Bookmark page
View all


Font size:

Line spacing:








Times New Roman

Chapter 1 - Isha

It had been months since the destruction of the city and this sorry excuse for a tavern is the best the people of Everspring have been able to put together. Sure, they suffered a damn near apocalyptic event, but that’s the entire reason prioritizing their needs is so important.

And Isha had a mighty need.

She was a complicated woman, a presence that commanded attention, but whose identity shifted on a whim. Strong, slender arms hidden underneath long sleeves; delicately painted fingernails and rough, calloused hands; a fair-featured face beset with a crooked nose and what seemed like a perpetually furrowed brow.

Some have called her intimidating. Others have said she was beautiful, though not every one of those were welcomed suitors. Many were just like this oaf, a man in a tavern who figured the best way to get her attention was by shouting at her from across the bar. A compliment, lobbed like Cupid’s lazy molotov.

It’s not like the man was a horrible troll or anything. He was handsome, or at least handsome enough. If Isha’s previous romantic encounters had taught her anything, it was that she melted for a pair of pretty eyes. No songs would be written about his, but his arms were worth at least a poem or two. Tanned and muscular, with strong hands and magnificent forearms. He also had a nice, full beard; he even kept it well-trimmed so that it didn’t completely cover his mouth. Had he just kept that mouth shut, things might’ve played out better for him.

“Hey there, beautiful, why dontcha come on over here and have a seat?” he blared, slapping his thigh to indicate just where that seat would be.

The only acknowledgement his lazy invitation garnered from her was a glance and an eye roll. For someone who seemed romantically interested only a moment prior, Isha’s non-response seemed to have offended this poor man. A bit too drunk and a bit too much of an asshole, the man yelled an addendum to his previous remark.

“Well, you could be beautiful if it weren’t for that busted-ass nose!”

It wasn’t the astounding wit of the insult or the biting sarcasm that made Isha retaliate, but the fact that the man had played off the whole thing like a joke, laughing to his friends after his rejection. And truth be told, she did have a bit of a sore spot when it came to her nose. Now both emotionally and physically. Ever the poet, Isha retaliated by breaking his nose. Ever the composer of unintended irony, she just had to go and do it by headbutting the man and re-breaking her own nose in the process. For like the fifth time? Sixth? She was pretty sure it was six. She might’ve lost count.

His friends had all stopped laughing, but nobody moved to help him or intervene. Not due to fear, she felt. One of them looked like he thought his friend had it coming. While the man squirmed on the floor holding his face, Isha stood over him, proud. Blood trickled down her face, unable to obscure her smile. A waifish pixie of a girl a full head shorter than Isha handed her a handkerchief.

“He had it coming, but he wasn’t all wrong.”

Isha hesitated taking the handkerchief for a moment.

“You really are beautiful.”

Funny how the same sentiment can have such a dramatically different impact. Isha looked away, almost embarrassed, before raising her eyes to meet the pixie’s. They were a bright emerald green. She took the handkerchief, their fingers lingering. Isha’s blood-streaked smile grew just a little bit wider.

Early morning sunlight streaked through the slats of the bungalow’s lone window. Routine had made it damn near impossible for Isha to sleep in anymore, as lovely as that sounded. She’d had a long, eventful night and a boldly assertive woman asleep in the bed next to her. And damn was her bed comfy.

A knock at the door—two quick, gentle taps—and Isha was out of bed, already anticipating what she knew was waiting on the other side.

Roegan was in full Everguard regalia, plate and scale covering everything from the neck down, a stark contrast to the borrowed nightgown Isha was wearing. This, Isha thought to herself, is why the Everguard had so much trouble catching any half-decent thieves. Yet Roegan had caught her. Isha, of course, would give any number of justifications why: she was young, inexperienced, distracted, betrayed, pinned under the weight of a collapsed roof. All good reasons, all excuses.

Roegan was proud to have served in the Everguard. Isha was, too, even if it felt like punishment at first. She just didn’t walk around advertising the fact. It did make getting jobs easy, which she assumed was the reason for the visit.

Roegan glanced at her nose. “Rough night?”

The man from the tavern walked out from a small bathroom, his neatly-trimmed beard still crusted with dried blood. He fidgeted with his nose as he climbed back into the bed, trying not to wake up the sleeping woman nor intrude on the conversation happening in the doorway.

“You could say that,” she replied. “We got a job, boss?”

‘Boss’ had become more of a nickname for the man now that he was no longer her superior officer. Even though he still carried his officer’s longsword, Roegan wasn’t an officer anymore. There weren’t even ranks. Because there was no Everguard. Not anymore.

He chuckled. “Gear up. I’ll tell you about it on the way.”

Roegan leaned against the doorframe as Isha turned back into the room. There were clothes everywhere. She snapped her fingers at Beard before he could finish crawling back into bed and motioned for his help. Unlike Roegan, Isha chose only to keep the plated spaulders and neck guard from her old uniform. In lieu of the usual breastplate and scale leggings, she wore reinforced leather.

“Why no shield?” Beard whispered.

A swing from a broadsword might not pierce metal armor, but it’ll still hurt like hell. So while it was far less capable of stopping a well-placed blade, Isha preferred the movement her old leathers allowed. Better to not get hit at all.

“Always prided myself on being different.”

“But it’s so cool! I love the logo.”

She was fairly certain he wasn’t being sarcastic. She grabbed him by the jaw, smiling, and gave him a playful slap. Leaning over the bed, she gave the pixie a soft kiss on the forehead, then turned and headed out the door.

“Ready when you are, Boss.”

Even with the city in ruins, the oasis still provided a constant flow of water to the brook. Most of the farmland that surrounded the city had been ruined or outright destroyed, but some survived. It wasn’t much. Many of the survivors had fled the city to neighboring barrens, but in the months following the destruction, the remaining refugees had built camps along the brook and began preparing more land for farming much in the same way the original construction of the city began. If Everspring was to survive, this was where it began.

Isha and Roegan made their way through the camp, a collection of tents and ramshackle buildings made with reclaimed materials. It all looked so temporary. Isha hoped it was. The people of Everspring—at least those that remained—were of a hardy resolve, as resourceful as they were stubborn. No matter how difficult it may be, they seemed determined to return the city to its former glory. Upwards and onwards!

The two followed the brook out of camp, headed towards the southeast, until the water was swallowed by sand. By then, their destination was in sight.

The mouth of the sandstone cave seamlessly blended into the surrounding dunes of sand, a natural hideout. It wasn’t surprising then that it was being used for exactly that purpose. Roegan drew his sword and stepped inside, Isha following close behind. The first thing she noticed was the softness of the ground. It felt more like soil than sand and rock. Once her eyes adjusted to the dark, she noticed the moss growing all over the cave floor. The deeper in, the denser it became. The moss stretched up and across the walls, making way to tufts of brush, fronds, even a few trees despite the cave only allowing the faintest bit of light. That’s... a little odd, Isha thought.

“Check this out,” Roegan whispered as he motioned towards the ground ahead of him.

Some were mashed to pulp, others charred and burnt, but they were unmistakable: several dead crickets, each the size of her outstretched hand. Okay, no, that’s fucking odd, she corrected herself. Someone seemed to have dealt with the miniature monsters, but that didn’t make them any less disturbing. As the tunnel path continued, concealed amongst the vegetation and one or two dozen more of the massive bugs were a scattering of bones: what looked like the remains of birds and rats mostly, and a single unfortunate camel.

It wasn’t much longer until voices could be heard in the distance. They seemed calm, friendly even. The tunnel widened and split multiple times, opening up into a large cavern illuminated by torchlight. Roegan motioned to Isha for her to head around and find a more advantageous position. Rock outcroppings and the winding, interconnected pathways made sneaking in trivial. Cool little cave hideout you have here, Isha thought, but your defenses could use some serious work, fellas.

There were only four of them. Two casually lounged about on either edge of the cavern while two others sat at a small table near the center playing a game of Wolves and Jackals. None of them seemed all that dangerous. The one closest to Isha was well-built and wore a reinforced leather vest, but it wasn’t even laced up. Amateurs. Aside from the pegboard game, there were no personal effects in sight, just crates and barrels she knew were filled with food and supplies stolen from the refugee camp.

Roegan strut casually into the light, making no attempt to muffle the sound of his armor. Isha took the opportunity to slip down behind the man in front of her, brought her dagger to his throat and pulled his arm up behind his back.

“Sit down!” Roegan barked at the two at the table.

They obliged.

“Everguard?! Shit, I thought they were finished,” said one of the men.

“They are,” Roegan grunted back.

“But... you’re... Are you gonna arrest us?”

“They want the score for themselves,” said Pretty Boy, remaining perfectly still as he spoke, else the blade at his neck get any closer.

Isha kicked the back of his leg and sent him down to his knees.

“Now what makes you think that?” she asked with mock politeness.

Roegan had already filled her in on the details. She knew the answer, but they wanted to hear him say it himself. He hesitated for a moment, then let out a heavy sigh.

“Because that’s what I did. That’s what most of the old Everguard did, at least the ones who stayed.”

“You should know your friend here isn’t really the loyal type,” Roegan declared. “From swearing to protect the common folk to stealing from them when they’re at their most vulnerable.”

“Damn. That’s cold, man,” one of the men at the table said. “And that’s coming from me.”

“So here’s how this all’s gonna play out,” Isha proclaimed. “I’m gonna tie up Pretty Boy here and my buddy Roegan is gonna keep that nice, shiny sword of his trained on his jugular. Do exactly as you’re told or Pretty Boy’s gonna end up much less pretty. So! Wolf and Jackal, you two are gonna put your little game away and—”

“Actually, I’m Sean,” said Wolf.

“And I’m Shaun,” said Jackal.

“Wait, really?” Isha asked quizzically. “Whatever. Uh... Number Four, you and the Seans are gonna—”

“Actually, I spell my name S-E-A-N. He’s S-H-A-U-N.”


“I just know you’re misspelling it in your head.”

“What does that even matter?”

“Enough!” Roegan barked again. He slammed his buckler into Wolf’s nose, sending him tumbling to the ground. “Here’s how this works! The three of you are carrying all those supplies outta this cave and you’ll do it without opening your godsdamn mouths again or I’m gonna beat the hell outta S-E-A-N first!”

They obliged.

Roegan relieved the bandits of their weapons and Pretty Boy was tied up and taken to the cavern entrance. Roegan stood behind him, sword drawn, keeping an eye over the operation. One by one, Isha escorted the others to the cave entrance outside as they carried the stolen supplies, leaving any food that had already rotted and gone bad. The morons.

As Isha was bringing Wolf back for another round, Number Four lifted another crate and turned towards the cave entrance, but stopped dead in his tracks when a deep chittering sound echoed throughout the cavern.

“Did you hear th—?”

A thick, fleshy rope whipped out of the shadows and wrapped around his waist. It yanked him to the ground and slowly pulled him back across the floor, his heels carving craters in the damp ground as he kicked and squirmed. Isha readied her spear and ran towards him, but it was too late. He was swallowed by the darkness, his screams snuffed out with a wet crunch.

“What the fuck was that?!” Jackal screamed.

The chittering came again, low and abrasive. Behind Jackal, Isha could see the mossy texture of the cave wall shift and move, an illusion, like heat on the desert horizon. But the illusion had shape. And eyes. They met with Isha’s as she launched her spear past Jackal’s head, plunging it into whatever the thing was behind him. It let out a guttural, primordial scream.

“RUN!” she yelled.

Leaving her spear behind, she turned and began sprinting towards the entrance, only for something to grab her ankle and send her sprawling to the floor. From the ceiling, a form emerged that looked similar to a crocodile, but with more of a spined back and a head like the ridge of a mountain. The fleshy rope around her leg was actually a whip-like tongue that stretched out from it’s huge, beaked maw. She panicked, thrashing at her surroundings, trying to grab hold of something—anything—to stop from being pulled any further in.

She found purchase on the edge of an outcropping, but could already feel her grip slipping, finger by finger. And then the tongue went slack. Another rasping scream. By the time she realized Jackal had sliced the tongue in two—the sneaky bastard had been concealing a short, thin blade up his sleeve the entire time—he was grabbing her by the wrist and hauling her to her feet.

“Let’s go, let’s go, c’mon!” he demanded.

She didn’t disagree.

The hustle that the people of Everspring came to be known for hadn’t stopped when the city fell. Even in its ruins—especially in its ruins—everyone seemed to have something that demanded their attention. All around them there was a sense of desperation and urgency as people hurriedly jumped through hoop after hoop. It almost made Isha feel guilty.


“I really liked that spear,” she relented with a huff.

Isha had since hung up her armor for the day. Roegan was down to his breastplate and sword, surprisingly casual for the man. The two sat at the edge of the brook, their bare feet splashing in and out of the flowing waters.

“Wanna go back for it?” he asked, sarcasm dripping from every word like the droplets of water on his feet.

She most definitely did not want to go back. She could still feel the tightness of the rope-tongue lashed around her leg, still hear the beating of her heart as she ran through the cave tunnels, still smell the viscous liquid that kept the tongue attached as she bounded out of the cave mouth, still see the weirdly crystalline blood glitter in the sun as it seeped from the severed appendage.

“It really wasn’t that nice,” she laughed, masking the terrifying memory still ripe in her mind.

Between the two sat a small box filled with an assortment of fruits, taken from what few supplies were able to be retrieved before the giant-mirage-lizard-things had attacked. Most everything else was returned to camp, but the fruit was on the verge of going bad, so they figured it was fair game. The bottle of spiced wine they passed back and forth was in no such danger, but they felt they’d earned it.

Noticing her unease, Roegan changed the subject. “You know, I was planning on letting them go before you even suggested it.”

“I figured as much. You got a good heart in there, boss.” And then, “Do you think it was the right play?”

“I hope so. Hope’s kinda what’s holding all this together,” he conceded, broadly gesturing towards everything around him. He paused for a moment, staring at their surroundings, at everything and nothing, at what once was and what may be once more. With a heavy sigh, he continued. “The Everguard was my life, Isha. My life. And now that it’s gone? Best I can figure is to do right by the city that gave me purpose.”

“Gave us purpose.”

“The city needs all the help it can get. Convincing some scared people to help rather than hinder? That’s a huge win if it works. Just look at you. You turned out alright.”

“Yeah, but when you found me I was scamming rich folk for pocket change, not ripping off refugees. And I was a kid. I was scared, and desperate.”

“So are they,” he said, his tone flattened by the weight of it all. “So am I.”

They allowed the silence to stretch. There was nothing uncomfortable about it. Just two old friends with a deep, shared understanding listening to the sounds of a city yearning to breathe. In the trees along the opposite side of the brook, an anxious bird hopped from branch to branch, seemingly unsatisfied with anywhere it landed. You and me both, bird, she thought.

A tall, slender man with skin far too fair to match his ratty robes approached the two.

“Pardon me, and I apologize for the assumption, but I’m looking to hire some... companionship to accompany me on an excursion.”

“Sorry, pal, but we’re not in that line of work,” Isha explained. “If you wait until later at night, the tavern across the way gets filled to the brim with easy—”

“No, no, I’m sorry. Excuse the ambiguity. I need guards. Competent. Hopefully not too dull, though, as we’ll be traveling together for some time.”

A squat man came trudging up from behind, intruding, “Woah woah woah, hold on.”

“This is Merrick, my traveling companion—though not that kind of companion,” the tall man continued. “My name is Erathos.”

“What’s going on? You hirin’ guards?” Merrick asked, confused.

“Precautionary measures. You made a sound argument for bringing the refugees aboard, but don’t forget these are people living in desperate times. Their lives have become a fight for survival. If any actual fighting occurs onboard, I’d like some able-bodied people on hand to quell the situation.”

“Okay, I get it, you’re playing it safe. That’s smart. But you hire the first rough and tumble folk that cross your path? I don’t like it.”

Isha and Roegan, having not been able to get a single word in, just looked at each other and shrugged, both making the same he-does-make-a-good-point gesture.

“They seem on the up and up,” Erathos gleefully confided.

“You know, I can find some muscle if you need it, vouch for ‘em myself. It’s the least I can do.”

“That won’t be necessary, but it is much appreciated. These two will do just fine.”

“You are much too trusting.”

Roegan cleared his throat. “Gentlemen? If you’re finished? We haven’t actually agreed to anything yet. We don’t even know what we’d be agreeing to. You need guards for a trip? Headed where? And aboard... what exactly?”

With a twinkle in his eyes, Erathos flashed a smile at Roegan. “My friend, have you ever ridden aboard an airship?”


Toss a Coin to Your Author
Enjoying the story? Consider tossing a couple bucks in the tip jar and help keep it going! If you'd like to get some fancy perks while you're at it, become a patron!
Support The Leeches Loom

the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet