Authors: James Barclay
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General
Twenty paces out, the rainforest shook with explosions and was lashed with sheets of blue fire. Debris flew into the canopy. Splinters of stone and wood sliced into trunk, branch and leaf, whining and whistling through the air towards Auum and his Tais. Auum threw himself prone behind the bole of a balsa tree as the lethal hail scoured Beeth’s root and branch around him.
As quickly as it had begun it was gone and an eerie quiet descended, punctuated only by the cries of wounded animals and the screams of terrified elves within the temple. Auum moved smoothly back to his feet, noting the sound of his five Tai rising with him.
‘Focus your anger,’ he whispered.
The TaiGethen moved soundlessly onto the temple apron. Men crowded it. Men with swords were running towards the sealed temple doors, which still held but bore the scars of the first wave of spells. Others flanked them, driving towards the Al-Arynaar. Behind the human warriors, mages strode across the stone apron, defiling the sacred ground of Yniss with every footfall.
Above the back of the temple, Auum saw more mages descend on the village that nestled in its shadow. Each pair carried a warrior between them. He drew a sharp breath. An arrow flew from the left of the temple, taking a mage in the throat. Immediately, three others turned and opened their hands. Deep blue orbs shot with white and red threads flashed away.
Auum saw the Al-Arynaar nock another arrow and shoot at the nearest of the orbs. The shaft vaporised halfway towards its target and, in the next breath, the orbs struck the archer, the corner of the temple and the forest adjoining it alike before flame exploded from them, turning wood, flesh and bone to ash.
More spells sprang from the open palms and outstretched fingers of mages. Fire crashed into the doors of the temple, making the timbers groan. Flames caught hold. The TaiGethen could feel Yniss roar his fury through the tremors in the ground.
His feet whispered across the apron. His Tais were with him, spreading across the stone to strike. Auum chose a jaqrui from his pouch, cocking his arm and throwing on the run. The crescent blade whipped away, holes along its length catching the air and singing its mourning wail. Mages turned their heads, just as he needed them to. His target saw his death coming the instant before it struck him on the bridge of his nose and sliced into both eyes.
Five more jaqruis flew, striking unarmoured bodies, carving into hands and arms raised to protect faces, and thudding deep into guts and chests. Human blood spattered across the stone. Human voices were raised in alarm. Warriors turned to run back to their magical charges.
Auum sprinted across the open space. Four mages were down. Eight remained, facing their assailants. Auum identified four actively casting. The others were lost to panic and posed no imminent danger. To Auum’s right, Elyss had drawn a blade. She powered into a pair of casting mages. Her sword took the ear from one and drove on down into his shoulder, as her elbow jabbed up into the throat of the other.
Auum took two more paces and leapt, his left leg straight, right leg cocked beneath him. His foot smashed into the head of his target, poleaxing him. Still airborne, he drew both blades from their back-mounted scabbards, drew his left leg back and hacked down to his left and right, feeling both blades bite into flesh.
Auum landed amidst the humans. Malaar landed on one knee next to him, spinning and stabbing into an enemy’s groin, then surged to his feet and slashed one blade through the neck of a second, then buried the other in the gut of a third.
Auum nodded his approval and turned to face the warriors. He cursed. Flames were rising from the village behind the temple. Screams echoed beneath the canopy. The warriors were hacking open the temple doors. The spells had cracked the timbers, melted the hinges and lock, and now men were trying to do the rest.
‘Elyss!’ called Auum. ‘My right. Tais, head around the temple. Clear the village.’
Auum ran towards the doors, seeing the six warriors drag them wide enough to get inside while the flames ate at the ruined timbers. Elyss was at his right shoulder. Auum slipped through the doors, his nose catching the sick stench of magic and fire, and into the cool darkness of the temple.
Beneath the great dome, the statue of Yniss knelt by the harmonic pool as it had done for over a thousand years. The waters still ran from beneath Yniss’ outstretched hand, their sound melodic and beautiful. But it was eclipsed by the harsh shouts of men and the desecrating slap of their boots on the blessed stone. The warriors had split up to run around both sides of the pool, heading for the passageway that led through the temple to the rear doors and out into the village.
Auum could see priests and Ynissul adepts in the shadows, helpless and frightened, trapped between the men coming around the pool towards them and those behind them in the village. Auum ran for the edge of the pool. He planted his left foot and leapt into the air, tucking and turning his body in a forward roll, blades held away from him. He unwound in flight and landed soundlessly between the two groups of warriors, a blade held out towards each trio.
‘You will travel no further,’ he hissed.
At least one of them understood him. His response was a laugh.
‘One elf cannot stop us,’ he said in passable common elvish.
The men ran on. Auum stepped up towards the passage to meet them as Elyss flew through the air feet first and thumped into the left-hand group, bringing two down and sending the third stumbling into the wall.
‘One?’ said Auum. ‘A TaiGethen is never alone.’
Auum left Elyss to her work, hefted his blades and waited. The remaining three men came on, fuelled by the sight of their comrades dying. Their desire to reach their friends made them careless. A blade swung out waist-high. Auum ducked beneath it, coming up in its wake and stabbing the warrior through the centre of his gut, leaving the blade where it stuck, buried to its hilt.
The man stumbled back. Auum moved into the half-pace of space and reversed his other blade into the back of the second warrior’s neck. The third turned, belatedly tracking Auum’s movement. Auum swung round. His right fist whipped out, smashing the warrior’s nose. The human brought his blade to ready, blood pouring over his mouth, his eyes betraying his surprise and pain.
For a heartbeat Auum considered letting him be the one to live and carry the story back to his masters.
‘But it should be one who can fly,’ he said.
Auum swayed outside a clumsy strike and calmly slid his blade into the warrior’s chest, then turned from the falling body and retrieved his second blade. He cleaned both on the clothes of the dead and sheathed them. Elyss had finished her three and was moving up the passageway. Auum ran after her, gesturing priests and adepts aside.
‘Stay under cover. Wait for my word that it is safe.’
Auum and Elyss ran for the rear doors, passing chambers, scripture rooms and sleeping cells, most with elves hiding within them. They were still ten yards from the doors when they burst open, a flood of workers, civilians, adepts . . . of ordinary elves spilling in, climbing over each other to escape the enemy at their backs.
The air chilled and Auum cursed.
‘Clear!’ he yelled. He shoved Elyss hard, sending her tumbling into a contemplation chamber and diving after her. A gale of harrowing cold howled down the passageway. Elven screams were cut off as if a door had been slammed shut against them.
Auum shivered and rolled onto his back. Ice rimed the door of the chamber and lay thick on the floor and ceiling of the passageway. It climbed the walls to create a frozen blue tunnel. Detonations outside shook the temple, where more screams filled the air. Inside the temple, the silence told its own story.
Auum pushed himself to his feet and ran out, slithering on the icebound floor. He dropped to a crouch, scrabbling with hand and foot to make headway towards the doors and the village. Elyss followed more slowly. Ahead of him, the passage was clogged with the bodies of defenceless Ynissul elves frozen in the attitudes of their slaughter. Hands outstretched for help, mouths open in screams of brief agony.
Beyond them, mages stood framed in the doorway. They were casting. Auum tried to increase his pace but the ice on the floor gave him precious little purchase. He snatched a jaqrui from his belt and threw it backhanded. The blade whispered away, thudding into a mage’s legs. He cried out and fell. The three others opened their palms to cast, and Auum commended his soul to Yniss.
A shadow passed across the doors; the castings were never released. A figure whipped in from the left. One mage was decapitated, his head bouncing and sliding across the ice of the temple floor. The head came to rest at Auum’s feet, its eyes staring into his, its final confusion fading away.
Auum spat on the face and lifted his gaze to the doors. The elf who stood there had a wildness about his expression that he would never lose. Nor would he lose the haunted look in his eyes. Swords were dripping blood in his hands, and at his feet human mages were bleeding and dying.
‘You took your time,’ said Auum. ‘Perhaps a little more practice is required.’
The elf ignored him, muttered to himself and knelt at the body of a still-breathing mage.
‘You will take the tale of your failure to your masters,’ he said. ‘But only after you have told me what I desire to know.’
Auum shook his head and began to walk towards the door. He felt Elyss come to his side. Together, they moved past the elf and into the burning village.
‘Is that . . . ?’ asked Elyss.
‘Yes,’ said Auum. ‘It is Takaar. Or what’s left of him.’
Auum led Elyss into the fresh rainfall to witness the carnage the human magic had created.
The journey from Silent Priest to ClawBound is short in distance but infinite in solace for the soul. A ClawBound will always remember. That is the price he must pay for the joy of genuine union with the most glorious of Tual’s creatures.
ClawBound and Silent
, by Lysael, High Priest of Yniss
Auum indulged in a moment of pride. His TaiGethen students had reacted like veterans. They had killed without error and saved the lives of dozens of innocents. They moved through the village now, readying the dead for removal to the Hallows of Reclamation. They offered comfort to the injured and grieving and administered balms to wounds where they could.
Fires still burned in a few houses. The magical flame was difficult to extinguish but with Gyal’s tears falling they would spread no further. Auum walked back into the temple. The ice had melted quickly, leaving the stones wet and slick. Every chamber held priests at prayer and he could hear plainsong coming from within the dome. It was a dirge for the dead and a chant for the vengeance of Shorth to be visited upon the souls of the enemy.
Back in the dome, Auum walked around the pool and past the priests and adepts kneeling at its edges to sing. A lone figure was standing at the burned, sundered doors of the temple. Auum joined her and followed her gaze as it travelled over the bloodstained apron, still littered with the bodies of human mages.
‘I am sorry we were not here to save more of your people, Onelle,’ said Auum.
Onelle gave a dry, mirthless laugh and placed a hand on Auum’s arm.
‘Without you, many more would be dead and the plight of all elves would be that much worse.’
Auum looked at Onelle and saw the haunting knowledge in her eyes. She was an Ynissul who had suffered so much and in whom so much faith and trust was placed. She was the first and most advanced practitioner of the Il-Aryn, One Earth, the name given to the fledgling elvish magic. It had aged even her and she was Ynissul, immortal. Grey dominated her hair, which had thinned, giving her a taut and severe look when she brushed it back from her face.
Onelle’s face was deeply lined and her eyes, still green and rich with the health of her soul, were edged with darkness by the weight of a task which kept her from proper rest. But her mind was strong and her desire to learn and to impart that learning had grown in the hundred and fifty years since her escape from Ysundeneth and the awakening of the power within her.
‘How many did we lose?’ asked Auum.
Onelle took a shuddering breath. ‘We have counted fourteen adepts. More are gravely wounded. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that our orientation class is in the field. Those twenty-eight were saved by their absence.’
Onelle let her head drop. Auum knew she was crying but he needed to know more.
‘What is left of the development and practitioner classes?’
Onelle shook her head. ‘Gone. And worse, we knew this would happen.’
‘We knew they would find us if we tested our powers. They can smell the use of the Il-Aryn. They can track it like a panther tracks a deer in the depths of night. We’d been so careful until now.’
‘You can’t blame yourself. You have no choice but to test.’
Onelle stared up at Auum and the smile she forced through her tears broke his heart. ‘And we found ourselves so terribly wanting, didn’t we?’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘We were trying to generate a shield against magical attack,’ said Onelle. ‘I was so confident. We had worked so hard. And then they came and cast a single spell and our shield crumbled. They all died.’