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|Sypher's journey cont (part 2)||
Chapter Three: Strange…
The first thing I noticed, as did Clover and Samuel, was that the houses and buildings inside the town had no smoke coming out from each chimney. At the edge of town, I held up my hand to signal a stop. I looked back at Clover, who had a fearful, searching gaze. Then to Samuel, who had his hand on his sword. Dismounting, I patted my horse, who seemed to like me better than before. As I approached, the town’s silent scream warned me of danger. But I had to remain unarmed. Walking around with a long sword would be asking for trouble. Quickly I checked for escape routes and surveillance points. If it wasn’t winter, or there wasn’t snow on the roofs I would be up there instantly. Glancing back, I was satisfied that Clover and Samuel had taken cover. If Samuel was genuine, Clover would be safe.
“Gosh, do you think he’ll be ok? And what about the town?” Clover asked, to no one in particular. Samuel answered, but kept watching the trees. “I do not know. But if he can slay a bear, I have no worries,” he said, his deep voice quiet. “I have heard of deserted towns recently, but those towns are far off from Myneham.” Clover spun around and stared at him. “What happened in the towns?” she demanded. Samuel regarded her with a grave look in his eyes. “If you knew you would never be the same again. But if whatever happened to this town is similar, do not expect or even hope to see those people again,” he said. His grip tightened on the sword as he spoke. “We must hope for Sypher’s safety.”
I slipped between two houses, and concentrated on listening. I could hear some short sounds coming from the stables. As I got closer, I spotted an ominous thin piece of material that I identified as wire. It brought me back to a lesson by the resident trap and ambush expert at the Academy. Those wires were molded metal, usually set in inconspicuous places to remain unseen. Although unseen, they often acted as the switch for explosives. Explosives were used by various kingdom armies, and also warlords and their hired men. My level of awareness soared to a combat level, and my hearing ability became sharp. I determined that no one was in the town except for one person in the stables.
I found the main explosives nestled just inside the largest building in the town. Unraveling the wire from the switch, I realized that the whole town was rigged. No less than a dozen ominous metal snakes connected to the switch. Satisfied and even more cautious, I skimmed the ground back to the stable, and entered, bursting through the door and rolling on the floor. Within the space of a millisecond, I was up on my feet and ready for almost anything. But it was Bailey, pacing back and forth without his red cap. It took him five full seconds to realize I was there. In that time, I concluded that the horses were not in the stable, at least not alive.
“You!” he yelled, startled as his gaze fixed on me.
“Yes, me,” I replied. “What happened to the town?”
“I can’t remember!” he wailed, loudly. Inwardly I shook my head.
“Good grief,” I muttered, and walked out the door. My combat mind took over as the faint sound of an arrow split the air. Diving forward into a roll, I threw my weight to one side as another arrow was fired. I was in trouble. There were at least two archers from two sides. They must be experienced, smart, or lucky, as I didn’t hear the release of the bowstring. The first arrow flew inside the stable, and the second hit the stone wall of the house ahead and bounced off. Quickly I turned the corner and crouched, controlling my breathing. I let the state of mind that I had developed at the Academy take full control. Now, I was merely a spectator with a very good front-row seat as I crossed town in less than a second. I could feel the hard, smooth muscles in my body move in sync, generating the power and grace my combat mind felt was required.
I carried several weapons, few of them metal. One of these weapons was my long battle sword, and I also had a pair of razor-sharp claws, one for each hand. Both claws, three points on each, slipped into place as I darted into the trees. Brown, green, and lots of white flashed by as I moved to the first archer’s position. My right arm flashed forward, angled to reflect no sunlight. It pierced the archer’s neck with tremendous force. Instantly my left followed, tossing the grotesque head of the archer to the treetops with an uppercut. Crouching again, I quickly studied the archer’s body. It had blue skin, covered with straps of animal furs, and a leather quiver full of arrows. It was almost five feet tall, but its pose was hunched. The legs were bare except for places where straps of animal fur dangled from the torso, and large muscles jutted out awkwardly. The feet were covered in stained, brownish material coming up halfway to the knees. The bow was wooden, and stained with blood of different colors. From the shoulder straps dangled small ornaments, which upon closer inspection revealed themselves to be skulls.
I sped off again, disgusted. Whatever manner of creature the archers were, they sickened me. Circling through the forest, I stepped back into the perimeter of the town to slay the second archer from behind. It was about the same height with the same hunched form. It seemed to be cautiously making its way across the town. A shriek of surprise and pain echoed loudly in the town as my claw struck the base of the creature’s neck. Quickly I darted to a nearby house and listened for any possible creatures I had missed. There were no sounds, but as I started to move again I heard a thump of the first archer’s head hitting the ground.
Moving to study the second archer, I was again thoroughly sickened to find a grotesque blue head, large white eyes with red pupils, a long jaw with large, dull, dirty teeth, and horns coming out from inside the large mouth. The tongue was long, thin, and red. The nose was also large, and had several lumps on it that resembled infected cuts.
I tried not to gag as I half-walked, half-staggered back to Clover and Samuel. My combat mind had dropped silent after I studied the creature, and I did not have enough presence of mind to clean my claws and put them back.
“Gosh! Sy!” Clover exclaimed with relief and surprise as I turned the bend in the trail. Samuel studied me from his horse, his short sword ready. Clover caught me as I began to fall, but my weight was too much and she lay me on the ground. Samuel was starting to wander towards town but I stopped him with a croak.
“Don’t,” my voice, sounding very weak, stopped the dark man. He nodded, but remained in his position with his eyes fixed on the town. I wasn’t sure why I was unable to compose myself, but I suspected the close-up encounter was to be blamed.
“This is bad,” Samuel agreed with a serious nod. I had regained and told them about what was in the town, and what I had killed. My claws were wiped and concealed, hidden until the next battle.
“What do we do now?” Clover asked, fear clinging to her voice. I shook my head, thinking.
“We can’t stay in Taria, or my cottage. Too close,” I shut my eyes, in deep thought.
“Let’s go to Myneham, then.” Samuel suggested. Clover and I looked at him, and I knew she was thinking the same thing as me.
“Are you sure? We’ve never been there,” Clover said, glancing at me. I nodded in agreement. “Unless you know people there,” I added. Samuel nodded.
“I have worked there for a few years. I can arrange something,” he said. “Although I’m not sure what.” As usual, I looked to Clover for her agreement. She shrugged, uncertain.
“Alright then, let’s go. We have nowhere to go, anyway.” I finalized. We mounted our horses and started along the trail.
We saw the thick smoke billowing from Myneham long before we saw the town. I looked back to Samuel to see if he spotted anything unusual about the town. Catching my eye, he shook his head. The leafless branches near the trail had less snow on them, and the air seemed warmer. The trail leading from Taria had led us directly to Myneham. The horses had not once complained, but simply carried us to our destination. Myneham was quite close to Taria, not more than ten minutes ride.
Myneham was a strange place. In some ways it resembled a fort, in others it seemed like a black market, protected and secret. I pulled up in view of the gates.
“Why is the town barricaded?” I asked Samuel. He stopped beside me to explain. “We fear the rumors about deserted towns. And we have a team of milita to battle any invader.” He gave me a very serious look. “I will tell you two things right here. I am a Cyzu from Asheria’s forces.” I was almost surprised.
“You, a third-class assassin?” I asked, my voice cold once more. Clover gasped at the word ‘assassin’. Samuel nodded, his face locked in a very serious manner. “You have saved my life. You are also citizens of this kingdom, which I am in debt to. Fear nothing from me, as before.”
I nodded slowly. “Asheria,” I said absently, “This is Asheria?”
Samuel shot me a surprise look. “You did not know?” he asked. I shook my head.
“I didn’t, either,” Clover admitted. “And you also were fighting off the bear,” she added to help Samuel. There was an awkward pause as I absorbed the information.
“What do you mean by third-class assassin?” Clover asked. I looked at Samuel, and he looked at me. Quickly I came to a decision about the secrecy of the assassins.
“Third highest ranked assassin.” I informed her. Samuel nodded to himself. If he were to stay with us, he would need to know that Clover would also know everything. “What does that mean?” she asked, almost pleading. I could see that she didn’t like being left out. “Samuel?” I prodded lightly. He gave a slight shrug and dropped his eyes in defeat. “Cyzus are just under Byzus, we know about as much as they do in terms of battle and the art of assassination, but they’re simply better in every respect.”
I couldn’t resist. “Not to mention Byzus would carry more than a small piece of metal, maybe two or three so that they wouldn’t have to fight against large animals for survival,” I said. I was pleased to see Clover and Samuel catch on.
“You’re a Byzu,” Clover accused at me, amazed. I chuckled and nodded. Samuel seemed to place things just as quick.
I nudged my horse into a slow walk. “Let’s go,” I said.
“The second thing,” Samuel said, stopping me, “Is that there is a wounded vision-man here. He may be able to help you, but as of late he has felt the carnage from the towns hit by…” his voice trailed off, but we knew exactly what he was talking about.
“We’ll hope for the best,” I said simply.
“Halt! Who are you?” came the sharp demand. I didn’t like where I was. Standing on a narrow bridge not more than a horse and a half wide snaking across a deep chasm, with Clover and Samuel behind me. The horses didn’t like it either. In the chasm lay piles of bones, rotting flesh, half-eaten meals, broken and discarded objects, and several bodies, some human. Clover’s gasp meant she had seen the bodies also. Amongst the pit were several very fine points of metal, hardly distinguishable. These people were prepared. There were also six of the town’s milita in the two guard towers by the gate, pointing their loaded bows at me. The gate was a serious-looking metal grate bearing several crusty stains. Behind the gate led into the town, but before that waited a squad of a dozen men bearing full armor, shields, spears, and swords. I found it almost comical that those men would burst out of the gate onto the narrow bridge to do combat with whatever threatened the town. But that just heightened my awareness of how bad the situation was.
“It’s Samuel, Jackson. Let us in,” our dark skinned companion said. Reluctantly, the armoured guard stepped back and the gate opened. I passed through the gate to find the footmen in a semi-circle around the entrance, denying me of further movement. Twelve sharp metal spears pointed up towards my body. Something was up. Clover whispered my name softly as she stood beside me, her wide eyes locked on the formation in front of us. I didn’t want to risk saying anything since the guards seemed so eager to impale us, so I just looked at her with a reassuring gaze. I could hear Samuel talking to the gate guard, explaining his situation.
“We had another one,” Jackson was saying. “Y’lucky they haven’t tried on you yet.” There was a pause as the guard considered. “We’re lucky too.”
“Who did they try this time?” Samuel asked, his voice as serious as before.
“Y’know that short guy from Taria? They tried him. We didn’t get him, though,” the guard shook his head in disgust. “He jumped into the chasm, but somehow he got out a few minutes later after our archers weren’t watching.” He looked up to the two towers. “Ya hear that, men? Better keep a better eye out.” A dismal grunt came from one of the towers.
“They did all they could, Jackson,” Samuel said, “You wouldn’t have done anything different.”
Jackson nodded sadly. “You’re right, as usual. At ease!” Instantly the semi-circle of armor assembled into two lines on each side of us. Samuel led his horse past us and motioned to follow him.
We walked past several open buildings, all with the same metallic smell and heat. “Blacksmiths,” Samuel said. “We make all our weapons and armor here.” He looked over his shoulder briefly at me with a new respect. “You are the bravest man I have ever seen. Those archers had metal arrows.”
I laughed softly to Clover. “I think those suits of armor are braver. They would try to impale me at the slightest movement.” Clover’s eyes widened.
“You need not worry. They would only act on a direct order, I made sure of that,” Samuel said. “We’ll put our horses in the stables, and then go to the vision-man.”
“Sounds good,” I said agreeably.
The stables were much like Taria’s, eight cells with hay and riding equipment nearby, but these had only two horses. A lamp hanging from a low rafter gave of meagre light, but enough to function efficiently. The horses were great black beasts of muscle at least a foot taller than ours, and as they sensed their counterparts they gave a superior toss of the head. Our horses’ only response was a stubborn snort. Outside one of the black beasts’ cell was a large man, quietly cleaning a large plate of metal meant for the horses.
“War armor,” I breathed. These people meant serious business, even if they had only two horses. I was amazed as I prodded my horse into a cell. I could walk around the horse without touching the sides.
“This has to do with war, right?” Clover asked me with a whisper.
“I really hope so,” I whispered back. My reply startled her, but she was even more startled once she understood what I was implying. In that moment, I felt very bad for Clover. She had lived in Taria all her life, and now she had to leave her town to this unforgiving situation. I also hated having to kill the bear, as she loved all animals and had many animal friends. What must it be like, to be thrown from a peaceful and happy world into one like this? And she was keeping up with it so well, I mused.
Snapping back to present, I turned to see Samuel waiting for me. He had been watching me with a serious expression with a hint of wonder and amusement. I glanced around to see where Clover was, and she was also staring at me. Holding up my hands, I gestured to the door and Samuel nodded and began walking.
Making her way to my side, Clover clutched my arm, “What’s wrong, Sy?” she asked. I put my arm around her shoulders for support before saying anything.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “We’ll talk about it later, ok?” She nodded, resting her head on my shoulders. I found this girl so beautiful, so wonderful, and I found it hard that I had done things to cause her worry and discomfort.
“Thanks, Sy,” she said softly. I smiled and nuzzled the top of her head, grateful for the moment.
The building was the makeshift hospital for Myneham. Wide wooden double doors opened to a modest room with a small fireplace. A counter stood to the right where a bored-looking man was counting pieces of marked wood. He had curly, matted dark blue hair, wide shoulders, muscular arms, a dirty white wool shirt underneath a dark blue robe, a stubby beard, small nose, and dark blue eyes that indicated he would rather be wearing metal than sitting here. A place such as Myneham would have no need for a waiting area, but rather as much patient space as possible. The man’s head snapped up as we entered, his bored gaze straying to Clover. It occurred to me then that the man was quite short. The floors were wooden, the walls stone, and another set of wide double doors waited to the left of the counter.
“I have come to see the vision man,” Samuel said, seemingly glaring at the man. The man nodded, and pretended to study the pieces of marked wood. Samuel shook his head in disapproval, but walked quickly through the double doors. I was amazed to find a clean interior corridor, well lit by several lamps. There were two doors per lamp, with a crudely carved number branding each room with an identification sign. We walked down the corridor, quickly made narrow by the bandages and medication stacked on both sides.
“I see the newest patients are in a room quite quickly,” I commented.
“Yes, that is correct,” Samuel agreed. He stopped and turned left and pounded on the door. The door opened, and Samuel motioned to the door behind him. A grunt of approval by whoever was in the room, and Samuel stepped aside. A short, wiry man with pants and a shirt stepped out into the halls, and after giving us a disapproving look, he opened the door that Samuel motioned to.
|The Path to December (Chp 4)||The Path to December (Chp6)|
|Path to December (Chp 5)||The Path to December|