The siren’s coughing grew less, and she gave a shudder, straightening up. Her hands uncurled, and she spent quite some time staring at her hands, turning them to one side and then the other. The bobbing of her hair indicated she was also regarding the bracers. She finally sat back, shaking her head, hands going to her temples, the motion also pushing her hair from her face. She finally drew a clear breath, and rose to her feet. She brushed at her gown, the motion slowing. She plucked at the front of the dress, rubbing the fabric between her fingers, then running her hands up and down the sleeves.
“Silva?” Ana asked. She’d kept a distance from the girl, her slender hands clenching and unclenching. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“Hurt?” The word came oddly-inflected. It took me a moment to place the accent as Old Druidic. She laughed, the chuckle edged with a chill like that in the air. “I am well and whole. I breathe. I move!” She brought her arms up, palms upward, her head tilted back, face to the cloudy skies as she turned several circles. The chuckle grew to into a laugh, not icy, but a joyous, silvery sound. Her expression was radiant, the smile bright like the sun, up above the clouds.
Her smile faded, as she lowered her gaze. She glanced to her left and right, and her whole posture flowed into a guarded defense. She reached to her waist, hand closing over empty air where she expected to find a hilt of one sort or another.
“Where are the rest?” Her voice shook, touched with the tremble of an uncertain child. “Where are my sisters?” She flexed her hands, the stones at her wrists bursting to light as she spat “Chatya! Vakshi!” A wedge of darkness materialized in her right hand, trailing streamers of a smoky black vapor. In her left, a flame-wreathed spike of something white-hot appeared, and she flipped both to a reverse-guard, her arms crossed before her, the blades of shadow and flame between us.
“What have you done with my sisters?” she shouted. Above the tongues of darkness and flame, her eyes burned, possibly brighter than the flames themselves, a brilliant and piercing blue.
Bright, and blue, full of suspicion, but no recognition.
Silva kept herself in the close guard, the blades of flame and shadow at the ready. Her gaze shifted from one face to face among us, then to the crags above, back to the group.
“Silva…” Ana began.
“I do not think that is our ‘Silva’ any more,” Demarra said.
Scree sifted and clattered, behind us, to the right and left. Leather helm after leather helm came into view from the rocks above.
“Well, now she’s done it.” Varis winced as he drew his sword, rotating his injured shoulder.
“You cannot mean to fight them all,” Ana said. She checked her grip on the haft of her scythe, just the same.
“Just the ones fool enough to get within sword’s reach,” the warrior muttered.
“I’ve only got a dozen arrows left,” Gilliam said. “That might take down two or three.”
I stopped counting after the fifth trio of helms appeared.
The shiver down my spine was at odds with the sudden wash of heat at my back. A roiling sphere of flame grew between Sera’s hands, expanding with each revolution, the flames going from dull orange to a brilliant yellow-orange.
I drove my staff into the ground at my feet, willing the strength from the mountains up the shaft, pulling it through my arms. It emerged as a globe of brown-tinged Druid’s fire in my other palm.
As one, we let fly the spheres of flame, Sera’s blossoming to twice its original size, engulfing the crag to our left with a dull, roaring boom. I caught the bigger of the three as they crested the ledge off to the right. It was eerie, watching him spin, aflame, but making no move to beat out the flames or cry out in any sort of pain or surprise.
Gilliam buckled the knee of another of them with a well-placed arrow, sending the brass-clad warrior tumbling down the canyon wall.
Half a dozen of them leapt, landing in sprays of gravel and dust, rising slowly from falls that would have shattered legs of any normal armored troops.
Silva was engulfed in the billow of rock dust. Varis hefted his sword, and made to charge into the cloud, but Ana and Demarra hauled him back.
From within the billow of dust there came brilliant blue-white flashes, along with streaks of orange-yellow, and the stench of burning flesh along with the acrid reek of a too-close lightning strike.
More of the brass-scaled solders were sliding down from the slopes above, arms coming up to strike even before their stances had stabilized.
I threw another globe of flame, catching a soldier full in the chest. It staggered, then resumed its advance. I ducked one stiff-armed swing, and caught another on the my staff. I ducked, before Sera could even start to shout the warning, tucking my face into my arm as a sheet of flames fanned out from her hands above and behind me, catching the three advancing troopers full in the face. I rolled away, propelling myself backwards with the help of my staff as two of the crudely made swords crashed to the ground, the hands and arms wielding them ablaze and trailing greasy black smoke.
Ana stumbled backwards, the haft of her scythe the only thing keeping two of the soldiers from barreling over her. Gilliam planted two arrows in one of them, the shafts less than a thumb’s breadth from the young cleric’s own throat. As that soldier slowed, Ana used the difference in momentum to spin free, bringing the blade around into the back of the other, sending it to the ground in a gout of black ichor.
Varis lurched away from a soldier’s wild swing, then delivered a vicious kick to his attacker’s knee. As it toppled sideways, he took its head off with a two-handed swing, staggering back from the shower of greenish sparks, smoke, and black blood.
From the slowly settling cloud ahead of us, Silva gave a cry of surprise.
“Get clear of that dust!” Gilliam shouted.
There came a flurry of orange and blue flashes and streaks, and Silva emerged, fending off four hulking, dead-eyed orcs in the shining brass-scaled armor. The dust was plastered to one arm, red and glistening.
She danced back, blocking two strikes from overhead with crossed knives of flame and shadow. She was not quick enough to avoid the side-armed slash from a third attacker, and a red stain began spreading from her side.
Her cry of pain echoed from the peaks above. Varis, and then Gilliam charged forth, the smaller of the warriors dropping his bow and drawing his short swords on the run.
The cry rang on, even as Varis pulled Silva behind him.
It was no cry of pain, though, but fury. One of the ledges exploded in a flash of golden-green fire. A like-colored streak slammed into the rocks above another ledge, bringing a tumble of half-molten rock down on the soldiers readying to make a slide to the trail below.
Sera and I leapt clear of the falling rocks, coughing and choking on the new billow of dust and ash.
It didn’t last long, though. Two great beats, and the rock dust tossed and spun, then was wafted away, under the current from two great and shining gold-rimmed wings.
Aurora rose up from the rockfall, great wings protruding from her back, spread to steady her atop the jumble of stone. A long, snakelike tail protruded from the ruins of her gown, lashing to the left and right, further steadying her. She brought her arm up, the stones and bracers shining with molten red and gold light. Two great spines of spun and twisted gold rose from above and below her left wrist, and she held her right fingers to her cheek, a gossamer threading finer than her hair glimmering between her fingers.
A streamer of fire snaked from the stones at her wrist, twisting tighter and tighter until it looked to be a bolt of pure, condensed flame bridging the gap between her two right fingers, and the extended index finger of her left hand. A pulse of greenish light shot down the length of the fiery bolt, and the shrike released the arrow as its tip burst into green-gold flame.
Gilliam hauled on Varis’ cloak, the two men stumbling back and away, hitting the gravel as the bolt exploded amidst the group of soldiers.
We had to turn our eyes away from the searing light, and too late, we clutched hands to ears as the explosion rocked the trail. Had Sera or I not already been leaning on each other for support, we would have been knocked flat by the blast.