the Sunderlands, but he watched the horizon. He hung on the rock face by a few fingers and toes, still as the stone around him. A single mistake could see him falling down the full half mile to the forest below, but Rical was not worried. He had been born on the Ledge, and so he watched the setting sun as he dangled effortlessly off the floating Axle shard.

He stilled his body and felt the wind rushing over his skin, judging it’s speed and direction. He knew the clouds formed by the boiling outer seas would come inland very soon. Not long after dark, it would start to rain. A terrible storm. He had to find a ledge to camp on and quickly. The shard was small, but surely there was somewhere to sit  and wait out the storm.

An hour passed, then two, marked by the turning of the world around the Axle. The sun had set, sunk beneath the boiling waves for the night, until it would return in the riseward seas in the morning. Still, Rical could see a light in the distance from his perch on the ledge. Too near to be the remnants of the sunlight. This light was on the coastline.

Marvo ran over the black gravel beach, clutching her son close to her breast. He wailed and cried, which Marvo knew would draw the enemy down upon them, but she had given up trying to hush him. She would simply have to be faster. Behind her, the fishing village she had been raised in, lived in, and married Danos in, was ablaze. The docks where the fishing ships were moored every night had been the first to burn, and were no nothing more than cooling cinders poking up from the water in neat rows. Among those cinders, the swift launch boats of the enemy were beached, discharging dozens of raiders with blades and torches. The enemies were Mirloc, like Marvo, and thus they rushed through the village nearly silent among the screaming Sundermen.

They ran through the town setting fires, breaking in doors, and dragging men and women out to the streets. They were dragged to the beach, where they were gathered and tied to one another. They would be taken and sold into slavery in another principality, or ransomed back to the Prince of Faedon. Infants and children so young as to require more care held no interest for the raiders. They were killed on the spot, to the wails and screams of parents. Marvo had no intention of joining the hollow screams, so she ran over the rough beach as fast as she could. She ran and ran, not even looking back at her home. The home she’d shared with Danos, which was now engulfed in flames.

Rical could tell it was a fire now, he could smell the smoke on the wind. In the sea beyond the village, Rical could see small flashes, followed by thin orange arcs over the water. It landed in the village, made a small splash like bright orange water, setting everything it touched alight. Mirloc raiders, using captured Sunfire in weapon form. This was why Rical hated alchemists. Worse yet, the wind carried up the screams of the villagers below.

Rical looked out at the storm coming in from the sea, then back to the village in flames. He heard the screams again. He looked down the cliff face at the rope-way he had been traveling for a month to get this far. He looked at the fires again. Somebody needed to help them.

Rical smiled. Adventure calls when you least expect it, he thought as he tightened his harness and leapt from the ledge.

Marvo clutched her son in one arm and a bloody rock in her other hand. One raider lay dead or near to it at her feet. Three more raiders surrounded her on the beach, eyeing her warily. Their companion had thought she was easy prey and learned the hard way he was wrong. They flashed quick hand signals to each other and though the dialect was not one Marvo knew, she could guess the meaning well enough. They silently dared each other to be the first to move in and finish her. Her son made a wail into the night as the raiders made their first exploratory steps towards her. In a moment, Marvo knew, they would overcome their surprise over their comrade’s death and rush her together. She had killed one easily, but she had taken him by surprise. Perhaps, if she was lucky, she could hit another before she was overwhelmed, but the other two would overwhelm her and she would be taken, and her son would be killed.

Just as the marauders found what little courage they had, and were beginning to move in, Rical folded the wings of his kite, turning his graceful glide into a deadly drop. He roared a wordless battle cry as he fell. He brought his knees down between the shoulders of one of the brigands surrounding the Mirloc woman. The two others turned to face him, and Marvo seized her moment, leaping forward and striking another of the villains with her rock while his focus was on the Ro’pan who’d just fallen out of the sky. The last raider lashed out at Rical with his axe.

With the speed of one born on the Ledge, Rical shrugged himself free of his kitewing in time to roll and dodge the swing of the axe. He pulled a climbing hook free of his belt and caught the next swing with it. Drawing his belt knife, he lunged and thrust the blade through the raider’s throat. The dead pirate fell limply to the ground.

Rical heard the raider he’d landed on make a short pained moan, but Marvo put an end to that one with a heavy thwack of her rock.

Marvo looked at Rical curiously. The fire from up the coast cast the man in silhouette. He was tall and unnaturally thin, like a skeleton. Even in shadows Marvo could make out the many piercings in his ears and on his face. A Ro’pan. Marvo had never met a Ro’pan before. Rical reached out his hand to grab Marvo’s wrist. She flinched back and raised her rock.

“Hold,” he said in rushed Faedish, “We must leave before more of these villains arrive. We must get to the forest.”

“The forest is not safe,” Marvo replied. She dropped her rock and wiped splattered blood from her child’s face and ensured that he himself was not bleeding. “There are brigands in the woods as well.”

“There are Ro’pan in the woods,” Rical said extending his hand, “they will not harm you so long as you are with me.”

Marvo looked at the Ro’pan extending his hand. The first bolt of lightning from the storm pierced the sky, showing the man to be covered in tattoos, like he was a brigand himself. She looked back at her burning village. She took his hand and they ran together.

A day passed, and the world turned about the great Axle again. The sun had risen from the riseward sea, on the far side of the Sunderlands. The rain had lasted all night and into the morning. In the heart of the forest, captain Gaston of Count Dolkea’s personal guard rode ahead with his scouts to see these travelers they had found.

“They say they’ve come from the coast. That a fishing village was attacked by marauders,” the scout explained.

Gaston came upon the two travelers under a tree, with his other scouts watching  over them. A Mirloc woman sat holding a sleeping child in her arms, and looked at him with fearful eyes. Gaston could hardly blame her. Her dress and her baby’s swaddling were covered in the stains of dried blood. The Ro’pan fellow had less blood on him. Gaston knew a little of the unspoken Ro’pan language and read the tattoos and piercings of the climber for his story. Not much was there, a boy, no more than 17, and with only a few great climbs beneath his harness. Practically a babe himself, but he stood over the Mirloc woman like a bodyguard.

“Who are you?” Gaston asked.

“I am Rical,” the Ro’pan said. After a moment, the Mirloc woman answered, “My name is Marvo.”

“I am Gaston. Captain of Count Dolkea. I’m told your village was burned.”

“Yes, but it wasn’t my village, it was hers. I was just–” Gaston held up a hand to silence the boy.

“You can tell it all when we reach Faedon,” he said, “My lord and his liege, the Prince, will wish to know about this attack.”

Gaston sent his scout back to the main column. He was told to bring horses and provisions to feed the travelers. As the scout left, Gaston knelt on the ground next to the Mirloc woman. He smiled to put her at ease.

“What is his name?” he nodded towards the child.

The woman looked at her baby, and tears fell down her cheeks. She looked to the Ro’pan for some reason and smiled as she said, “His name will be Rical.”

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One Response to Lights on the Horizon

  1. Sientir says:

    In the opening paragraph, you use “unconsciously” to indicate that she is doing her work of making the net on autopilot, without having to expend conscious focus on it. I’m not sure what word should go there, but “unconsciously” felt very weird to me. Might just be a personal thing, though. Mostly, it would seem to me to indicate that she is netting in her sleep? I don’t know…

    I also wish you’d done more to call out the change in speaker. I’m not talking text here, something like a centered triple asterisk in the between space of paragraphs with a different character of focus (* * *) or something. Some sort of more…”physical” separators.

    Anyway, those aside, I really enjoyed the story overall. It had good pacing and has built a very interesting world. I’d be happy to see more stories set here. 🙂 Overall, I feel like it was a very strong story.

    Like

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