Burning. Something burning. She smelled it. She smelled ashes, blood and fear. The air was dense with fear. There was something else. Something unfamiliar but it urged her deeper into the shadows produced by the few fir and elms that made up a glade inside the city. She crouched next to one, reaching out for Luna and taking small comfort in the lean muscled flanks of her wolfsister.
The eyes of the sky pack were closed. How long have I been asleep? It couldn’t have been more than a few hours since the last of the merchant wagons settled into the Iron Thunderclap for a good night’s rest. The cold flow drifting in from the Galena Mountains bordering Vaasa heralded the Feast of the Moon and brought with it bards and traders. The tinkling of harps danced on the air long into the night.
Her keen eyes caught sight of lithe forms dropping out of the sky. Dragons! Their fire breath spewed into the darkness, smoke holding back the sky pack. What of the two legs pack? What of Treebrother? The shadows the huddled pair cast danced in the light of the burning city.
How can so many fall prey? How long have I been asleep? Bodies, little more than boiled flesh and blanched bones littered the streets. How could I not know? Homes, inns, and store fronts once as solid as mountain rock were made ruins.
Luna tensed beside her as they approached a grass field where guards often practiced sword play and boasted of battles and women won. The youngling called Verdan ran through the clearing, screaming strange words. There was a sense of wisdom far beyond the deva’s years that glimmered in her eyes. Gnora thought of her as Eldersister. A warlock knight in twillight armor was closing the distance between them in long strides. A twisted smile played on the knights lips as metalic beasts moved away with a wave of her gauntleted hand. The source of the unfamiliar smell! Gnora could smell no fear beyond that of her own and Verdan’s.
Creeping along in the shadow, she motion for Luna to circle around to flank the warlock. They moved through the tiny copse of trees not yet cleared to make more stone cages inside the walls. She loosed and arrow.
Her arrow struck where she intended but bounced away harmlessly, the knight continuing its path without faulter.
“mboobt ek Eeaatesdae,” she hissed and halted Luna with a quick motion before preparing another arrow. She and Luna suckled at the same wolfmother as pups, hunted together, and sparred until city folk grew certain they would kill each other. She knew they would die together but she would not carelessly risk her companion’s life. Something was not right. Instinct tugged at her but she pushed it aside.
She sense a movement to her right and littlebrother came into view. The gnome bard studied the knight intently, as if trying to decide whether to pick up his bow or dip a pen in ink and start writing in one of the books dragging at his coat pockets – right then, in the midst of the burning city. With a shake of her head she fired a second arrow.
Gnora howled in frustration as her bolt flew true but had no effect on the creature. Wrong, wrong, it was all wrong, Eldersister stumbled and froze in the open, her voice still raised and full of nonsense. Littlebrother joined the fight and the minotaur she thought of as Young Bull charged into the opening.
Fear. Death. All around them. And more. What more? Her fear. So strong she had to fight not to choke. Young Bull glowed with a sickening light sent from the knight’s hand. It continued its purposeful stride, laughing at the group of them, acting as if Gnora, Littlebrother, and Luna – she was sure it could sense Luna – were bitemes nattering in its ear.
Young Bull charged at the warlock. Gnora shifted back into the trees. I must act. I must hunt. Oo paemg booll! She gnashed her teeth as the warlock plunged a blade deep into the minotaur’s gut and twisted. No!
“Grab the girl! Grab the girl and run! Retreat! Retreat,” Gnora shouted at Littlebrother. Two quick flicks of her hand sent Luna towards Verdan, snarling and snapping as if she meant to eat the little girl for feast day. The ploy was enough to get the girl’s attention. “Move!” Gnora yelled at them, loping forward to catch up.
Noises erupted behind the radiant knight, momentarily drawing her attention away from the dying minotaur before her. The gnome bard scooted away with a grim smile. The deva girl had her feet now and allowed Luna to guide her away.
Gnora risked a glance at Cadman. He did not retreat. Determination mixed with pain as he attempted to cover their retreat. Instinct tugged at her but she knew it was too late for him. She could still help the others. His sacrifice could not be for nothing. “Pooee eeeae dootsa gda koonmg goomga ek gda mbee boomb’m boll,” she whispered to him.
Horatio rounded the corner and called back to them. Treebrother! Only Luna had been her companion longer than the dwarf she sometimes called one of the wanderers and sometimes Treebrother. Gnora would drag the youngling around the corner if need be but the girl was still running with Luna.
Casually stepping over the minotaur, the wicked knight closed in behind them. Gnora could see the rest of her pack now, tangled with iron creatures – her brothers and sisters acting half crazed and setting upon each other as much as the creatures. The smell of blood was stronger here – blood and desperation. She knew they were closing the trap. Very well. She would die with her pack.
The sorcerer, sometimes called teacher, backed away from the creatures. He shouted at Littlebrother. They spoke in excited voices that she could hear but understand no more than she could understand Eldersister’s babbling.
“Wake up! You must all wake up!” The voice filled the air, as if the sky pack had awoken. The bard’s voice seemed to expand to fill all space – there was nothing else but the voice.
The small fire Gnora set outside her shelter in the glade was almost out. The sharp chill of winter penetrated her fur. Luna bristled at her side, the wolf’s ears perked and eyes searching the darkness. Above them the sky pack also searched. The smell of a blacksmith’s forge draped them like a net. Verdan stood near the fire and began speaking.