Chapter 29 Air

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The camp is quiet. The few guards keeping watch at the outer circle of the camp talk softly to each other, their weapons lying safely within reach. Their eyes occasionally search the surrounding Redlands for any signs of movement, but only briefly before returning to one another.

Guards at the eastern half of the camp drink heartily, their heads swimming with the wine. With their senses dulled, they don’t even hear the shadows creeping behind them. Light flashes as steel is buried into the backs or throats of the guards. Blood drips to the earth and the bodies are placed in such a way to avoid suspicion by any passing by.

The shadows enter the camp, spreading down the aisles. Magic raises a fog, slowly dousing the fires around the camp and allowing the shadows to easily move without detection. They sneak into tents, searching for specific individuals. Most are left to their rest, but once the shadows find who they’re looking for the deaths are quick and soundless.

Ari is unsure what wakes her, but as she sits up, rubbing her eyes, she hears strange steps outside. A large shadow passes by the entrance to the tent and she notices fog creeping inside. Even from across the tent she senses the magic in the fog and her body tenses.

She flicks a finger at Kemp and Crofton, sending small rushes of wind at them. Both wake with a start as the tent flap opens. A man enters and freezes when he sees Ari awake, staring at him.

Immediately, Ari uses her wind to drag the man into the tent. Kemp, awaking faster than Crofton, realizes what’s happening and pulls a blade from the air. He thrusts it into the man’s chest, aiming for the heart. Ari muffles the man’s screams with her blanket, throwing the man to the floor as she does.

Finally fully conscious, Crofton climbs to his feet and stares at the dead man on the floor. “What’s going on?”

Ari motions for Crofton to be quiet and she creeps to the tent entrance. She opens the flap only enough to peek outside. There are more men walking among the tents, some with bloody weapons.

Turning back to the two, Ari fights to control her rage. “We’re being attacked. From the looks of it, their magic users and they’ve already killed several people. We have to stop them before they kill any more.”

“We have to wake the Raiders,” Kemp adds. “Do you have an idea how?”

“Right now? No, I’d prefer to run out swinging if that’s all right with you,” Ari says, her anger raising her voice.

Crofton grabs her arm. “We can’t do that. We’re outnumbered. We have to raise an alarm, or at the least, get to Radhri so he can.”

“While they continue to kill people in their sleep?”

“Talking about it isn’t helping,” Kemp interrupts. “Here’s the plan. Crofton, go wake Tal and Indra. I’ll head for Radhri. If you really are itching to do something crazy, Ari, create a distraction that’ll wake up the Raiders. Let’s go.”

Pulling an axe from the air, Kemp hands it to Ari and the three exit the tent, keeping low and out of sight of the shadows.

Ari uses the fog to her advantage, swirling it around her with her magic and creating ghost-like figures to distract the men wandering the camp. She passes a tent and hears struggling inside. She quickly enters in time to plunge her axe into the back of a man trying to slice a woman’s throat. The woman had woken before he could kill her and fought back.

“Thank you,” the woman says to Ari.

Ari quickly explains what’s happening to the woman and tells her to stay in the tent. Ari exits the tent and continues moving through the camp. She makes her way to where the horses are being kept and finds a collection of lanterns. She grabs one and lights it before grabbing another. She pulls the candle out of it and leaves the lantern case behind.

Leading one of the horses out of the pen, Ari grabs a third lantern and a pole. She lights the lantern and ties it to one end of the pole. Then she secures the pole to the horse’s saddle. She hits the back of the horse and it runs off into the camp. The light bouncing as though held by a rider. The sudden voices of men yelping at the sight give Ari an indication that the distraction is working.

She takes her lantern and the candle and heads for the center of the camp. She reaches the pylon and, lighting the candle, throws it onto the ready to burn wood. The fire is low and Ari uses her magic to raise the flames. The fire ignites and the fog around it disappears, as the magic is broken. Men approach the pylon and Ari, waiting for them, attacks them one at a time. She buries her axe into their backs and, for the shorter ones, their heads.

A loud voice echoes through the night, joined by other voices, and suddenly the camp comes to life. Raiders, roused from their sleep take arms and burst from their tents ready to fight. Screams of those discovering those murdered during the night join the whoops of fighting and Raiders soon join Ari at the pylon.

Radhri storms through a small collection of the strange men, killing them with his sword. He slams his body into one, throwing the man a good distance before other raiders descend upon him with their weapons.

Kemp follows close behind, his weapons swinging freely. Behind him are those from the caravan. Guto slams men into the earth with his thick arms. Vico and Vesna shoot arrows from bows as Link and Sten wave their swords at any who get to close to the siblings.

A man attacks Ari from behind, hitting her in the back with a club. She’s thrown to the ground and pain erupts across her back. The man stands over her and swings the club down at her before she can gain enough wind to stop him. The club bouncing against something and smacks the man in the face. He howls as blood streams from his broken nose.

Indra runs the man through with a spear and Tal appears to help Ari to her feet. “Where’s your back guard?” she jokes.

Ari smiles. “You’d know better than me. He fetched you.”

Crofton appears at Ari’s side, blood on his hand. Noticing Ari’s wide, concerned eyes he smirks. “Not mine.”

“He killed the man who came to kill me. Saved my life,” Tal explains.

The Raiders make quick work of the strange men and a furious Radhri approaches Ari. “How did this happen?”

“I’m going to say, the tracks you found were decoys to lower our guard.” Ari looks at one of the dead men. “They were after only the magic users. Just like in Kellahn.”

“The guards at the eastern border of camp are dead,” one of the raiders says, running up to Radhri. “As far as we can tell, only the eastern quarter was affected. They didn’t get any further than here.”

“Then we’re lucky. We stopped them before they could do any more damage. Figure out how many we lost and clear these scum from our lands.”

The fog playing at the edge of the center of camp catches Ari’s eye. She watches it dance, staying far from the fire burning. The magic controlling the fog isn’t fully broken, which meant only one thing. The one controlling it isn’t dead.

“Wait. We’re not finished yet,” Ari says, looking at Radhri. “There’re more men somewhere.”

“What do you mean?”

Screams from behind cause everyone to turn as a terrifying sight runs towards them. A horse covered in flames runs through the Raiders. They jump from its path, avoiding the fiery hooves, but still being burned by flames leaping from its body. Sitting on the beast’s back is a figure made of black shadows, its form constantly shifting and changing.

Those with their wits about them try to attack the beast and rider, but their weapons can’t reach them as the heat of the flames pushes them back. A path opens before the rider and Ari realizes it’s leading right to her. The rider raises an arm and the horse opens it mouth. It breathes fire towards Tal and Indra. Tal raises her hands and a shield appears before them, protecting them from the flames.

Crofton moves closer to Ari, raising his weapons, ready to protect her, but Ari only sees an opportunity. Filling herself with her magic, Ari releases it around her, moving those close to her away. As the rider moves within the cleared circle Ari has created, she takes a deep breath. Her magic rises and as she watches the approaching rider, she realizes time has slowed. She can see everyone turning towards her painfully slow, but her eyes focus on the horse’s feet.

She releases her breath, circling her hands in front of her. As time gradually returns to normal, her wind magic creates a cyclone and knocks the horse into the air. The rider leaps from the beast’s back before he can be thrown and lands in front of Ari.

Ari quickly lowers her hands and the cyclone carrying the horse stops and lowers the frightened animal to the ground. The flames are gone and she recognizes it as the horse she released from the pen.

The rider stands before Ari, watching her. The shadows surrounding his body disappear, leaving only a man behind. His eyes are empty, as though another stares out from them.

Those standing around ready to attack the man, but Radhri stops them, watching Ari carefully. Tal and Indra hold Crofton back as he struggles to reach Ari’s side.

The rider leans his head to the side, taking slow steps towards Ari as though approaching a wild animal. The empty look in his eyes sends a shiver through Ari’s spine and she raises her axe defensively. The rider stops within an arms length away from her, unafraid of the weapon.

Leaning forward, the rider grabs the head of the axe. Ari tries to pull it away, but he only tightens his grip, the blade cutting into his hand. Fear fills Ari as she stares into the empty eyes, showing no pain.

“You will die with blood fire.” The rider’s voice is emotionless, dead. He leans close to Ari’s face before speaking again. “It is the Source’s will.”

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