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Dull Edge of Sealed Power

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 11

The first stoking of the central pyre that morning had fallen to Shiloh. He had risen earlier than normal, even before the sun had begun to show itself. The ground around the central fire had been padded with excess straw and blankets and firs to provide a place for those without a bed to sleep. The families that were still intact huddled around each other for warmth as the heat from the fire slowly dispersed.

The guardsman followed the lit torches down to the front gate where the firewood had been collected and stacked to dry. The dark, rigid silhouette of the Lieutenant stood silently atop the platform that overlooked the road coming from the capital. “Sir, please allow yourself to rest.” Shiloh announced.

“You have no matter ordering me.” Terren reproached, unmoving.

“’Tis not an order, Sir.” Shiloh sighed. “But only a persuasion.”

Terren shifted back and forth with his eyes still turned outward towards the dark landscape, only lit by the pale moonlight. “I must await my men’s arrival. Until then, I should not rest.”

“They would not make such haste unaware as they are of the current situation.” Shiloh presented, unperturbed. “No reasonable group of men would travel at such an hour otherwise. If you should want, I can wake you when they arrive.”

Terren turned around to loom over the camp. With a swift movement, he dropped down from the platform and onto the ground with a dull thud. Shiloh crouched down by the wood pile to hoist a pair of sectioned logs under his arms. As he turned back towards the fire pit, he could make out the Lieutenant stiffly making his way up to the makeshift lean-to where the Commander and the other high ranking officers had taken shelter for the night. Continue reading “Dull Edge of Sealed Power”

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The Welcome Home

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 10

The barely warm rays of sunlight had soaked up the morning fog and pushed the day towards noon. The rocky expanse and yellow grass of the Xiandolan plains greeted the group long in the distance. The trees had long since thinned out, and the rocky outcroppings of the mountain had shifted around to the other side of them.

Kensley led the group with a silent stride. His face mask poured out bursts of white fog with each steady breath. Around his eye holes, he could see the ice crystals form as condensation collected and froze on the cold metal exterior of the armor. Inside the suit, he could feel no more than the slight warmth from the sun on his back.

The watchtowers of the settlement stared down at them from atop the rocky hillsides. “Up this way.” Bently alerted them with a hoarse voice, the first words exchanged in some hours. “Some old goat path.” He gestured up the hillside, where the thin grass and moss had been warn down in a thin wavering strip of dark dirt.

Kensley nodded in agreement and changed course. The armor plates clinked as he leaned into the slope to steady himself. As they moved single-file up the rocky ground, Kensley scanned the defensive structures that began to come into view. Up above in one of the towers, an exhausted looking guard, huddled in a thick layer of yak fur and leather, lazily peered out towards the horizon.

“You, look alive!” Kensley’s voice boomed, shaking the watchman alert. “Call for the general, immediately!” Continue reading “The Welcome Home”

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Of Armor and Bone: Chapter Nine

The cold gray morning had settled over the forest. Zethurus’s meditation had taken him through the cold, pitch black night. A tingling up his shoulders and neck alerted him to some life force in range of his shelter incantation that cloaked him from outside contact. His eyes shot open in time to hear the rusting of dead leaves on the forest floor.

A lone skunk slinked by through the muddled vegetation, bringing with it a faint trail of pungent odor. The black-and-white striped animal quickly disappeared out of sight on way to return to its burrow for the daylight hours. Zethurus exhaled a long breath of relief. He slid down off the stump he had been resting on for the night. His legs had become stiff and the part of his cloak he had been resting on carried a spot dirtied by the dead wood and moss.

The horse nibbled on yellowed vegetation quietly. With one of its hind legs lifted in the air, it gently poked its head around to scan for any premature green shoots budding up from under the dead leaves. The wizard scanned the area, looking for any other signs of life. With a wave of his hand, he dispelled the incantation. The cold air caught in his lungs and sucked the warmth from inside his body.

With a few steps forward, he placed his hands on the horse’s neck and bunched up parts of its mane between his fingers. “Alright, you damn animal. Just a bit farther, and we should be free from this mess,” he said, tugging roughly at the thick hairs. The horse flinched slightly and shifted away. Continue reading “Zethurus”

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Separate Ways

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 8

The forest was cold with a piercing wind. The moon had just begun to peek over the horizon, and the final moments of dusk were beginning to fall. The three soldiers marched in single file while their feet crunched the gray and brown dead leaves from the trees above.

“Ugh, what I wouldn’t give for a nice hunk of meat beside a warm hearth right now. Though… after today I’m surprised I can still move at such an hour.” Scarborough remarked. He shook his head and stretched his hands out in front of him. “It can’t say that it’s just my imagination… that I haven’t felt a single ounce of fatigue.”

“Now that you bring it up…” Kensley said with a nod as he lead the group. “You’re right. We haven’t eaten all day, carrying around these sets of armor, weapons.”

“You think it’s an effect of the enchantment?” Scarborough asked. “Or you think it could be the adrenaline… the rush from spilling blood?” His devilish grin was hidden by the helmet.

“We’ll see if it catches up to us when we return home and disrobe.” Kensley hummed. He glanced back at Bently, who remained in between the two of them. “You’ve been quiet, Ben. Is all the action finally hitting you?” Continue reading “Separate Ways”

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Those Who Remain

Of Armor and Bone- Chapter Seven

The early afternoon sun had melted the low fog away, and the light wind had pushed many of the remaining clouds out of the sky. The horse under Terren’s reins huffed and snorted loudly with each elongated stride. The animal’s nostrils flared wide following every breath, letting out clouds of condensation that quickly disappeared behind them. The sides of his shins pattered against it’s sides that fluttered with the pumping of the animal’s heart.

Out of his peripheral vision, Terren could spot the other riders attempting to keep pace. Ahead on the road laid the last ridge before crossing into the Sing Valley. The hot sun hitting his back stung the skin of his neck. Below his collar, he could feel the sweat starting to pool and soak into the cloak. The rhythmic jostling of the horse below him played against his exhaustion and he struggled to keep his eyes open.

Kiaren collapsed on the ground with a huff. For the first time that morning, she could feel the cold air arouse the hairs on her bare arms. She attempted to cover up her shiver with a sharp breath. Her legs ached and her toes had gone mostly numb in the cold. With a heavy blink, she caught Shiloh glancing her way before turning back to his work. After another breath, she pushed herself back to her feet.
Shiloh continued to toss up mounds of dirt on the smoldering ashes with the spade. The commander stumbled his way, hefting an open jug of water on her back. “Ma’am,” he said, looking up at Kiaren’s smudged, dirty face. “You may rest now. Please, keep your strength.”

“I’m fine.” Kiaren shrugged and sloshed more of the water upon the side of the building. “If we allow more smoke to escape from here, we may continue to draw more undue attention,” she sighed. “We don’t want Xiandol to think we take such an attack lightly.”
Shiloh pursed his lips and peered up at the sky between the space in the roofs overhead. The gray smoke had dissipated into a dull cloud that hung low in the blue winter sky. “If you wish to show them that to the best of your ability, do it with a clear head and rested body.” He declared.

The the top of the hillside, Terren yanked his horse to a stop. In cool, light breeze, he caught the scent of smoke on the air. The other riders slowed to a halt beside him. The following guard lifted his hand in the air to signal the others following to stop. Terren’s eyes studied the horizon.

“Is something the matter, Sir?” Thomas prodded him.

“You smell the smoke, solider?” Terren asked. The mountain range dominated the horizon. The faint white peaks pierced the air, but the settlement lay hidden beyond the tall trees.

“The air seems a bit thick with it, yeah?” Thomas nodded slowly.

“It’s not like the smell from a campfire.” Terren said with clenched teeth. “I fear what we will find upon arrival.” With a quick couple of taps with his heels, the horse reared up to turn back in course. Terren leaned into the slope as the group took off.

Kiaren rubbed the damp cloth up the sides of her face. The water was frigid, but the moisture felt soothing against her dry skin and lips. She peered down at her boots that were caked with a combination of mud, flecks of grey ash, and blood. The survivors that had been forced out of the burning buildings were huddled at the barracks grounds, huddled around the fire. Some of the men and women stared at the flamed blank-faced. The sudden rumbling of the ground beneath Kiaren’s feet caused her to shoot up from the ground in surprise. She quickly turned to look back at the mountain, then out at the valley.

Others had noticed the rumbling, and had stood to look for the source. The bright sun had long passed overhead, and Kiaren could now see out in the direction of Tulefore to the east. A cloud of dust had risen up along the road. She began to slog towards the gate of the settlement as the cloud approached.

Terren spotted the sight of the black and burnt blocks of the town. The horse continued to rush forward at a strained speed, but as he spotted the figure at the gate, he urged the animal to a slower pace. He finally skidded to a halt just in front of the outer walls and jumped off to greet the commander waiting for him.

“Kiaren… sister,” he wavered and approached her. Kiaren locked eyes with him as he cupped her hands. “What has happened here?”

“We were attacked.” Kiaren declared coldly. She quickly pulled her hands away as the remaining men came to a stop behind Terren’s horse. “It was a surprise to everyone, in the dead of night. We had our pants down and backs turned.”

“Just as his Highness guessed.” Terren spat. “When we met with the King early this morning, he warned us of the possibility. It just happened… so quickly.” The Lieutenant said as he looked around the destruction and the survivors scattered around. “How is this possible?”

“It is something I would wish to speak with you in private about.” Kiaren uttered quietly.

“Is there really time for that, sister?” Terren rebutted indignantly. “If Xiandol was able to organize such an attack from the shadows, it speaks to how soft we’ve become. We must bolster immediately! Get more troops from the city!”

Kiaren grabbed Terren by the front of his cloak and pulled him in close. “This was no ordinary attack,” She whispered menacingly.“The men say it was demons. Have those who came with you stand guard. We have to discuss the possibility of certain situations.”

The commander release him and Terren stood back up tall. “Very well then,” he hummed, defeated. His eyes scanned the camp and the groups of people strewn about outside. “Zethurus, I would have expected to see him with you. I must hope he did not perish in the attack.”

Kiaren looked around the area, realizing she had not seen the man either. “Mister Shiloh.” She called out loudly to her bodyguard. “Where is the mage?”

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Heart of Darkness

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 6

“This is unthinkable!” Bently seethed. His raspy voice rattled through the loose-knit of forest. Around them, the early morning rays of sunlight pierced the thin canopy of mostly barren oaks. The cold wind rattled the branches above. Bently continued to pace. His feet crunched the leaves below as his gaze moved back and forth around the edge of the forest. Many meters away, the Tuleforian town smoldered.

Kensley knelt next to Mandabus’s body. He pushed the hair off his forehead as he studied the motionless set of armor that once held onto their captain. Scarborough stared out back at the forest and the plumes of smoke that had begun to rise. Continue reading “Heart of Darkness”

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Spark and Smoke

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 4

A low fog hung over the frost bitten roofs of the town. In the low visibility, nothing beyond the first tier of terraced buildings down the hillside could be seen. The settlement was completely still and barren. Not a light could be seen in any of the windows, and no person had yet awoken to greet the day.

Kiaren sat crouched to low the ground atop the rocky outcropping higher up the mountainside. Her light breath poured out between her clenched teeth in puffs of white fog. Shiloh chattered intermittently in the cold.

Continue reading “Spark and Smoke”

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Winds of Death

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 4

The lights of torches moved about the pathways between the corridors beyond the fences of the mining outcropping. The calls of patrolling soldiers echoed between the buildings as they searched for the sound of the yell. Just on the horizon, the sun had begun to cast an orange glow up into the sky behind the mountains.

“Damn,” Kensley muttered while rolling his shoulders. “We must have lost track of time down in the tunnels.” Continue reading “Winds of Death”

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Strange New Land

Outland: Chapter 19

The long road out of the city seemed busier than any city I had ever visited back in the states.  I could see people clearing out of the way, looks of fright and intrigue on their faces, and I piloted Gulliver the best I could.  Lining the streets were many stalls holding all types of merchandise from clothes, handbags, food of all imaginable type, as well as shady looking stalls chucking flip phones and various sorts of beaten up technology.

We wandered out off the long city streets out into the slummy suburbs, eventually leading into a sort of no man’s land, covered in filth and remnants of civilization.  Some of the children from the city had chased me out on the street, but eventually lost interest and trail off.  I took a look back at the old port, with the boat as tiny speck out in the distance.

Carefully treading through bits of trash, I had Gulliver wade out into the water, the waves sitting just below the windows of the cockpit.  Flipping the switch to put the solar array up, I finally took a breath preparing myself to speak.

“Well, Gulliver.  We’re here.” Continue reading “Strange New Land”

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The Expanse

Outland: Chapter 18

The cold spray flew up in my face, causing me to reel back and almost fall on the slippery ground, if it were not for my grip on the railing.  The unpredictable movement of the waves had not ceased to surprise me like that.  Tasting the salty residue on my lips, my stomach churned, and I quickly leaned over the edge to dry heave, swaying back and forth on my heels the whole time.

“What are you doing out here?”  The call came out, just barely audible over the sound of the water.

“Grabbing something.”  I hoisted the plastic bag over my head, filled with my various maps.

“Can’t it wait?”  Johnathan, the first mate, pulled at my long sleeve.

“I don’t want the let the opportunity pass.”  I quickly followed after him, shoes carefully treading against the ground.

Stepping inside, I pulled off the lift vest and heavy coat, both mostly soaked.  “You have to understand…”  I caught my breath.  “That mech is my home.  Everything I own is in there.” Continue reading “The Expanse”