It was chaos. Bands of goblins were on a rampage, attacking every Bear, and the few Blades patrolling the outskirts, they encountered. Many of the greenskins had died, but their sudden assault had been no less effective. Casualties were still high.
Savar’s men were the bulk of the defenses this far from the city walls. The goblin’s primary targets appeared to be only those wearing red cloths on their arms. Anyone wearing white was only attacked out of self-defense.
Wulf, scanned the intersection, his breath frosting and Aeithrian blade ready. The calm the longblade offered was a welcome blessing. It dulled emotions like fear and worry, protecting him like a wall. While the emotions registered, they were always distant, like a thought or a memory out of reach.
He looked at his feet. Two Blades lay facedown on the snow-covered street. Their blood pooling together where he had cut then open. More bodies lay everywhere, some Viktor’s, some his own, some belong to the Blades and Savar.
The skirmishes had continued further up the street in both in front and behind him. The screams of goblins shouting in their native tongue echoed within the fog up the street to his left. Only he remained as his men pushed any stragglers back.
For now, the choke point had held.
The world has truly gone mad. This wasn’t the plan.
They let someone through!
Wulf spun on his heels, blade extended in a flash of steel as he turned. Whether it was because of the sword or the calm, his attacker was dead within the span of a breath. The Aetharian blade had neatly cut the links of his chain-hide, opening up the flesh beneath. The Blade stopped his word, hand over his wound as he fell to his knees, then onto the street. Even dead, his face was frozen, showing his surprise.
Wulf stared at the Blade’s corpse wanting to feel sorry for him, but that too was pushed aside. He lifted his sword, examining it. Was this the kind of magic that made you Aetharian’s so deadly?
He shifted his attention toward the city walls. Issfang’s roar, at least assuming it was his, the sudden storm, and the orc’s vision of Eadra. Each was ever-present in his thoughts. Above them, stood Kala. She had yet to return. But without fear or worry governing his emotions, they were like a stack of reports on Shuet’s desk. All filed based on priority. Standing in the here and now, the current situation, was first. Kala was second.
Thanks for the fog and the storm, visibility was limited. Figuring friend from foe in the confusion after the sudden attack had been insane. Another cold wind blew through the street, Wulf touched his cheek, wiping away some of the blood on it. He paused, noting how the fog behaved as if the wind wasn’t even there.
This isn’t real.
He moved up the street, the sound weapons clashing growing louder. The fog began to fade. When it cleared, a loud horn blared, different in pitch than the one before. Some of Savar’s men were engaged with his own, but upon hearing the horn, they withdrew, throwing their weapons down and tearing off the colored cloths they wore. Others immediately turned on any remaining blade fighting alongside them. The street quieted soon after and Savar’s men fell to their knees, hands up in surrender.
A thunderous boom roared over the wind drawing his attention. Without the illusionary fog, Wulf was able to see a pillar of smoke rising near the Keep.
What is going on?
Wulf turned to the young Ranger running up. “Huntsmen!” he panted, frost forming with each breath. He had cuts on his face and his arm was bandaged. “Viktor’s men are consolidating, abanding the city in lew of the keep. The chokepoints have been effective in slowing their progress, but there are too many to stem pockets of resistance forcing their way through. The Blades who were guarding the outer edge of the city are fighting with them.”
Wulf turned toward Savar’s men. “What of them?”
“Gren has surrendered or rather he has ordered Savar’s forces to stand down!”
What?! Where’s Savar?
“As we speak he is meeting to discuss terms with Grenden and Illhiem. Messengers are being sent for them to withdraw to the city gate.”
“What of Shuet and Eirik? Deshara and Elder Kala?”
The Ranger’s eyes softened. Wulf sheathed his sword, the calm faded. He reached out grabbing the Ranger by the breastplate.
“Huntsman Shuet took a bolt to the chest. He’s with the druids, but it looks grim. Apparently the bolt was poisoned. Huntsmen Eirik was also wounded, but he’s built like a snow bear. Elder Kala is missing and her attendants were ambushed in the market.”
Wulf felt his fingers numb; the young ranger tensed. Wulf released his leather breastplate and took a breath. Now wasn’t the time to let emotions force costly decisions.
Kala was strong and the scariest person he knew. She could handle herself.
Issfang panted, his neck and sides burning, blood dripped from his maw. He shifted his weight, his left flank screaming from where he had been bitten. Only two were left, the third lay dead several yards behind them in a crumpled heap against the Grunier’s wall. Part of its throat was missing, blood pouring from the wound.
The winds howled around him, their strength waning. The storm was growing weaker, the magic holding it together was fading and slowly slipping from his grasp. From their movements, the fog had proven useless. The young dragons had seen past the illusion.
Their riders were dead. With the frost giant’s endless insults and refusal to let them follow their instincts, the pair had reached their limit. Rage and frustration had gotten the better of them, and they killed them. It was amusing to watch, but without the giants, the fight in the air became more lethal.
“Your masters are dead, and your companion rots. It’s only us now.”
The young dragons hissed, then charged. Issfang crouched, tensing his limbs, and flattened his wings against himself. The pair moved to flank, gaining momentum.
He waited until they were almost upon him and once close enough, he spun, his tail coming around like an anvil. The bone spurs on its end collided with their heads, knocking the two dragons senseless.
They roared, but recovered quickly, using their front limbs to steady themselves. Both dragons craned their necks and breathed deeply.
They exhaled, sweeping back and forth spreading their vaporous breath where he had been.
Issfang looked below, navigating the winds. A second later and they would have him. Though immune to the cold, it would take a minute to escape if their icy breath had frozen him in place.
The pair checked the air searching for his scent. It was futile, the incant masked him, hiding any trace of him. The came together, standing side by side and slowly backing away toward the city wall. One watching the left while the other watched the right. It was disconcerting to watch, they weren’t behaving like complete brutes.
Issfang landed, observing them. When it came to size and strength he at the advantage, but it was a double edge. From head to tail, he was eighty feet, with double the wingspan. The young dragons were smaller, by at least fifteen feet. One grappled and it was over. Overpowering them would be easy, but they were more agile and his wounds were adding up.
I need to end this quickly.
He dismissed the illusion, lower his head and slowly stalking closer. They tensed, hissing softly. It was right that they should be wary after seeing what haste had wrought one of them. Their dead companion had foolishly tried to take him head-on and was mauled. His neck snapped as easily as a tree branch by the end of the fight, but not before the upstart managed to find purchase with his claws. Issfang was grateful that with age, came a thicker hide. The damage could have been worse.
“Run away, hatchlings and pray we never meet again.”
The dragons sneered, growling like feral beasts.
“We kill you soon, Ice Fang!”
Issfang smirked. So you can talk. “Issbandigin!” The snow as their feet came to life, molding itself like clay, enveloping their limbs and hardening to ice. He breathed deep, his sides aching and exhaled.
The pair were enveloped by a vaporous jet of frost, further freezing them in place. Only their necks and wings remained exposed. Issfang waited, they were struggling, oblivious of the real danger they were in. Their lack of understanding was appalling. He belched out another blast, aiming lower so as not to completely encase them in the ice.
“Do you know the true danger of our deadly breath?” They were breathing heavier, their eyes drooping. “No, how could you. You assumed that our immunity to the cold would render it useless. Thouhg your attempt to freeze me deserves compliment, but did you know it was also toxic?”
They stopped struggling.
He took another breath, “Andivind.” The vaporous cloud encircled them, closing in. The magic would keep it from dispersing until they slowly suffocated.
“Issbandigin!” a soft voice shouted.
Instinct ignited, but it was too late. Iffang jumped, but the clay-like snow already had him. He stumbled, the sloshy mire dragging him in deep before cementing and freezing over.
How? They can’t use magic. Frantically he searched the variables when it came to him. The female!
“So arrogant Ice Fang. I would think the fabled Death on the Wind, would be something more than this.”
She was keeping out sight, purposefully positioning herself behind his wings. Issfang struggled to free his neck and turn his head, some of the ice cracked, but the enchantment held fast.
“Free them and live,” she said. “You die if they die.”
He strained against his bonds, trying to move his wing, but part of it was firsmly held in place by the ice. “Who…”
“Free them.” Her tone was stern, unyielding, and final. “I won’t ask again.”
Issfang sighed. Patience had to win out.“Spre…”
He heard the sound of ice cracking, the dragons roaring, their icy prison shattering.
“Issfang…” one of them roared.
He was charging, the vibrations resonating through the earth.
The dragon’s thunderous steps came to halt. Issfang barely saw the young dragon standing over him from the edge of his vision.
“He is to live.”
“Snaer, he killed Brota…”
Issfang tensed. Snaer…Snaerskal? No, it can’t be. She’s too young.
“The giants killed Brota,” she replied. “Yrim was foolish enough to bring this on us.”
“But he is Issfang. He has murdered many.”
“And he is alone,” she replied. “He will die alone and unloved.”
“I said he lives!”
Issfang tensed, her tone pricking at instinct. Like a mother scolding a child. He saw movement by his wing. Snaer had stepped out from behind it.
Her form made sense. She had taken on the appearance of a frost giant female. It wasn’t quite right however, her eyes were the wrong color. They were copper in hue, with hints of blue in them.
“Listen to her, Flaedvind,” another voice chimed in. “She is Kynmodir.”
“Spre,” she said.
With the words spoken, Issfang fought against his bonds, the ice giving under the force of his great strength. He turned his head, eying the three dragons, his mind brimming with questions. Snaer narrowed her eyes, looking up him.
“We are kin,” he said.
Her lip tightened, disgust showing in her expression. “Only by blood.”
“I don’t understand.”
“How could you? You have been killing our kind and their masters for nearly six hundred years,” she replied. “It is because of the first Kynmodir, our great grandmother, your mother, that some of us have learned to survive.”
Issfang felt his heart sink. The world suddenly made less sense.
“Your eyes betray you, grand uncle,” she commented. “You thought us mere beasts, incapable of higher thought. But great gran was clever and in her suffering, she taught us how to fool our masters. My grandmother, your sister, passed on the same knowledge when she was taken.”
“How have there been so many generations?”
She smiled darkly. “I said you terrorized us for five hundred years, but then, you vanished. Stories say in your last raid you were wounded.”
Issfang narrowed his eyes. “I was wounded. I got careless and was forced to retreat. I returned to my refuge and froze myself as a protective measure so I could recover.”
Her dark smile widened. “How much time do you think passed?”
Issfang stepped back and shifted into his elven form. His eyes darted between them when the one they had called Flaedvind, transformed as well. Like Snaer, his chosen form was a frost giant, only male.
Grandmother, you warned me about rushing when using magic. Did I miscalculate? He wracked his brain, nothing was making sense. The hibernation had been brief, only a handful of decades. I awoke to find Wulf, he had come in search of Eadra. That when we first met.
Snaer stepped closer and knelt, her eyes meeting with his. “Three hundred years, Issfang,” she whispered. “You slept for three hundred years. I don’t know why you haven’t aged, but it doesn’t matter. You are and forever will be, alone.”
She stood and turned her back.
No, don’t you dare walk away from me!
“Look at him,” Flaedvind chimed in. “He doesn’t know if he should kill you or wallow in despair.”
Snaer paused, glancing over her shoulder, her face hard as iron and wrought with contempt. “Look well and remember Flaedvind, that is the expression of one who has lived an empty life.”
You know nothing of my life! Whether by rage, or reflex, he shifted, towering over her. She simply stood, her back still facing him.
“Look at me!”
She didn’t move, instead Snaer turned her head to Flaedvind. As if something unspoken had been said, he turned his back as well. Styrkurian did the same.
Issfang raised his right hand, claws extended. “Look. At. Me!”
“I cannot look at the dead, for they are shadows,” she replied.
“I cannot look at the dead, for they are the vapor of days long gone,” Sytrkurian added.
“I cannot look at the dead, for they are no longer with us. They have passed on to the Keeper’s halls, only he can decide if they were among the honored or fade into the cold, unforgiving embrace those dishonored that we have chosen to forget.”
Flaedvinds words hurt more than anything he had known. Issfang lowered his hand, retracting his claws. Killing them wouldn’t change anything. Their actions were proof of that.
“Goodbye, Granduncle. Fade to the shadows, we will never meet again.”
Snaer and Flaedvind transformed. She took the air first with the others following closely behind her. They weren’t heading for the Northern Isles, but south, to the Coldfire Mountains.
A loud horn blared. It had come from the direction of where the Thran they called Savar had encamped. Something was happening. He winced, turning toward the battle between Jormund and the giants.
After everything, the idea fighting them turned his stomach. I made a promise to Eadra. It’s time to end this.