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Winds that Bind

By: Keb Rogers

By Keb RogersPublished 5 months ago 18 min read
Top Story - April 2024
7

Under an iron sky, a silver-leafed dragon holds the key to peace. A hailstorm of burning of the Frellian force’s unceasing rage slams against the Golden Dome. Each impact forces the wavy currents of hazy, golden air to scatter erratically for a moment before returning to their perpetual breeze. Each impact fuels my urge to run, but leaving would only ensure the fate I wish to avoid. Licking flames dance just outside the protective haze, like worshipers before the Great Khal during ceremony. The fires closest to the dome burn the brightest. Stacks and stacks of bodies, the men, women, and children from lesser castes, field workers and farmhands who couldn’t afford city life pile against the translucent golden wall. The surprise assault afforded little time to evacuate from the countryside and into the city. Charred hands reach and beg for sanctuary, the guilt of survival is heavy against my soul. Even in death, they worship the Great Khal, the only one who may grant their entrance to the afterlife, their God King, their supposed protector. If he falls, the souls of Marowar are forfeit, destined to wander listless wastes of the grey. They will be nothing more than experiments, playthings for the devious Frellian shamans to tinker with --- a fate far worse than death.

Given the circumstances, I wish I could say I had more faith in surviving this war. That I would be sure our Khal would lead us into an era of peace and prosperity, but the charred bodies of devout believers force the doubt to linger. Since its creation, the Golden Dome has never been penetrated, never buckled, or broken in the face of whatever adversaries threw its way. So, why should I doubt? It’s a question that began as a stone in my brain, with jagged sharp edges and unmoving. Now, it rolls a smooth sphere, unable to remain still, its firm stance lost in repeat reflection. My gradual lack of confidence now leads the rest of my psyche, my sanity all but gone. Each boulder that explodes against the golden air, each ashen hand clawing for sanctuary, pushes me further and further from the hope of victory. The emulsified innocent sear their pleas into my brain, but a sharp twinkle of light stabs my periphery. The dragon approaches.

The people of Marowar are elegant, sophisticated, and fiercely just. They don’t allow their emotions to rule them and operate under a strict moral code of honor and civility. There would not be a single Marowanian among me atop this parapet who shares my doubts of the future. I alone bear the curse of being a half-blood, a bastard of two races. Being here for so long, I have begun to resent every time emotions break me from the resolute part of my Marowanian blood. Emotions only provide distraction and weakness, two things I can seldom afford living in their society of stoic honor. Lingering eyes beneath silver helms line the parapet fall to me while I can’t tear mine from the unfortunate ahead. I can only imagine their glares are forceful, silent demands that I trade places with one of the lesser caste’s corpses below. Even still, even if I could, it wouldn’t even be enough to gain their respect, but it would make them happier that a pure-blood lives in lieu of an abomination. The crowd stacked along the parapet grows with each boulder crash, and more and more oppressive eyes levy hate towards me than the enemies that assail our defenses. All they can see is my olive-toned skin – the enemy’s skin – within their walls.

The Great Khal walks to the parapet, citizens and silver clad soldiers a parting sea in his wake. Behind him are the Seven Drakes, rulers of the additional great cities within the Shimmering Empire meet his stride. Each set of their brilliant armor uniquely crafted by the artisans of their region. My master, Kenlin Vorath, the Drake of the Northern Vale is amongst the retinue. He locks eyes with me and gives a subtle nod. I acknowledge him but do not return a response. A half-blood acknowledging a pure-blood is bad enough, but a drake would be a hideous act. They might kill me on the spot even with the Khal present, as recourse would be condoned in the face of such dishonor. I step away and bow deeply as they approach the parapet. Kenlin glances over and beckons me to his side. It’s in his eyes too, the urning to return home, to Vallias. It is the furthest city from Marowar and far less prejudice. Most of its dwellers have no concept of disdain for other nations, of war. They are hearty, salt of the earth folk with the common goal of surviving in harsh conditions, a far cry of those I stand amongst now. The city sees more strange beasts and creatures that wander from the Shaded Vale mountains than people. Cold and hunger are the enemy there.

My place is behind the left shoulder of Kenlin, where a ward remains until he dies. Marowanian defense posture emphasize a shield in the right hand, and the man or woman who guards your left is the person you trust the most --- it is the highest honor to ward for one of the Seven Drakes. The hate filled eyes of the surrounding crowd now aim downward in embarrassment and confusion. Kenlin gives me a smirk out over his shoulder but then the Khal speaks.

“Is it wise to have a man guard your left who pumps the very blood of our enemy through his veins?” The Khal asks.

“Wynn was under my charge long before the Frellian’s broke the vows of our fathers, Great Khal.” Kenlin replies, immediately shifting from his usual mischievous demeanor to one that holds the title of Drake of the Northern Veil, better known as The Biting Gale. His dark gray hair flowing to his shoulders like the winding winds of the dome. He is immaculate today, and I respect no man more than my master.

“This is true.” The Khal turns, his ring covered hands leaving the white stone railing. “But now we stand before the gates of the Windless Tomb and you trust a man whose kin would put us there? What makes you believe that he will not betray the Silver Throne?”

Fighting the urge to step forward, Kenlin speaks. “Together we have fought Caradons along the northern ridge, we have repulsed the waves of Night Hunters who crave the flesh of our people,” Kenlin looks back at me with a smile. “Wynn even saved my life when the hordes of the Pelevaak clans attacked our walls, he defended me as I lay on the ground wounded unable to fight.” The Khal’s eyes search me for the truth of Kenlin’s words. I don’t take my eyes from Kenlin, even with the enormity of the God of a man that stands behind him. “But, that is not what makes me trust him.” Kenlin turns back to look the Khal in the eyes, an act no one other than a Drake would ever attempt.

“No?” The Khal asks.

“No, Great Khal.” Kenlin says. “What earns my trust is that he chose the Silver within him, not the Onyx. The day he was revealed to our society he made a choice, a choice to remain loyal to this Empire, to you, even in the face of hate from his kin who deem him a pariah.” Kenlin’s fists clench, and he turns to the crowd. “Wynn walked among you today, and you wanted him dead. I saw you, all of you, wishing he was one of the burned innocent against the walls. But while you glared at him, he mourned. He mourned for the lost and the slain wishing he could swap places with any of them, an act he would proudly accept --- an act none of you would accept willingly. You may not hide from this truth; I see it in all of your eyes. He did not grovel; he did not inform any of you of his position. He has saved more Marowanian lives than any of you and you wish death upon him. This man has been put down by the very people he wants to be a part of, that took his parents from him, that shipped him to the wastes of the north and still he chooses to be here ready to fight for you this day. I would serve by this man before any of you, none of you deserve my left.”

The Khal chuckles then speaks to the crowd of citizens. “It is said the Biting Gale has eyes that see into the soul of a man, if Kenlin delivers this judgement then I have no other reason to question it. A man who bleeds for the Silver of my own heart is welcome at my table. It’s a pleasure to have you with us, Wynn of the North.”

Some of the other Drakes who surround the Khal stare at me, distaste lingering on their faces. One in particular, Zellek from the Western Shores, eyes with such contempt that if the Khal weren’t here there is no doubt, he would challenge Kenlin to duel for my right to live. So much unbound hate behind such beautiful slate grey eyes. They remind me of the mountain faces of the range north of Vallias in the twighlight before nightfall. Vellek’s black hair whips forward when a monstrous crash thunders across the city. Rubble cascades down the Golden Dome equivalent to ten of the usual boulders hitting the dome at one time.

“They are getting tired of throwing their rocks, Khal.” Vellek sneers. “They grow bolder by the day.” He stands on the Khal’s left.

“They do indeed, honorus. I feel that the dome won’t last long against repeated lashings of that magnitude.” He pauses, “You and Kenlin take your best with you, remove that trebuchet from the field. Succeed, I will have no more sliver blood spilled because of their fire and stone.”

Both Vellek and Kenlin respond, “Yes, Great Khal.”

The retinue turns and heads back towards the capital spires. The Great Khal lays a hand on my shoulder, “I expect Kenlin to return tomorrow. If he does, I will personally deliver your claim as pure blood and walk you myself into the Garden of Wind. You have my word.”

I smile back and nod following with a bow so deep I nearly hit the floor. A hand grabs my arm and hoists me up. Kenlin’s smiling face is all I see. “Come brother, we have a pardon to earn and a kingdom to save.” I smile back doing my best to look excited about the opportunity, like a dam holding back a sea of dread.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

The sky darkens far sooner than I want. The ember covered land prevents night from taking complete control and orange hangs in the air. This campaign has forced many to believe orange synonymous with slaughter and ruin, a color once revered as beautiful in the sky above now pulses fear into a nation. The fear holds me hostage, my brain scattered considering every possibility over the next few hours. The waiting is always the worst, the lingering dread crippling the mind. The others remain resolute, unwavering in the face of the monumental task. Another mountain sized boulder slams into the dome. I swear, I saw it buckle slightly. Time is no longer our ally. Either this siege engine falls or the dome falls.

Seven men accompany me in an abandoned inn on the fringe of the dome. We wear hurricane armor, a specialist armor meant for engaging hundreds of enemies at once. Several runes glowing bright blue hum, seated in their spots along the larger panels of the blackened silver-steel plates. There are no rank signifiers, no silver sigils, no dragon wings anyone would discern to be the Shimmering Empire. We are nothing, the hunters in the dark, formless, shapeless, silent --- we are midnight fog.

Kenlin and Vellek enter through the main entrance of the inn wearing the same black uniform. It’s strange to see them out of their ornate armor, especially Vellek. We can’t let the Frellians find out they are anyone of importance lest they be captured or singled out for slaughter. Kenlin wears an eager grin, and how he remains even keel is beyond me. The Windless Tomb is waiting, doors open for the men in this room, for Kenlin, for me.

“Two teams of three and one of four, yes?” Vellek barks. The group of men reply in a resounding “Aye”. “Good, Team of four lead by Hassian will center push, kill any men in your way but keep it as quiet as possible. Leave the bodies, after the first ones fall, we will have about ninety seconds to destroy the trebuchet before panic ensues. Kenlin, Wynn and I will cover the left flank of the central force, and the other group of three lead by Torrin will wing right and gather intel on the other siege battlement installations, perhaps even downing a couple more. Yes?”

“Aye.”

“Good, there is a large stone jutting out from the ground north of the target position between the trebuchet and the dome. Rendezvous there once the siege engine is destroyed, then we head back for the dome. This should take no more than fifteen minutes max, but if we are compromised, don’t surrender, not to them. Fight to your last and make it to that rock, if we don’t see you then we will shake hands in the Fields of Endless Wind, brothers. Move.” Vellek shouts.

The men of midnight fog stalk into the night. We are Death. It’s all I can tell myself. If I think of anything else, I will crumble under the pressure of fear. Kenlin smiles through his perfectly trimmed greying beard.

“Be strong, Wynn. This’ll be easy. I hear they have honey mead at the halls tonight. Winner gets free drinks after that?” His confidence is infectious.

“I look forward to getting drunk on your dime then.” I chide back.

“A wage it is then.”

He pulls his dagger and holds it up, I do the same. This was the same bet we made before plunging into the Night Hunter caves. We exchange daggers, a Vallian custom for an official wager. Participants exchange a weapon to symbolize fairness, a practice I enjoy. We follow the rest of the shrouded warriors into the night, the only thing visible are the tenuous lights from the runes along our armor in the dimming orange.

Light resistance is scattered across the smoldering waste. Groups of two to three Frellian guardsmen patrol the rubble ashen craters. The reflective nature of the blackened silver-steel makes us invisible in the smoldering night. The prey are plentiful, each pod of our warriors’ dispatches roughly eleven patrols, save ours, we remove fourteen. We cover the bodies with debris or piles of soot in the area approaching the large rock. We can’t have our position known yet, not with an entire army waiting past the hills. Kenlin has twenty while I have eighteen. He loves the competition; he is even scolded by Vellek for being ridiculous in one kill, almost compromising our position to two other guard clusters before out other pods could get to them. Kenlin just smiles and whispers his kill count to me with a wink. The groups congregate at the rock.

“Remember, shapeless and silent, this trebuchet has to fall, no exceptions.” Vellek whispers.

The group returns a nod and each pod splits and pushes forward. We hold a forty-foot gap between the central pod of four. Hassian points out four guardsmen who fall without a sound. The crackling and hissing of the burning wood and stone offer some aid in the necessity for stealth. I take out two on the left flank while Kenlin and Vellek take out one each. Kenlin’s ice blade, Glacier Fang, slams through the right side of a guard’s chest, preventing him from screaming. Small ice shards cover the blade in a jagged, crimson hue. I am not sure what Vellek’s blade can do, it contains the wind rune like other wielders, but is accompanied by a deep grey, almost black light rune above it. It doesn’t activate when he kills a man like Kenlin’s.

The trebuchet is the size of a mountain. Braziers stand at its four corners, the light barely revealing half its size. Droves of guardsmen stand at its base milling around and preparing the next house sized ammunition to throw next. A man stands apart from the rest at the base of the trebuchet wearing the helm of the Terran Crusher, a large badger-like animal said to be a myth in the far east. At his waist rests a blade, a brown and red rune peeks through the haze. There aren’t many dual or enhanced elemental swordsmen in the world. In fact, I have only known a very select few captains along with the Seven Drakes and the Khal to bear the Skaratii, or the Shaping Blades. The sight of those who carry such power is followed by this truth: where they walk, ruin follows.

I point it out to Kenlin and Vellek who seem unbothered by the man, little does to a Marowanian. The core group steps forward and begins slowly pushing along the fringes, killing the guardsmen that stand near the braziers. Ninety seconds has begun.

It takes less than that for the chaos to begin.

Hassian’s pod moves forward in quiet precision and are set to pounce on another group of unsuspecting guardsmen when the Badger helmed man rips his head in their direction. How did he know? He points and shouts at the pod of four who stand and ready themselves unable to hide any longer. Waves of men pour forward toward them. The crash crackles as silver steel meets tempered onyx. The crowd has thinned around the Badger as the other two pods meet the horde in combat, Vellek uses this as a chance to seek him out directly. He shoots forward, peeling through seven men before the group even knows what’s happening. The Badger didn’t notice him either. Was it because he was in the air? Doesn’t matter. Kenlin and I follow cutting down any remaining men that would encircle Vellek.

The silver-steel armor we wear is extremely tough, but mine hasn’t even been touched yet because of the runes laden within it. They channel short bursts of wind whenever a blade gets close, parrying it away. I’m not sure how long the runes will last but I will put every second of them to use. Fear lingers in my mind, but now a different kind, one of immediate survival. Kenlin must survive, fuck the decree of my blood, fuck the people that hate me, fuck the afterlife; I will get both of us home.

The army of men surround us, hundreds bark like starving dogs at their plate of meat. A duel between Vellek and the Badger has begun. We’ve lost one man from each of the other pods and we stand in a semi-circle at Velleks’s back. The duel begins, but in the same second the rest of the army charge in at me and Kenlin. It seems honor and civility don’t exist in Frellian culture. Between the elegance of wind-based swordsmanship and runes deflecting blows on our armor, we hold back wave after wave of the onslaught. After eight waves I feel contact begin to penetrate the runic defense. Small cuts find their way through my joints and weak points and warm trails of blood begin to flow down my body. Momentary glances reveal Kenlin is under the same stress. Vellek is locked in earth-shattering combat with the Badger behind us all as the remaining men of midnight fog stave the incoming hordes of fiendish brutes. Our circle of defense growing smaller around the duel as one by one our men begin to fall, Kenlin’s shouts through the clang of metal. “Get down, Wynn! Now!”

I hesitate, not completely sure what he said through the cacophony. I look at him and he is begging me with all his might to get down with his eyes. He begins twirling his sword above his head and it begins to glow almost pure white. He yells again. “Get down –“.

A crimson blade rips from his chest.

In the same moment, Vallek is being pinned against the trebuchet by the Badger who is laughing and screaming in the ecstasy of war. The earth-based stances are brutal and overwhelming if a wind stance swordsman is caught in a cramped position and unable to evade is most certainly dead in the circumstance. My master is gravely wounded while the man who could turn the tide in this fight is about to die. I stare blankly into the momentary calm inside the eye of the storm. I feel tears forming in my eyes and then a snap. Rage finds a home in my soul.

They say that a swordsman will know if he is capable of wielding a Skaratii when he finds the part that makes him whole. The piece of him that defines the soul of his being, the rune, finds him but only when he stops searching for his own meaning, a warrior must know. Kenlin wielded the Marowanian rune for “Frigid Wind” or “Blizzard”. I have seen him fight. He is ruthless, surgical in his strikes, like the bite of winter’s cold and just as unrelenting. That was the soul of Kenlin, fierce and unwavering. In that moment, the moment it all crumbles around me, I see it. My soul.

I fall to my knees and take out the dagger Kenlin gave me before we left and begin frantically scratching the rune into the base of my blade above the wind rune. The guardsmen around me, confused now stand and watch their leader deliver the final blows to this would enemy lord. Kenlin lays on the ground watching me. I don’t know if dead eyes or live ones look at me. The rune crudely etched into my blade; I stand.

I am inescapable. I am consuming. I am unstoppable. I am -- Sand.

My blade slams into the ground and the entire area is filled with a swirling eruption of crushing sand and wind. Men are picked up and carried away in the torrent. I float in the air watching the pathetic guardsmen carried away. The badger looks around frantic, unable to see me with his blindsight from ground vibrations. The mixture of earth and air has his entire sensory field in chaos. I dive, blade extended to the ground. The last second before impacting the badger I raise my legs and kick him square in the chest plating him to the ground with ridiculous force. I feel a crack in his chest. He isn’t laughing anymore. I take Kenlin’s dagger and drive it downward with both hands into the center of his chest. I take off my helmet, revealing my olive skin. His face is painted with aching confusion.

“You are no kin of mine, animal.” I sneer and twist the dagger, severing the important arteries in the heart. Kenlin taught me that.

I walk over to Vellek who covers his face from the sand until I arrive. I am the eye of the storm, only around me is chaos.

“I could sense you had something inside you, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.” Vellek chuckles. “Where’s Kenlin?”

Shit. Where is he.

“He was severely wounded. I’ll go find him. I believe you can handle the rest?” I ask.

“Certainly,” Vellek clasps my arm. “I was wrong, you are of silver blood, and you are my kin. Now, go save Kenlin one more time, we can’t let him live this one down.”

I sprint over to where Kenlin lays motionless. I pick him up and all I can see are bloody, smiling lips. “I knew you had a bit of flare in you, damnit all that was impressive.” He groans.

“I’ve got you master, don’t worry. We’re getting out of here.” I say, cradling him.

I leave in a full sprint with Kenlin in my arms and behind me wrath incarnate rains from above, blasts of thunder and spears of lightning sunder the black sky through howling winds at blinding speeds. Vellek has the soul of a hurricane and the Frellians fall around his power. Fitting, he is an angry bastard. With death itself as my cover, I lead the few remaining men of midnight fog back to the protection of the Golden Dome, the home of my kin.

Fantasy
7

About the Creator

Keb Rogers

I am a writer who focuses primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genres. I'm excited to share my ideas, stories, and worlds with you all! I look forward to the feedback from this lovely community's vast sea of talented writers.

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  • Anna about a month ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • D. D. Leeabout a month ago

    Wow. This was a lot to take in and for sure my longest read on Vocal. What I appreciate most about this story is the concepts you’ve created. I love elemental fighting. It reminds me of ATLA. The hurricane armor is really amazing use of magical protection. It was a bit hard to follow at times because there was so much information being given at once. I had to do another quick run over to really see what was happening. Still good though! Have you thought of breaking this down into maybe 2-4 parts? You could lessen the read time and spend time fleshing out the setting and plot? Congratulations on Top Story!

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