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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”

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A Way

Outland: Chapter 17

I never ended up seeing any other active ports along the coast like that man down in Los Angeles had told me of.  I fully prepared myself to take time travelling underwater to avoid any more of the same situations like I did down there.  Luckily, both for my sanity and the speed of our progress, I never was able to spot any more telling lights in the night.

I could feel the cold outside start to penetrate Gulliver’s metal skin.  For the first time in almost a year, I opened up the mechanical access panel to turn the knob on the boiler to high.  It had been set on the lowest setting to simple be able to heat water for drinking and the occasion shower, but never enough to send hot enough water to circulate into the cockpit’s radiator.  I knew it would decrease the efficiency a bit, by my teeth chattering at night from the near hypothermia told me it would be a necessary thing to do.  Despite that, my blanket became a permanent installation around my body as I sat inside the cockpit during the day.  I cured the fact that none of my old work uniforms had proper, insulated long sleeves.

Long stretches of water were bordered by tall cliffsides that stretched up even farther than the rising tide.  Rather than be pushed around by the chilling waves, I chose to pilot Gulliver up top, despite the often thick foliage that we had to push our way though.  Many of the trees were taller than Gulliver himself, and the undergrowth was dense and rich.  In a way, it was mesmerizing, like some sort of scene out of a sci-fi movie where adventurers find themselves on a strange planet that is inhabited by nothing but trees.

When the sun eventually set, however, I learned that it was increasingly more difficult to spot any lights on the horizon.  My fears were confirmed one night when sets of lights flickered on somewhere on the other side of a patch of trees.  Startled, I grabbed the controls and stopped Gulliver abruptly.  If it hadn’t been for his own systems taken over, we could have possibly toppled over.

“Andrew, I must stress that you must take care while performing such an action.”

“Sorry, Gul.  I can’t risk any other run-ins like the one down south.”

“I understand.  You see lights?”

“Some just came on out there.  They’re probably on some light sensor or timer by the look of it.  There’s a lot of them too.” Continue reading “A Way”

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The Cold Air

Outland: Chapter 16

I could already tell that the days were becoming shorter.  The daylight hours were comfortable and cool, but the maps I drew out each night seemed to dwindle off short of the distance I was used to.  Occasionally, rain would cut our travel for a day or more, with anxiety taking a hold of me.

The coastline slowly became more green and lush in comparison to the almost desert-like landscape of down south.  The few remaining signs of any human life seemed swallowed up by the overflowing landscape.  It wasn’t long, though, before I could start to see the leaves of the trees starting to take an orange brown color at their tips.  Even worse, overcast skies would threaten rain, and take time out from when we would be able to have the solar array active.

“Gulliver, how many hours of sunlight did you record yesterday?”  I awoke one day to the rising sun poking through the dense fog.

“According to the current cycle of the sun rising, we should have had 7 hours and 46 minutes of sunlight yesterday.”

“And we spent about three of those hours, after I awoke, to continue charging.  It’s frustrating.” Continue reading “The Cold Air”

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Authority

Outland: Chapter 15

The next day took us farther up the coast.  I began to see the first major areas of land that had held people at one point.  The rubble of what once would have been a city was scattered around the ground, obscuring old dirty roads, cracked almost beyond recognition.

Back down in South America, I had seen many small settlements that had been destroyed.  There had been many fishing villages, villas, and other settlements sitting at where the old sea level had settled.  By the time I had passed by, there were little more than foundations or piles of rock.  Sometimes farther inland, or up on cliffsides, more intact bits of cities still lingered, but obviously abandoned or in disrepair.  This place was different.

After the shift, many massive waves hit the shoreline all the way up the coast.  I couldn’t have imagined they would have come this far, but evidently, they did.  Even now, the ebb and flow of the waves against the shore deposited bits of debris of what once were buildings—painted slats of wood, old signs, chunks of plastic, old clothes, and other indescribable bits of other manmade objects.

Inland, a few choice buildings still stood, but just barely.  I could tell by some of the signs around that I had arrived in the states.  Perhaps this was San Diego or another city nearby?  Whatever it was, it seems that nobody had ever cared enough to come back here.  Even deep inland, where the waves had eventually stopped, seemed deserted.  The lights I had seen the previous night were definitely farther up the coast. Continue reading “Authority”

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Lights in the Night

Outland: Chapter 14

As the sun dipped behind the mountains one night, I could see various lights begin to pop on somewhere several miles up the coast.  Despite a little bit of light left, I had Gulliver stop.  Quickly moving about, I made sure to turn all the lights inside and outside off.  Before shutting the shutters on the cockpit window, I stayed up and watched the lights in the distance.

“Gulliver.”  I hunched over in the chair, watching eyes fixated.

“Andrew.  Perhaps you should sleep?”

“I’m worried Gulliver.  There’s people here.”

“Do you think they are good people or bad people, Andrew?” Continue reading “Lights in the Night”