Tethers Excerpt

Many years ago on the southernmost island of the Dire

The Rodairean Legion anchored their galley ships near the last pier, at the last island of the Dire, in their search for the remaining Sea-rippers. They expected to find monsters and no survivors. On approach, it became obvious, the Sea-rippers, the very monsters they had come to the Dire to hunt, had already been gruesomely dispatched. Bits of the dead creatures were decomposing all around, with some of the corpses slipping back into the sea with the tide. However, the evidence of their terror and destruction was all around.

The crews of the Steadfast and the Moonfall landed and filed out on the stone pier. Dorian walked with his men among the wreckage. Ship fragments and splintered wood were scattered on the shore. Rolling waves splashed over dead bodies, and the rubble of a town destroyed loomed on the rise.

“What happened here?” Dorian muttered.

“What killed the monsters?” Teego asked, his hand tightening on his sword and sweat beading on his brow.

Dorian shook his head, trying to understand what had taken place. How is everything dead, and more curious, how were the Sea-rippers killed?

“Keep your eyes wide, Tee. There must be more monsters here, hiding on the island. The people put up a good fight though,” Dorian said.

The further onto shore they walked, the more wreckage they found. The monsters had laid waste to the structures and inhabitants with the same havoc and horrors they had seen before. The sea-scorpion creatures were terrifying and lethal. The Rodairean army defeated the swarm that crawled out of the sea near Lowtalla, but fighting still raged on in Orvana.

Dorian scanned around and noticed that the pattern of sand below his boots had started to change. There was a shape among the array of debris, circular in nature. The scattering suggested an explosion from the heart of the town.

The men slowed as they became aware of the scene, their Meiyoma blades drawn.

Dorian was the first to see her.

Alone on the road was a small dark-haired girl. Her brown eyes wide with shock, she stood trembling in a depression of the terrain at the center of the blast.

“Go retrieve the captain, we have a survivor,” Dorian told Teego. He cautiously approached the girl. She looked like she couldn’t be more than four years old. She was soaked head to foot with water and blood, and a substantial amount of sand and dirt was caked on her as well. Her sopping dark hair hung over her face, which bore a look of shock and fury.

“What’s your name, little girl?” he asked softly, crouching down to her.

She clung to her necklace, and she peered up at him, confused. She either didn’t know or was too traumatized to speak. Her head jerked up to see the captain coming over.

When more of the legion came into the area with the steel of their swords gleaming, her eyes bulged, as though she was about to be caught in the jaws of the monsters. She dashed away deeper into the island’s interior.

“Wait, stop!” Dorian called.

“Find her,” the captain yelled, watching her run away.

Some of the men circled around to the various paths, while Dorian ran directly after her, his friend Teego sprinting behind him.

In the thick island fora of trees and bushes, the girl disappeared. Through the foliage, Dorian spotted an old stone watchtower and headed toward it. When the trees cleared, they found the girl crossing a crest of jagged rocks leading out of the tower, the crash of the ocean spraying up around her as she jumped from rock to rock. They approached the riprap embankment, and the small child spun around at them, as if she felt them coming. Her wet hair flung around her in the turn, and her eyes glared with equal parts daring and fear. The color of them seemed to swirl.

“Ovardyn’s black eyes,” Teego cursed under his breath.

With each swell of the tide came random bits of rubble and wood. Some of it was hurtled back ashore, like the sea was rejecting the foreign objects. Dorian pressed in and closed the distance to grab the girl. With impossible agility, she dove for a larger piece afloat on the waves—a small platform on the water. She used it to jump to another larger partially submerged craft. Off that piece, she jumped to the crossway to sprint further down the coastline, free of Dorian’s grasp.

They doubled back and caught up with her further up the tiny island, along with a small group of soldiers. She stood motionless amid a small mass of collapsed houses, with palm branches from the thatched roofs littered all over the ground. A man that Dorian didn’t recognize from the second boat tried to grab her, but the girl spun through his arms and pulled a long stick from the dirt. She spun the stick and smashed one of the ends into her attacker’s face, then she backed away. He toppled to the ground.

The other soldiers who had surrounded her hesitated, and took a moment to reassess this small exceptional person.

With coordinating effort, the group of five men closed in on her, pulling and grabbing for her arms. One of the men abruptly convulsed in pain, as though injured by an invisible phantom. He screamed, staring at his hands, his eyes wide with disbelief. The skin on his palms was charred black and blistered. More men cried out in pain. Whenever the girl put her hands on someone’s skin, they were instantly burned. The men backed away, but some fell where they stood and passed out from some unknown force, without her touching them at all.

The little girl was shaking now. She appeared cold and her eyes blinked and darted all around like she was as frightened as the men around her. Underneath it all, Dorian saw a look of pure determination to survive.

Dorian decided on a different approach. Among the ruins, he spotted a dark green woolen blanket, and he tore it free of the wreckage. The men were angry enough to hurt the girl now and panicked. One of the men started to charge in to kill her, but Dorian ran past him and arrived first. He wrapped her exhausted body up in the blanket and moved her swiftly down the road, away from the mob as fast as he could.

Almost as if she was waiting to be protected, her body sagged in his arms, with small tremors reverberating through her as he ambled back to his ship.

“You’re all right. I promise,” Dorian told her.

Teego followed behind them. Holding his Sagean-eye necklace tightly, he kissed it and whispered scripture about omens.

“Teego, help me with her. Leave your prayers for the dead,” Dorian said.

“That’s what I’m doing, Dorian,” he explained.

Together they brought the girl back to their ship while most of the other crews covered the rest of the island looking for more survivors. By then the rumor had spread that the little girl had somehow killed the swarm of Sea-rippers by herself. Dorian tried to take her below deck, but she shuddered with fear, and he led her to the top deck instead. The captain wandered over as more men arrived from their searches.

“How is she? Has she said anything yet?” the captain asked.

“She’s still in shock,” Dorian answered.

“Keep an eye her. She’s under your charge, Lieutenant Dorian, until we get back to the mainland. I don’t want anyone talking to her either. I don’t want anyone to see her, understand?”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

With that, the captain turned to Teego. “Teego, go tell the master navigator, Morrowmaki, that I want the fastest course he can find.”

“Yes, Captain.” Teego jumped into action, sprinting down to the captain’s quarters.

Dorian stood beside the girl, watching the soldiers return to the ships, their search coming up empty. This was the last island of the Dire they had left to search. The only survivors they had found were on the big island that still had ancient fortifications in place, and the girl. Many of the towers built by the Sagean Empire had been destroyed by the creatures.

When Teego came back, he was still whispering scripture to himself. He sat back with them, but distinctly kept his distance from the girl, still outwardly bothered by her presence.

“She’s calmed down, Teego. You don’t have to be frightened,” Dorian said.

“The Ancients knew all, my friend,” Teego replied, gazing out to the ocean. He continued, “In the fourth book of the Sages, it says, ‘When the shadow awakens, and the termination line rolls over the world, none but the fingers of God will stand against the storm.’”

Teego shifted against the rail and pulled his necklace free of his broadcloth vest.

“I’m not scared, Dorian, I’m in awe. I read a book once, it belonged to my great grandfather. It was more sacred and rarer than all the volumes of the Sages. It was a book of the Fates. Inside, it spoke of many horrifying things, but one passage that has always stayed with me said,

You will know when the Last Dawn has come
When the hands of God touch the Territh
The Source-born will awaken.
And their eyes will swirl, and they will clutch lightning like a feather
And burn the flesh of heathens
And they will drink the sun,
And all will know that once again
the tethers of war have come.
And the world shall reap the whirlwind.

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