Winged Claws are Quite Harmless
By Benjamin Leskey
Tinuntelu si Tin Egesuryt ker Ry si Tek-Syvad, Jetti Kostenli si 199 Indgrin
Several inches of snow had settled upon Tek-Syvad, drifting in waves down from the hills surrounding the town. The strip of ocean between the northern coast and the domain of Yirji was not yet frozen, however, and upon the high towers of Syvad the border guards still watched day and night for ships of war plowing through the fog.
On the morning of year-day 201, when the snowfall had ceased for a short while, a team of six draft horses pulled a heavy iron-enforced cart up the northern highway from the capital. Upon this cart, bound heavily with chains, was a massive cube of iron. Surrounding the cart were a group of mounted guards, wearing heavy clothing to protect against the temperature, and riding atop the cube was a woman standing in white robes that flowed gently in the wind. When the cart hit a rut in the road, the cube would shift and cause the cart to creak loudly. The woman upon it did not slip in the slightest at these times, however; she remained standing unless to avoid the branch of a wide tree that stretched out over the road.
The procession had passed the great hill of Tek-Fremsel many miles ago, and now was nearing the end of the highway in Tek-Syvad. The strong walls of the city became visible, and the horses were urged onward, their destination in sight.
“Wagon ahoy!” shouted a guard upon the wall as they neared the gate.
Two more guards arrived, and one of them shouted down, “Who are you? What brings you to the border at this time of the year?”
“Did you receive no message?” yelled the woman standing upon the iron cube in reply. “A messenger of the King should have arrived days ago speaking of this!”
“We received no message!” returned the guard.
“I see. In that case, I am Telmilee, high Tebur in the Order of Araman, traveling from the capital. In the name of King Araman, I demand entry!” A great spiral of air swirled around her, pushing the snow back from the road and driving small flakes into the eyes of the guards surrounding the cart, who all blinked rapidly and shielded their faces.
“Do you have a sealed letter?” called another guard.
“I lost it in the ocean!” replied Telmilee.
“How?” shouted the guard. “You must have traveled the highway, even the road below Tek-Tor is two miles from the coast.”
“I moved in my sleep and blew it away near Tek-Fremsel! I expected the messenger to have described us!”
“Surely,” said one guard in a quiet tone to his fellows, “this is a rentem of the King, for who can blow a letter into the ocean from the center of the island?”
“We can’t just let random people into the border guard’s city,” said another, “Especially if they claim to be from the king and provide no proof.”
“Oi!” shouted the third guard down. “Can you offer proof of your statements?”
“Is there someone by the name of Tintelm in the city? He can recognize me and assure you of my validity!”
The guards all thought for a moment, and two opened their mouths to answer but the third began talking first. “He’s not in the city, he’s up by the coast working on the ship-piercer bows, helping at getting a small landslide off them!”
“How long will he be there?”
“All through the night! We must keep our guard up with the great bows disabled.”
“I can’t wait all night! Don’t you have someone else who could recognize a high servant of Araman?”
The guards discussed.
“I know Lord Syvad would recognize someone from the capital, but he’s out by the repair site swimming and spearing fish.”
“I don’t know anyone else… ah!”
“That man sent from the capital, the one writing the thirty-six day report. He couldn’t go to the repair site because he got too cold.”
“I guess we can try him.”
After several minutes of Telmilee impatiently waiting, the guards reappeared with a thin fellow wrapped in a heavy coat who looked quite frozen.
“Here you are!” shouted Telmilee. “Can you verify for these guards that I am indeed Telmilee of Araman’s Order?”
The man looked down and said, “Yes.” He then slipped on a bit of ice and grabbed one of the guards for support, who managed to stay standing.
“Please, Syto, remain upright,” said the guard.
Another of the guards shouted down to the gatehouse, “Open the gates!”
The doors were unlocked, and they swung open inward, pulled by two of the gate-guards who winced as the cold wind blew past in a torrent. The wagon entered, accompanied by Telmilee and its guards, who were quite happy to be in a sheltered place. A few more border guards who had remained to keep the headquarters safe walked up.
“What is this for?” asked one, pointing at the iron cube.
Telmilee jumped down, floating briefly just before she hit the ground. “Right, you didn’t get the message. This is just as it seems, a store of iron for use by the new unit of rentem arriving here after the few months of training.”
“What do they use it for?” asked another.
“It’ll help prevent enemy remi, be it flame or wind, from passing the unit, but that’s just a basic explanation,” Telmilee said. “Be expecting more things like this in the near future, Araman’s plans are far more helpful to the border guard than old king Narnetel ever was. Even Lady Shorsa of Mering didn’t oppose him, she provided all this iron from her domain’s mines. There was payment, of course, it wouldn’t do to have her too unhappy.”
“So what do we do with it? Just set it somewhere? We’ll need to put together a sled, but it might be too heavy for what we’ve got.”
“I was really hoping Lord Syvad would be around to guide me, but I suppose we’ll need to do this ourselves. According to our plans, this cube is to be situated just east of the ship-piercers, behind the old watchtower ruins.”
“We can’t,” said a guard. “There’s no way for us to bring a sled up that way, the landslide blocked the trail and it’ll take a day to clear it enough.”
“Don’t worry,” Telmilee replied. “Araman has embedded power within this cube in the form of a golden core. Combined with my own ren, I can levitate it for an hour before the core is consumed. Now show me to the way to the northern trail, I don’t want to begin draining it too early.”
Syto retired to his quarters to escape the cold and write about these events. The majority of the guards also returned to their posts, but one accompanied Telmilee’s group to the northern gate, walking slowly ahead of the cart and directing the driver among the snow-covered barracks and storehouses of Tek-Syvad.
“I see what you mean!” exclaimed Telmilee, surveying the buried trail. The hill had collapsed down, and a great number of rocks and a layer of earth covered the formerly flat path. “Now then, all of you stand back.”
She reached over the cart and touched the iron cube. Immediately there was a burst of air from below it, the force of which tore straight through the bottom of the cart and broke several of the chains, sending shards of wood and nails speeding along the thin snow. The rest of the cart, including the driver’s seat, collapsed inward, and the horses were so startled at the noise that they both reared up and tried to escape. Some of the chains were still attached to the cart, and at the horses’ sudden movement they bounced off the levitating cube and sliced through the air towards Telmilee’s guards and the driver.
The torrent of air suspending the cube vanished at once as Telmilee released it. Four thin spears of air flew from her hands, each impacting with perfect aim upon the chains, sending them swerving harmlessly into the rocks upon the ground with loud ringing crashes.
The horses dashed some distance into the forest with the chains and remnants of the chart swinging behind them, but they soon realized there was no danger and slowed. Telmilee quickly moved to the driver, who stood shakily with her help. The lone guard from Tek-Syvad stood in stunned astonishment; he had not seen any remi before, let alone this destructive display of power.
“We probably should have rolled it off the cart first,” suggested one of Telmilee’s guards.
“Indeed,” Telmilee replied, breathing heavily. “Unfortunately I strained myself with that sudden movement, I won’t be able to maintain the cube for an hour now. Maybe half an hour, if I push myself.” She placed her hand against the cube again and turned to the guard of Tek-Syvad. “Is there anywhere I can place the cube about half-way to the original target?”
“Ah, er, yes, there’s a clearing about twenty-five minutes from here, where the trail bends.”
“That’ll do then, I’ll take it there and in the morning I’ll have recovered enough to move it the rest of the way. Let’s go!”
The driver hobbled back to the city for treatment of his bruises and cuts, and two guards went to secure the horses. Telmilee concentrated again, and the deluge of air poured out from under the cube again as it lifted off the ground with a cloud of snow and dust.
They continued along the trail without further incident, and Telmilee gratefully planted the cube in the clearing as soon as they had arrived.
“I couldn’t take it for another minute,” she said. “Let us return, I need to rest soon.”
“I doubt any guard here is necessary,” said the man from Tek-Syvad.
“Certainly not!” Telmilee replied. “This thing is not going anywhere.”
“Where did it go!?” shouted Telmilee in utter confusion the next day as she darted out into the clearing.
“Are you certain nobody could have moved it?” asked the elderly Lord Syvad, shivering in his light clothing. Nobody mentioned this, of course. Syto was also there, shivering in his heavy clothing, but the day was warm enough for him to have ventured out to see the cube so that he could write about it.
“I am the only rentem with sufficient power, other than Lord Araman himself! If there was someone who could move the cube in the area I would know it immediately.”
“Truly odd, all the bow-repair crew save myself slept in the bow watchtowers,” Lord Syvad said. Telmilee waited for him to continue, but he didn’t.
One of the garrison stooped down where the cube had been. The frost concealed the original print, but he saw something shine.
“Look!” he called.
“Jetha?” Lord Syvad asked, walking over. Telmilee followed.
“It’s metal,” Jetha said. “Iron. Just this misshapen lump though, nothing else.” He picked up the semi-flat piece of iron in his hand and gave it to Lord Syvad who examined it carefully.
“What do you make of it?” asked Telmilee.
Lord Syvad continued examining it carefully. Telmilee coughed, and he jerked upright.
“It’s very clearly metal,” he said. “Iron, it seems.”
“I have said that already, my lord,” Jetha commented.
Telmilee took the chunk of metal from Lord Syvad.
“Here!” she exclaimed. “See these marks, it is like someone took sharp tools to it when it was pliable, there are these ridges along the side too.”
“You think this is part of the cube, do you?” asked Lord Syvad.
“I doubt metal would just appear randomly where the cube disappeared.”
“How do you plan to deal with this?”
“I can’t guess what happened to it, so I don’t know. In the worst case, Yirji of the North made her way into our domain and decided to melt and carry away an iron cube, but Araman and myself would both have noticed that kind of remi being used.”
“Shall we search for it?” Jetha suggested.
“No,” Lord Syvad said. “We can’t have the majority of our force repairing the bows and then send the few remaining out into the forest with no trace of what they’re looking for. If Yirji attacked there would not be enough time to defend my city.”
“Then let us return at once. If this is indeed an enemy attack, we need to be ready. I will remain here until you have recovered from the landslide, but then I must return and report to Araman.”
“You have my gratitude, your presence will ease our tension greatly.”
Telmilee, Lord Syvad, and the guards turned from the clearing and headed back up towards the city, carrying the piece of metal with them for further investigation. Syto, however, found that the day was now getting warmer as noon approached. He decided to walk to the edge of the hill overlooking the coast before he returned, and so he did.
From there he could see the coast of Yirji’s domain across the shining water. Far in the distance burned a tall flame above a tower hidden by fog, and closer in the icy water swam dark shadows of black whales. A school of fish could be seen in the clear water below where a small trickle of unfrozen water ran down into the ocean. The sun radiated warmth upon the rock where Syto stood, and he remained there for several minutes in the temporary heat, the breeze whistling softly past his muffled ears. Then a cloud passed over the sun, and a strong gust of cold wind blew past, and a faint scent of smoke. He shivered and turned, ready to return, but was arrested immediately by what he saw. There were two yearling black bears standing not ten yards away, and before them was a huge mother bear. Her mouth was opened in a growl and she tensed to lunge forward.
Syto hardly registered these animals, however, for his attention was focused solely upon the object of the bears’ concern. It was a massive beast that was at easily three times larger than the adult bear, shaped in some ways like the great lizards of the south. Upon the back of this creature were two folded wings that ran along the length of its body. The head was elongated, ending in a wide snout with large nostrils, and the powerful tail stretched out behind it. It was not easy to remain focused upon it, for as the sun beamed over the creature, it reflected off the scales, which were of a brilliantly shining metal, like polished steel. Each of its many claws shone like a clean sword, and even the eyelids flickered in the light as it blinked.
Syto stood perfectly still. He had not been prepared for anything like this, he could not remember even seeing a drawing of this kind of beast. The mother bear charged at the shining creature, undaunted by its stupendous appearance in an effort to protect her young. She reared on her hind legs and ripped her massive claw against the beast’s neck. There was a loud metallic scraping noise, and the shining head of the uninjured beast swung into the bear, sending her rolling over the ground. In a moment she was up again, snarling furiously as she tried to bite through the scales. It was to no avail, however. A brilliant tail swung forward, pushing the bear away as gently as one subduing an angry pup.
The cubs had trotted away from the scene now, and the mother bear did not try attacking again, though she circled around the beast menacingly. The beast followed her with its head. Then it blew a great puff of air from its nostrils over the bear, which stepped further back before breaking into a run. The shining creature watched it retreat for a few moments, then turned at great speed to look directly at Syto.
“Ah,” said Syto, knowing it was futile to call for help but wanting to do so all the same. He stepped backward, trying to slowly escape, but that was useless. In a single bound the creature glided over toward him, and now stood in a semi-circle blocking his way. Its great snout drew close to him, sniffing the air.
Syto now felt significantly warmer, and he sensed a burnt odor surrounding him. He held his hands out, trying to show the beast that he was not a threat. The mouth opened, and he saw rows of dagger-like teeth embedded in shining skin and bone surrounding a metal tongue that flexed and moved like any muscle.
The long tail curled around, and the tip ran along Syto's arm. Then it pushed him to the ground with an irresistible yet gentle force. After this the creature rolled him several feet along the ground with its snout, turned, and with a leap glided gracefully through the trees to a small thicket of bushes. They parted long enough for Syto to see two large eggs, metallic in appearance. The beast circled around them as it lay, covering both the eggs with a bright wing.
Syto climbed slowly to his feet, facing the beast. It watched silently as he backed away. He made his way back onto the path, and walked up, checking over his shoulder every few minutes until he rounded a corner and could not see it any longer.
The approaching chill of evening drove him quickly along the path to the city. He was waved past the small north gate, and strode to Lord Syvad’s hall, shivering all the while. He opened a small side door, and stepped into the wide hall. A large fire burned in the center of the hall, filling the building with pleasant heat. Standing around it was Lord Syvad himself, talking with Telmilee and various members of the garrison.
“...and therefore do not send any messenger to Araman at this time,” Telmilee said.
“I have no idea what I would be getting my men into,” Lord Syvad retorted. He coughed extremely loudly. “We are already split, I will not risk weakness for the sake of this investigation.”
“Then I shall carry out the search myself,” she replied. “We cannot— I cannot betray Araman’s trust by immediately admitting failure without even applying myself to the task.”
“I will defer to your wishes then,” said Lord Syvad. “But my priority lies in guarding against the brutal northmen of Yirji, not hunting for an iron block.”
The great doors of the hall swung inward with a crash, sending a wave of dusty air outward. In from the dimming night stepped two figures. Standing in the back was a tall man wearing dark blue clothing. There was a sword strapped by his side, and he surveyed the room with quick darting eyes. Standing before him was the one who had thrust open the doors. He was dressed all in black, from his gloves to hood. Over his face was a dark wooden mask, with two small eye slits. In his right hand he held a knotted oaken staff tightly.
Immediately two guards pointed their spears at him, and Lord Syvad strode rapidly towards him.
“Who are you?” shouted Lord Syvad. “How did you pass my guards?”
The tall man stepped forward so that he stood just in front of the short one.
“I came here to, er, I’m here for, um, my name is… ah… Gregar.”
“Where did you come from!?” roared Lord Syvad.
“Get back, get away from them!” shouted Telmilee suddenly, running to one side of the two intruders. “He’s a rentem!”
Several of the guards drew back, and even Lord Syvad tensed, ready to spring away.
“No, no,” said Gregar. “Well, ah, I mean yes, but I’m not here to hurt you!”
“What do you want? What manner of remi do you possess?” Telmilee asked as she circled around, observing him closely.
“Well, I… uh… have you seen any egesuryt around here lately? Within the past day or so? Or maybe some large metal roof has gone missing, probably iron?”
Telmilee and Lord Syvad each glanced at the other.
“What do you know of this?” Telmilee asked. “Explain what an egesuryt is.”
“Surely you have heard of the lesuryt that roam the, uh, southern island’s marshes, the large winged lizards,” Gregar said. “Well, er, an egesuryt is like that but a lot bigger.”
“And what about the metal?”
“It eats it. Anyway, I’ve… I’ve tracked a female egesuryt to around here. Have you seen it?”
“What is your plan?” asked Lord Syvad.
“This thing will be building a nest. Unless you want half of this pl- half of the western island to become an egesuryt lair, it must be killed.”
At this Syto frowned. He had seen the splendid magnificence of the creature, and it had not tried to hurt him.
“I see,” said Telmilee. “But tell me, which of the three do you serve? You do not wear the robes of Araman.”
“I’m from the south, the southern swamps,” replied Gregar. “I tracked the egesuryt from there. Ah... your question… I serve King Syren. I hope you don’t consider him an enemy yet.”
“We are not at war with him,” said Lord Syvad. “But neither are we assured of peace. How can we trust you, a rentem from the south?”
“Don’t worry about me, worry about the egesuryt. So, uh, I suppose you have lost some metal recently? How much?”
“A cube, about a yard on all sides,” said Telmilee. “It vanished just last night.”
“Oh… this is very bad then,” said Gregar. “The beast will have already laid eggs not far from here.”
“When and how do you plan to kill it?” inquired Lord Syvad.
“I can’t try anything this night, the egesuryt can see far better than myself. I guess… I guess I’ll locate it just before dawn.”
“And you’ll kill it without help?” asked Telmilee.
“I am likely able to do so. Although, I would appreciate a rentem of your degree nearby.”
“And after it is dead?”
“Syren has commanded me to return home at once. He thought- er- didn’t want any trouble with Araman.”
“Very well, you may remain here do perform your duty under my supervision, since it is beneficial to us. And who is your companion?”
“He is my subordinate… he will not answer to speech however. I appreciate your understanding.”
The guards had been pointing their spears at him this whole time, so now Lord Syvad motioned and they returned to their posts. Syto walked forward.
“May I ask,” he said, approaching Gregar, “Is it truly necessary to kill the creature, the egesuryt?”
Gregar turned and looked him in the eye. “If you ever see an egesuryt, you will understand the ruthless, uncaring destruction and death they bring. If we do not kill it and the eggs hatch, it would take an army to dislodge them. So, uh, yes. It is necessary.”
Syto woke just after midnight, a sudden resolve formed in his mind. He slipped out of bed, already wearing warm clothing. He retrieved a small crossbow and several bolts from a small cupboard, and made his way softly into the street. He climbed slowly up a creaky ladder on the northern wall, and, when the watch was looking elsewhere, he slipped down onto a tall boulder, quickly hiding behind it. Then he made off along the trail.
The pale moon lit the open areas just enough for him to see by, but he had to walk very slowly or risk tripping on a root or rock in the tree-covered sections where no light reached. After almost an hour of slow, shivering movement, he reached a small grove of bushes, from which he could see the egesuryt’s nest. The creature did not seem to be nearby, but the two eggs lay there, faint glimmers of moonlight reflecting off their surfaces.
A small cluster of dead leaves floated down from just above the nest, dropping slowly in the still air. From high above, a small figure climbed down the tree. It was barely visible to Syto, just a shadow against the faint illumination of the trunk. In the darkness, it seemed to be stretching and wrapping around the tree, descending rapidly and silently.
Syto remained perfectly still, not daring to make any sound, unsure what was happening. The figure had now reached the ground, and stood as a dark mass before one of the enormous eggs. It bent forward, and grasped the egg in its arms. Then it walked to the tree, and it seemed as though two more arms protruded from its shoulders, wrapping around the trunk. Up it went, still holding the egg as it vanished into the dark foliage of some pine trees.
Syto remained there for an hour, at which time the egesuryt returned. She glided through the trees to her nest, faint light reflecting off her wings. She froze as she saw one of her eggs gone. Then the great beast reared up, and from her mouth came a terrible roar. Torrents of flame burst out, immediately setting fire to the trees and bushes around her. The deep reverberations shook the rocks and earth, throwing Syto to the ground as branches crashed down around him.
From high above there came an answering call, and the thin clouds parted in rippling waves as a massive flame tore through them. At the center of this falling conflagration was visible flickering metal, but it moved too fast to see details, leaving a trail of sparks in its wake. Like an arrow it split through the darkness, crashing into the ground nearby. Trees fell around the crater, and out of the debris rose a second egesuryt.
This new beast was clearly visible through the trees, lit by the blaze surrounding it. Flames flickered out of its mouth and nostrils, and great wings sliced through brittle branches as it straightened. It’s back reflected the firelight, revealing scales twice as thick as those of the other egesuryt. It crashed through the trees to where the first egesuryt stood over her nest. She nudged the single egg with her nose, and a made a long warbling noise. The second egesuryt growled deep in its throat. Then it spread out its wings, and with a great thrust shot up out of the forest and sailed towards the south, where Tek-Syvad lay sleeping.
The fire was now spreading, having been fanned by the egesuryt’s wings. Smoke was rising, and animals fled in terror. Syto stepped out of the bushes into the clearing, for the flames were approaching. At once the egesuryt noticed him, and she approached. With a wave of her wing the flames nearby were blown away, and she wrapped her tail around him and pulled him towards the nest. A heavy branch snapped and fell crashing down upon her, but she barely noticed, her attention suddenly fixed upon Tek-Syvad. A high pillar of flame pierced the night, and faint shouts were masked by a great roaring. But then there was a deep humming sound which culminated in a terrific snap. The second egesuryt was ejected from the city, thrown over the flaming forest and borne upon a torrent of wind. It sailed for some distance, beating against the force with its wings, and once it had regained movement it shot forward once more.
Syto watched in awe and terror. He had not anticipated anything like this, not in his wildest imagination. He was no longer cold, for the egesuryt emitted heat like a furnace, but waves of fear ran up his spine.
From the path leading down to the beach came shouting. A group of forty men from the bow-repair group were running towards the egesuryt, bearing torches, spears, and bows. At the sight of the egesuryt they stopped short, but their leader thrust his spear in the air.
“Down with the flames of Yirji! Araman prevails!” he shouted, then charged forward, followed by his men.
The egesuryt set Syto away, and leaped between her nest and these newcomers. She roared a flaming call, forcing them to shield their faces from the heat and dust. The egesuryt above Tek-Syvad heard this, and launching into an arc it sped above the trees towards them.
Syto scrambled to his feet and ran forward, coming from behind the egesuryt to face the soldiers.
“Stop!” he called, as the first arrows glanced harmlessly off the growling egesuryt. “Wait!
But it was to no avail. The soldiers’ leader plunged his spear forward, and it pierced through a weak spot in the egesuryt’s scales, wounding her in the side. She screeched as silver blood emerged from the wound, followed by a torrent of flame that sealed it. Syto jumped forward with a shout, tackling the spear-man as he prepared to drive his weapon in again to pierce the magnificent creature.
“What are you doing, you fool!?” he shouted, throwing Syto roughly to the ground.
The second Egesuryt was now upon them, he crashed into the ground just a few yards away and breathed in deeply. Yet before it released the fire, blue arcs danced over its head, and it jerked up violently, releasing the flame harmlessly into the air. Out of the shadows stepped Gregar, his short companion beside him. The staff in his companion’s hands crackled with blue sparks, and Gregar’s own hands had the same aura about them.
“Fear not!” he shouted. “I shall deal with this one.”
Telmilee came sliding down the hill, the flames parting before swirling air as she made her way. Both egesuryt roared, drawing back slightly towards the nest. Gregar’s companion attacked first. His staff connected with the tail of the egesuryt he faced, and a blue spark threw the beast off balance for a moment. But in the next instant the creatures let loose with two great blasts of flame, immediately followed by throwing their full weight towards their enemies. The soldiers scattered, but Gregar’s companion put forth his arms as the flame covered him. The egesuryt crashed against him and was stopped. Two men were hit in their legs by the swinging tail of the female egesuryt, but others came forward with spears.
Gregar’s companion was engulfed in flame a second time, but even as his clothing burned it became visible that he had no flesh, his limbs, body, and head were only masses of vines. The egesuryt was quite shocked at this, reacting by bounding up into the air. There it whipped around and came down again, bringing its tail with tremendous force onto the man of vines. Gregar himself threw arcs of blue towards the beast, but now it seemed to ignore them. Telmilee was blasting air at the other egesuryt, but the creature’s wings were folded back and the effect was no worse to it than a mere breeze. Lunging forward, it crashed the tip of its snout into her, throwing her backward.
A burnt tree came crashing down in the center of the fight, scattering black wood across the ground and bringing several soldiers down among the branches. More soldiers from the ship-piercers were running up the beach trail now, but the egesuryt had already gained an advantage. Gregar’s companion of vines lay upon the ground motionless, and he was just barely keeping the massive egesuryt at bay with wild arcs of energy.
From behind the humans came a deep roar that echoed through the forest in a wave. Those who were able turned and saw five people in white robes running toward them along the path. At their head was a tall figure, golden light flickering around his mouth. The deep roar exploded from him again, and for a moment the battle stopped, even the egesuryt were astounded by this.
“Lord Araman!” exclaimed Telmilee.
“Cease this battle!” shouted Araman. He stepped among the blazing remains of the fallen tree. The female egesuryt drew back to her nest, but the other egesuryt approached Araman, swelling to its greatest size and staring at him directly.
There was a moment of silence, then they both roared, a terrible noise that forced covering of ears and shook the ground. This went on for two entire minutes, after which the egesuryt stopped. Araman ceased as well. Then the female egesuryt walked towards him, and warbled in her throat. He walked close to her head, and a golden glow flashed briefly around him. Then he turned.
“Gregar of Syren, return the egesuryt’s egg.”
The man of vines rose slowly from the ground, then vanished among the smoking trees, swinging like a monkey.
“Very well,” said Gregar. “You’ve spoiled my plan… It was going right, but, uh, now it isn’t.”
A second tree cracked, and came falling down. But this time, as it was two yards above the ground, a golden light pulsed and it exploded, scattering far from the clearing.
The man of vines returned, and in his wooden hands he held the egg. The female egesuryt took it gently in her mouth, quickly backing away afterward. The other egesuryt stared at Araman for a few more moments, then turned away and picked up the second egg with its own mouth. Then, with a shrill call, the two beasts jumped high into the air, thrusting their way above the clouds as the fire reflected on their scales.
A cold gust of wind swept down from the north, and the flames leaped high.
“Get the injured to safety,” Araman said above the fire. “I have brought my servants to quench the flame.”
The four in white robes who stood behind him now raised their hands. The nearby flames began swirling around, vanishing into the air, and from the frozen ground erupted sprinkling fountains of cold water. Araman himself began walking along the trail towards the city, and the flames beside him flickered out as he passed. Behind him came those who were uninjured, carrying the wounded. Nearly everyone was coughing from the smoke and debris, bruised and cut, but they were quite grateful to have survived.
Lord Syvad had worked tirelessly, helping his garrison to keep the egesuryt fires from spreading. The central hall was now a burnt shell, but the vital watchtowers and city walls remained standing. The injured were placed in other houses, and Araman met with Gregar in the city square.
“Did Syren order you on this?” Araman asked.
“Yes,” Gregar said simply.
“Tell my why you wanted the egesuryt offspring.”
“You already- you already know why.”
“I do. Now you will leave my domain.”
At once Gregar stepped away, his unmasked companion walking clumsily beside him. Before he left the gates, he turned to Araman, pointed at his companion, and said, “My son has estimated four generations, Araman. Four generations before his designs are complete. You can see his first work here.”
Araman did not reply, but walked towards one of the houses holding the injured.
Syto had received a brutal blow during the battle, quite an accident, and his right arm and several ribs had been broken. The pain was terrible as he lay on a bed, unable to move. Araman stepped into the room.
“You are Syto,” said the King.
“Yes,” said Syto.
Araman moved closer, and the pain was slightly dulled.
“You subverted my soldiers and endangered my people,” he said. “You have betrayed my will twice.”
Syto did not reply.
“Perhaps you did not truly understand what you were doing. Perhaps you did, and you judged the life of an egesuryt to be of more worth than my city of Syvad. I will not tell you which is truly of higher value, but I have told you that you have betrayed me. An offense against me is a terrible crime.”
“I did not mean to hurt anyone,” Syto said, frightened.
“And you may have saved my city,” said Araman.
“If an egesuryt was slain, others would come for revenge. Egesuryt are a lost memory to humans, they are far greater and more intelligence than mere lesuryt, and my soldiers did not understand them. Your brief delay has, through mere chance, avoided a terrible war.”
Syto did not reply.
“And I have heard a curious thing about you from the egesuryt. In her intent, I felt the idea that you were not a threat to her, unlike all other humans. You did not feel dangerous. Do you understand what that means?”
“When you recover, you shall be taken to the capital in order to train lesuryt for war. You will not be feared by them. This is your punishment and reward.”
Syto did not reply.
Copyright 2017 by Benjamin Leskey