Linis Riza sat on the outside steps in the snowy weather. How he hated the cold, he was not use to it. Linis was from the plains of the south, a lush river fed fields waving with high grass, a warm sun over head more days than not. Now, it was near midnight, it was snowing, and he was keeping himself warm with the bottle of Anudar Rye Whiskey, native of his homeland along the Myure River.
But why now, think of home? He has been away from if for four years now, in the service of King Edwin Kelmunt. He joined the Queoth Army following the example of his brother, hoping to serve with him. His brother was station here, a Lieutenant in the Twilight Brigade. He was a tad bit disappointed that his brother and the current brigade were on special assignment. He was anxious to meet him, and to be honest show off, that he, Linis, made it through the training. Zenta was always showing off for Linis, back home, before the Gyrenna sacked the town.
How he hated the Gyrenna, those monstrous hyena like creatures that stand nearly seven feet tall. In one fell swoop, they came out of the hills and forests, sacking the plains of Myure River valley. Many had not a chance, the villages were not heavily fortified, many were simply self-sufficient, and their fighting forces, the town or village men. Some, had the protection of the Gray Griffins, they were the lucky ones. He lost many loved ones in that time, far too many. Now, he waited years to unite with one, but that too was a stolen dream.
“It’s a party,” a female voice beckoned him.
“Yep,” he said, sipping the whiskey.
Ryneke placed her hands on his shoulders, rubbing them sternly, yet seductively. He held up the bottle and she took it. He liked the druidess; she was the squad’s healer and council at times. She trained with them; on and off, learning some combat skills, but a majority of her time she spent in the wilderness. That was their common thread, nature. He was the tracker, he spent a great deal of his training outdoors, in the weather, but it was nothing like this.
She tapped his shoulder with the bottle, he accepted. “I’m sorry about your brother,” she said sympathetically.
“Story of my life,” he answered callously.
“Come on now, you. . .”
He stood quickly and faced her, placing a finger over her lips, silencing her. He cocked his head to the side. Something was not right, he sensed it, and there was an odd sound lingering. . .
He grabbed her hand, turned, and ran down the steps of the inn. The door erupted, merely feet from Ryneke’s head as they began their descent. The wall beside him was bursting outwards, the heat was a welcome as it began to over heat his flesh. The stairs were tilting, buckling as he gracefully bounced down them, and dragging the druid in tow.
Near the bottom, he threw Ryneke out a head of him. He leapt up off the collapsing steps, placing one foot on the burning wall and pushed himself away from the crumbling, burning rubble. As he flew by her, he grabbed the dazed druid, flipped himself around to face the exploding inn and pulled them both to the deep snow covered ground, sliding to a stop near the thin ice that bordered the river.
Linis lay there what seemed to be an eternity. Debris landed all around both of them, hissing as it landed in the snow. Others peppered his body, but he felt no major pain, other than a few thuds and slaps. The roar was intense. His sensitive hearing was ringing so loud it was extremely painful. The heat, originally welcomed, was now becoming a threat, as his face and exposed hands were beginning to tingle, as if he was standing too long in the sun.
“I can’t breathe,” a muffled cry called out from beneath him. The snow was nearly a foot and a half deep here, and he was even with the hard snow crust.
“Shit,” he exclaimed and rolled off Ryneke and looked at her face. Her pale hazel eyes tinted orange in the firelight were crying. He rubbed the tears from her face. “Are you okay?”
She shook her head, her strawberry-blonde hair burying itself in the snow as she did. “I’m hit.”
“Back, shoulder,” she said, tears again falling. “It hurts Linis.”
He carefully rolled her over onto her right side, examining her back. It was glass, stained green, two fingers wide and protruding three fingers out, just below her left shoulder blade. He was not sure how long the entire piece was, or how deep it went, but he knew it had to come out. He packed snow around it, numbing the pain.
“Where’s your pack?” he asked.
She nodded toward the burning Riverside Inn, “At our table.” There was almost laughter in her voice; it was definitely a sarcastic tone.
“Lovely,” he shook his head with a smile. “This is going to hurt then,” now he spoke with an apologetic tone.
* * *
Verne Bryant sipped slowly on the Meade that he spun around on the bar. The fire pit in the center of the main tavern room of the Riverside Inn did little. He supposed that it would probably be actually a lot colder had the fire been out. In Firodar, all days were cold and snowy, especially in Twilight Falls, which was in the newly acquired territory of Queoth. Not but only three years ago did King Edwin Kelmunt take from Betten, the two have been at war for as long as most can remember Lauren’s Dowry and Callington. It was a key victory, for they are major ports along the Emerald Lake, and opening the doorway to the mountains of the north that separated the two warring countries.
To most in Queoth, this little fortified village that was at the opening of one of three mountain passes north, the name was Twilight Falls. In 1019, King Edwin led a charge on the forces at Callington at twilight, taking the city in one brave assault, since the young king known as Twilight Kelmunt. However, to this snowbound hamlet’s original and still somewhat current occupants it will always be Brattvann.
“You gonna drink that Vee,” Kari asked him. “There are others down here that would take a free drink.”
“Three years Kari,” he answered.
“What,” she wiped the bar.
“I’ve been working this for over three years. Are we sure about this?”
The owner of the Riverside Inn stopped what she was doing. “Vee, if this is not going to work, then a lot of people will have wasted their time. Believe you me, there are many of important involved in this endeavor. My organization has stretched itself thin for those this.”
“You’re right of course, I just miss. . .”
“You self-centered arrogant ass, we all miss home. Regardless of what side of the mountains you live. This war affects those from Queoth, Betten, the Saivyn, and the barbarian tribes that have lived in these mountains for centuries.”
She was right of course. This war has been raging on for over a century, and its dark fingers of death have slivered over every living being on the northwest side of the Spine. Hell, it has even affected those in the Free states south of the Queoth Run River. Now rumors have been rising that King Duncan Poole of Alagaunt has announced his displeasure in how this entire campaign has lingered on and his dissatisfaction with the recent allegiance with the Gyrenna Nation west of the Free states.
“But I’ve been living a lie. . .”
She grabbed his hands and smiled. “We all have and are hon.”
“No, I’m some one else from a place I despise, doing only the gods know what trying to. . .” He paused sipped his mead. “Kari,” he smiled at her as she looked at him with those intense deep blue eyes. “Kari,” he repeated, “I’m sorry. I’ve spent over three years playing soldier in. . . .”
Instinctively Verne acted as the ceiling above him rumbled and seemed to ripple and wave. A blast of intense heat flowed across him as he leapt over the bar as if it were a low step. Kari Miller tried to step back from him, apparently startled by his sudden and unannounced advance across what most would be a boundary not much different from a border.
Screams from above rang into his ears as he hugged the startled woman and forced her through the doorway into the kitchen. Debris was now falling around them, some hitting him in the back as he ran with her in his arms for the rear door. Again, torturous screams of those still in the inn cried out, most in an instant only before they died, some calling for help that would only come after they were already dead. He wished he could save them all, but at least he could save one.
Flames erupted around him as he pushed the two of them through the door. The snow around them, where they landed, melted in a single moment as the flash of fire shot out above him, catching the surrounding scrubby a blaze. He crawled quickly away from the burning building, she followed, and obviously, she was aware now that he did what he did to save her life. They scurried a few yards, slid down near the riverbank, and rolled over to a position to see the destruction.
“Son of a bitch,” Kari said while breathing heavily. “Didn’t see that one coming.”
“You been tending bar too long Kari, getting rusty.”
She sat up on her knees, running her hands through her hair. “It’s all gone, all my work, our work, our stock.”
“I guess the organization needs a new warehouse?” he answered sarcastically with a tinge of anger.
“I think the Brigade’s going to need their Captain.”
He knelt, brushed his rank insignia on his shoulder. “I think it is time to put the petty worries aside.”