Monday, August 23, 2010

Prisoner of Water: Chapter 8

“Thats it! Almost there!” Josten yelled smiling despite the dire circumstances, his cheeks complying painfully. “Now, even the volley out and press forward! That’s perfect! We’re there! Just a bit further!”

Josten watched and held his breath, hoping against all odds that his plan worked. His heart-blood pounded deafeningly in his ears as he watched the invaders retreat under the volleys, directed towards the ravine. At first nothing happened. They just kept walking on the snowy ice. Then there was a low rumble and the section of the iced snow the invaders were on fell back into the ravine, carrying them all back in.

“We did it!” Josten called as the villagers cheered. “Quickly! Men come and surround the edge! We have to make sure they can’t get out of the ravine!”

The defenders came and lined up along the ravine edge, weapons trained on the soldiers below, who were buried waist deep in snow, and could barely move anyway. As Josten turned from the cheering villagers, he saw the last mask fall into the snow before him. It was the broken mask, fixed with the sap.

For a moment he thought of how simple everything was back when he had fixed the mask. Then, as hollow realization seeped in, he recalled it had just been that morning. The sound of Anai’s booted feet on the snow brought him instantly back to the present.

“Josten! What happened?!” Anai yelled.

“We pinned the soldiers down in the ravine.” he said quickly hugging her before holding her at arms length and explaining the situation. “But the Snow Elders are.... gone. And your grandmother...”

“Grandmother!” Anai pulled away and ran towards her grandmother, while Josten tried to hold on to her, lost his grip, and fell in the snow behind her.

“Anai! No! Come back!” he said scrambling up and running down the slope behind her.


“Nyama! Not another one!” Ismes hissed as he watched the gate lined with soldiers along all the walls and filling in from the lower steppes of the courtyards below. He gazed at the moon, rising higher and higher in the sky. The night was beginning to grow old, and he could not risk trying to leave the city during the day.

“Come on, we can still make it to the merchant gate, right?” Setappep said running and scrambling up the side of a building, using the various protruding wooden posts.

“Careful! Stay on the walls we came on. Those roofs are made of packed straw! You’ll fall in!” But it was too late, the Tracer disappeared over the edge of the roof.

Ismes quickly made his way to the top, and there he found the Tracer hanging from a ledge, while carefully balancing his weight between two posts that were inching lower with each second.

“Um, a little help!” He called up, reaching up with one hand and sliding lower.

Ismes growled with frustration and he quickly reached down and grabbed the boy’s hand. As he began pulling him up, he brushed a piece of loose masonry that fell down into the shadows and knocked a lamp over. The lamp’s feint light illuminated the bottom of the building, which was an armory filled with standard issue spears, gleaming in the lamp light.

“Really! You had to fall into the one house that would be full of deadly spears!” Ismes growled as he pulled the boy up slowly.

“Less talk, more pull!” Setappep snapped back, “You need me to finish your mission, so pull as if my life depended on it!”

With one last final heave, the boy came back over the edge, the two of them sitting on the beam of the houses’ edge panting.

“Next time a little warning would be nice.” Setappep said indignantly.

“What?! Me?! How stupid do you have to be to climb up onto a straw roof?” Ismes growled and stood up on the beam.

“Well, where I come from roofs aren’t made of straw!” Setappep growled before turning and readying to jump to the next roof.

“Ah, ah, ah.” Ismes said, taking his shoulder firmly, “Let me go first. Follow me, step where I step, grab where I grab. We’ve already lost enough time.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Setappep said sarcastically.

The word Captain stung into Ismes’ soul and he felt his jaws tighten and his fists clench at the word. He forced himself to take a deep, heavy breath before he launched himself from the post to the next, landing cat-like on the wooden frame. After he launched to the next one, he looked back to make sure the boy was keeping up, and not falling into any more armories.


“Now, it’s just you and me, Magus.” spoke Swampe as she floated closer to the old woman, “What will you do without those sprites to protect you?”

“You. Cannot. Win. In. The end. You will not. Win!” she strained as she pushed the glacier a bit further, inching it onto a ledge on the mountain. Just a bit further and the glacier would be stable.

“Ha! And you think you can stop us?” she spoke with an evil grin. “You are a small piece of a much larger plan. To change the face of the entire land of Nyami forever. How could we fail once we release... her.”

The old woman’s eyes went wide and the glacier began sliding again, before she caught herself and pushed it back, sweat beading on her face as she spoke, trying to stall Swampe. “You. Cannot. You would not. Dare!”

“Oh, but we can. And will.” The glacier inched onto the ledge a bit more. “Too bad you won’t be around to see it. It will be glorious. The destruction. The chaos. The death.”

“You. Have no idea. What. You are meddling. With!” The glacier was partially settled, it just needed the final push.

“Well, you won’t live to see how wrong you are anyway. But at the very least I can give you a taste of the what will come.” Swampe spoke, grabbing another one of the watery spears in her hand.

“Anai! No! Come back!” Josten voice echoed from the village as he fell in the snow behind her as she ran towards the two.

The shaft flew, speeding through the air like an arrow from a taught bow, slicing the thin mountain air before it exploded on impact. But it did not hit Anai. And it did not hit her grandmother. And it did not hit Josten. Instead, Anai’s grandmother had moved, covering her granddaughter in a hug, a glowing caccoon of shimering sapphire blue light radiating around them.

Then there was a loud crash and the glacier crumbled down on the rows of igloos and raced down the mountainside as a small avalanche. The villagers tried running from it but were all swept aside by it into the ravine. Josten had enough time to slide to the side of the cliffs and scramble up one of the few trees. Josten’s tree was slowly pushed over by the snow, tipping precariously over the edge of the cliffs. He clung to the tree for dear life as it was thrust out into the empty night sky.


The two made it to the merchant gate, but as they did, their hearts fell. Illuminated by torchlight the hundreds of soldiers stood at attention in the warm evening breeze. Ismes closed his eyes tightly and sighed, while Setappep raised his puma headed daggers, one in each hand, and spoke, his eyes narrowing again,

“Well, I guess we’ll have to fight our way through!”

“No, we won’t.” Ismes said, plucking the daggers from Setappep’s hands. “We would be outnumbered too greatly and I can’t afford to protect you and fight them off at the same time.”

“I can take care of myself!” Setappep said fiercely.

“I’m sure you can.” Ismes said handing the blades back, “But isn’t the way of the Tracers, to follow where the water flows?”

“Um, yes, it is.” Setappep stammered, to Ismes’ amazement.

That was one of the first teaching of the Tracers, and Ismes himself had even learned it from a friend who was a Tracer, long ago. How could this boy not even know something so basic as the principle of the flow.

“Water flows downhill, not uphill. Flows around mountains, not through them. This is the principle of the flow. Which you ought to know! I can’t believe this! Kiza hired a second rate Tracer who doesn’t even know about the flow!”

“I know, okay!” Setappep snapped, “I just, forgot! I remember now! And just as water flows smarter rather than harder, around rather than fighting through, so also we should act smarter rather than harder. I remember, see!”

“Hmph.” Ismes did not respond as he stood up and assessed the situation.

“So, how do we get out smarter rather than harder?” Setappep asked, joining him.

“Well, it will still be hard, but not as hard as fighting past all those guards. But you won’t like it.” Ismes said, running and jumping to the next building. “We have to track back to the southern gate. If its still there, we can get out without meeting any guards at all!”

“How?” the Tracer called following.

“You’ll see! Now, hurry and keep up!” Ismes said swinging down a wooden pole and vaulting with his spear across a small courtyard.

The Tracer ran after him, throwing several daggers into the crumbly clay sidewall of the courtyard. Jumping, he grabbed hold of the daggers and used them to climb across the same space Ismes had vaulted. As he made his way across, he pulled them out one by one and hid them in the folds of his dark robe as he continued. He made it to the other side and looked around, not spotting Ismes for a second before seeing the gleam of his spear as he leapt two buildings ahead of Setappep onto the third. Setappep gave a low growl and set off after the older man.

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