[b]Chapter 5 – Asryn[/b]
The aged man moved deftly among the supply crates quickly stacking up along the quay as they were removed from the ship. As the Old Tarantia dock workers moved the waiting supplies to horse-drawn carts, Hanibus marked the various crates’ contents and barracks destination within the city proper. This was just one of the duties that Captain Rinates had found for him. Hanibus was too old to fight, and far too stubborn to retire quietly on the soldier’s pension afforded the Black Legion, but he found solace serving as an aide to the Captain.
Stopping briefly to stretch his aching back, Hanibus spotted a familiar face disembarking a ship at the far pier – a man that was supposed to be hundreds of leagues to the south. Hanibus lay aside his list and made his way to the pier. He saw it was no mistake of his eyes. The long blond hair and narrow face were unmistakable, and a large scar now marked the man from his right eye back to the ear.
“Asryn, what has happened? The Falcons were not due back for another month,” Hanibus asked with concern.
The younger man looked up wearily and let the pack he carried drop to the ground. “Hanibus, it is good to see you my friend,” Asryn replied with a deep sorrow on his voice.
Hanibus reached up to the fresh scar, his expression a mix of concern and curiosity. “Did the detachment locate Toth-Amon’s forces? What news?”
Asryn sighed deeply. “We failed, Hanibus. Somehow they discovered us before we ever reached the staging grounds. We were still in Kush, for Mitra’s sake. It must have been some foul sorcery, for I swear to you we made no mistakes.” He paused for a moment, then said softly, “The beasts that came into the camp… I’ve seen nothing of their kind before, Hanibus. Demons from hell never bore such offspring.”
Hanibus looked down the pier to the ship over Asryn’s shoulder. The blonde scout simply shook his head. “None of the others escaped, I am all that remains of the Black Falcons.”
– – –
Captain Rinates stood with his head bowed, resting white-knuckled fists on the desk before him. “An entire light scout detachment lost before leaving the mountains? Asryn, how did this happen?”
Asryn explained the way the beasts appeared inside the night-watch perimeter without warning, a fury of rampaging slaughter and carnage. He recounted how the attack was so sudden and silent that sleeping men were ripped apart by talon and fang before they could even conceive of their fate. The need to relieve himself was all that awoke him moments before and spared Asryn’s life.
He was a short distance outside the camp when the attack came, but a beast discovered him as the onslaught began. Never walking hostile ground without his sword, Asryn engaged the massive beast. It quickly became apparent the skirmish was futile and the soldier knew one man stood little chance of bringing the demon down. Asryn wounded the beast sufficiently to hamper its fearsome speed, yet it still pursued him through the mountain forest. A sheer drop high above a mountain stream halted his blind run through the forest. The moment’s hesitation was all the beast needed to strike a mighty blow, throwing the woodsman from his feet and over the cliff. Fortune was with him as he entered a deep pool amid the white water, and the quick icy currents carried him out of the beast’s reach.
“I returned to the camp late the next morning, wary of any signs of the beasts,” Asryn continued. “None of the men were spared. I regret the gravesites were hasty, and I cannot be sure that I… recovered all of everyone.” A distant look entered the man’s eyes. “I collected some personal effects, sir, to return to the families,” he finished sullenly, indicating his pack beside him.
“A miracle of Mitra that you returned to us at all, lad,” Rinates said with awe.
“I made my way back to the coast and secured passage here on a number of trading vessels,” explained Asryn.
Captain Rinates pursed his lips and tapped his right fist lightly against desk. “To locate the unit that far out… and to command such beasts,” the captained trailed off. “We must discover the source of this mystic sight Toth-Amon has employed. The sages may know of some means to counteract this power if we can uncover what we are dealing with.”
Asryn looked up with fire in his eyes, “Yes sir. And I would like to return with the detachment that is sent.”
Rinates frowned and hesitated, making Asryn uneasy. “Have a seat, Asryn,” the captain finally ordered.
“Sir?” Asryn inquired without moving.
The captain met his subordinate’s eyes. “Something has happened since you left port. The Nemedians crossed the Border Ranges, and they have entrenched themselves at the ruins near Tesso. I am sorry Asryn – Corvo was taken and burned.”
The scout’s eyes widened, taking on a frantic indecision. “Sir, my wife and daughter… I must…” He quickly collected himself to some measure and began again. “Sir, I request transfer to…”
“Just go, Asryn.” Rinates interrupted. “They may have escaped to Tesso and we still hold the town. With all that has happened, I’m releasing you from service until you are able to return to me.” Asryn swallowed hard and turned to leave.
“I hope you find them lad, but watch yourself. We’ve lost contact with the guard in the pass, and chances are high there will be more coming through before we can reinforce. Some damned sickness is passing through the barracks here in the city and is slowing our deployment.”
“Yes sir, and thank you,” Asryn replied as he bolted out the door.
– – –
There was no horse born fast enough to carry him the many leagues to Tesso at a bearable pace, and Asryn would have gladly ridden a fiery abomination from the darkest depths of hell if it would have taken him there in an instant. As it stood, he had ridden hard and made his best time of two days, but exhausting the steel gray to near death in the process.
Upon arrival he had learned of other dark horrors threatening the town, only adding to his concern for his family and serving as a grim reminder of Kush. He searched the refugee areas, but most were from Kerkyra to the south. The local militias had forced the Nemedian invaders far back into the canyons surrounding the ruins of the old temple, but the lines of battle shifted constantly and areas controlled one day would be taken by the enemy the next. Taking advantage of the advance, Asryn set off for Corvo.
The stories he had heard in Tesso had not prepared him, as nothing salvageable remained and all was charred ruin. The clash of steel and battle cries of men rang down from the upper canyon as the scout walked dazed through the place he once called home. At the distant outskirts of the village he came to the remains of his small house, now little more than blackened stone walls crumbling amid ashes.
A glint of light caught is eye near the outside of the front wall. Stooping low he brushed the dirt aside and retrieved the objects in trembling hands — two thin bracelets of braided leather with small, inlaid polished stones. Asryn knew without counting one bracelet carried seven stones, the other thirty-two. His breathing became ragged as he slumped heavily to his knees, lost in despair.
He had no sense of how long he remained there, but eventually the sounds of the world returned to him. Asryn’s breathing steadied and his eyes focused on the ruined home before him. He placed the bracelets tenderly in his belt pouch and rose to his feet. The sounds of battle raging in the canyons above called to him. Drawing his sword, a roar of pure rage escaped him as he began the long climb up into the canyons.