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Chapter 39 - Kyrill

Kyrill felt uneasy without Moswen by his side. Ever since their chance meeting in the forest, and especially after the revelation of being bonded to one another, the two had been inseparable. They were a team. And a damn good one at that, too. They complemented each other well, both in combat and out. Kyrill was the quiet bulwark, Moswen the talkative sharpshooter. Splitting them up felt ineffective, a waste of their natural chemistry.

But the plan made sense. Moswen seemed like he was able to feel whatever it was the Drae were doing in the Pier. He was the group’s tracker after all. It was natural for him to lead Anders and Neera, the only ones who actually knew anything about magic, or the Drae, or anything that might actually make a difference. Kyrill wanted to be there with them, but he knew his particular skills were needed more elsewhere.

Moswen, Anders and Neera had been replaced by Camden and Wil. They seemed like fine men, driven and dependable, but there was no way they could ever be real replacements. Hell, Neera knew magic. They couldn’t dream of filling her shoes. But knowing what they were going up against, mere moments away from facing the Drae, the two were a welcome addition.

Neera’s absence was oddly reassuring in a way, but only because it meant that Moswen and Anders were safer with her by their side. Granted, it also meant he, Isha and Aoife were less safe because of it, but that wasn’t going to stop them.

“Kyrill, you and I will take point,” Isha directed. “Aoife, watch our backs. When we get inside, slip away and do your thing.”

Kyrill joined Isha at her side and into the tunnels they went, the two leading the way as the sounds of battle grew ever nearer. As they passed through the tunnel entrance, he caught himself looking back over his shoulder, half expecting Moswen to be walking behind him, bow at the ready. He hoped his friend was okay.

As they ventured through the tunnel system, multiple heavy reinforced doors separated Skye from the rest of the city. And every one of the doors were left wide open. As odd as it was ominous.

The end of the tunnel came into view as they rounded the last twisting corner. Sunlight spilled down from the sinkhole above and illuminated the entryway into a bright sheet of white. Kyrill felt blinded as his eyes adjusted to the change, but he could already make out the shapes of almost a dozen bodies littering the mouth of the tunnel and the ground beyond, each sporting a single arrow, all headshots.

Purely by instinct, Kyrill tucked his head down and raised his shield just in time to barely catch an arrow on his shield’s edge. With the brightness finally dimmed, he instantly noticed a flash of stark white hair gently swaying in the distance. The man was kneeling on the wooden balcony of a two story stone building directly across from the entryway, perfectly positioned to stop incoming threats from the natural chokepoint of the tunnel entrance. He let another arrow loose, but Kyrill deftly caught it once more.

With not much cover to be had, Kyrill made a mad dash straight for the building. Camden and Wil both let their spears fly, causing the man to duck behind cover, giving Kyrill just enough time to rush underneath the balcony. With all his body weight behind him, he held his shield tight against his arm and side checked the balcony’s thin support beam. Everything came crashing down upon him—pieces of wood, shards of the balcony’s decorative tile flooring, potted plants and two lounge chairs—but so did the unsuspecting archer.

The man hit the ground like the crumbling mess of rubble around him. By the time Camden and Wil helped move the detritus aside and reached their hands in to pull Kyrill out, the man with white hair laid dead on the ground with a dagger in his neck. Aoife pulled the blade free, wiped it off and returned it to her belt.

One down, still many more to go.

Skye had been purposefully constructed to take advantage of the natural cave structure, as the people of The Howl tended to do. Kyrill heartily appreciated the natural feel of the surroundings. It made the act of risking one’s life for the city a little more palatable. High up above them, the sinkhole provided a constant source of light and the foliage that hung from its edges provided a not-insubstantial amount of water. To take advantage of this, the center of the cavern was once again dedicated to farmland and encircled by a moat to capture any excess water for use throughout the rest of the meticulously constructed cavern. The surrounding area was built high up and away from the rest. Multistory buildings towered all around the cavern, stairs outnumbered people, and everything sat at uneven levels, built according to the cave’s natural formations. All of it was done in beautiful white stone and made for a stunning urban sprawl.

One that would be hellish to fight in.

Kyrill had assumed they would encounter the Drae as a roving band of marauders, a tightly knit group cutting through the populace as a single fluid force, perfectly in sync with one another. With the view from the entrance, though, it seemed quite the opposite. All around the cavern, people were dashing from danger and screaming in fear. The Drae were spread out. They weren’t concerned with inflicting the most damage, but instead causing maximum chaos.

A distraction indeed.

It was relieving knowing they wouldn’t have to face the entire Drae force all at once. He had no way of knowing just how capable these mysterious skirmishers were, but it had just taken four people to deal with a single archer. And even then, Kyrill had a sneaking suspicion that he may have been the weak link of the Drae, given a backseat job while the real fighters entered the thick of things.

“Keep an eye out for those birds,” Camden said, looking to the sky above, unknowingly touching his fingers to the lines scratched across his face.

Aoife picked up the slain archer’s bow and collected the quiver of arrows that had spilled when he fell. “On it,” she said with a sly smile and took off towards the higher tier of buildings to gain the high ground. The remaining four headed in a similar direction, towards the sound of clashing metal closest to them.

Sure enough, they spotted a group of guards surrounding a Drae duo down below them. The first could have been Kyrill’s white-haired doppelganger: dark skin, big and broad-shouldered, wielding a shield and a curved, crescent-shaped sickle-sword. The second was a spritely woman wielding twin daggers whose skin was whiter than white, a stark contrast to her pitch black leather armor. The man’s curved sword had a hook at the end and another where the crescent met the rest of the blade. Like the maneuver Kyrill was so fond of doing with his axe, the man used the hooks to grab the guards’ weapons and shields and disarm them, even if only temporarily. The windows of opportunity he created were enough for the woman to strike. She flipped over the man’s back, twisted under his arm, gouging and slicing as the two worked in perfect tandem. He was a storm out at sea; she was a shark patiently waiting to breach between crashing waves.

Above them, a small flock of birds scouted through the air like vultures, though vultures they were definitely not. They looked wrong, like stout owls but with much bigger wings and arms and legs like a really small bear cub. There weren’t many, but still enough to pose a threat. Just as soon as Kyrill had noticed the creatures, one of them fluttered in a burst of feathers and fell from the sky, one of Aoife’s arrows piercing right through. Moz would be proud, Kyrill thought. Aoife launched arrow after arrow into the swarm, but a roar like that of an actual bear—though again, wrong—cried out and what was left of the flock dashed off towards the sound.

Before Kyrill and the others could reach the Drae duo to intervene, most of the guards had fallen one after another. It was painfully clear they were no match for the Drae. Seeing his end drawing near, one of the last two remaining guards took off running towards a staircase heading to the tiers above. Without even saying a word, the man dropped to one knee and held his shield above his head as the woman stepped on his outstretched thigh. In one fluid motion, she planted a foot on the shield and he launched her up to the tier above, just in time for her to cut down the fleeing guard.

Entrusting the man to handle the last guard on his own, the woman turned to see Camden and Wil charging straight for her. It was only then that Kyrill noticed the woman’s face was just as white as her skin. Even her lips seemed to lack any sort of pigment. Only her eyes showed any color, a dim pinkish hue.

She stood her ground as the two men rused her, but just as they closed the gap, a sly smile appeared across the woman’s face before she vanished entirely. No flash of light, no sudden poof, no smoke and mirrors. Just a faint outline where she once stood, like glass under water. And a moment later, it too was gone.

“What the fu—” Wil started to question before he was abruptly cut off. Just as quickly as she was gone, the woman reappeared behind Wil, knife to his throat. She didn’t bother to say anything clever or threatening, didn’t wait for Camden to turn and see, didn’t care to wait for the pleas of anyone. She opened his jugular in a spray of warm blood, pushed him to the ground, then leapt back down next to her partner. She held him close as she kissed him, then gave Camden a wink, turned the corner and ran.

Kyrill and Isha rushed the man, purely in an attempt to hold his attention as Camden chased after the woman. Without his partner, the man stood alone against an opposing duo, tried and true. Isha had proven, time and time again, to be a more than capable partner to fight alongside. Together, they had taken on a number of enemies without issue, even when severely outnumbered. And the Drae man was now alone. Yet somehow he held both of them off quite effectively. He wasn’t putting much pressure on either of them, but he held his ground.

Just then, Camden reappeared from around the corner, his hands empty, walking slowly backwards. The tip of a sword floated from beyond the same corner, directing Camden’s movements.

“Stand down,” the man said as he rounded the corner. His tone and gait were as casual as could be, a stark contrast to the elaborate and menacing armor surrounding his body. Composed of panels of hardened leather, steel plates, under padding, chain mesh, rope and bone, the man looked downright demonic. He held his sword straight out in front of him, the slight curve of the blade reflecting the light from the sinkhole like a mirror.

“Return to your wife,” the swordsman directed the other man. “I’ll handle these ones myself.”

His voice was slightly muffled by his helmet, easily the most disturbing piece of his armor. The open mouth was sculpted to resemble the bare jaw bones of a wolf or similar animal, raw teeth and fangs on display, the man’s stringy white hair spilling out from beneath on either side. A Drae for sure. Sprouting from the sides like two devil’s horns were short antlers that curved forward, like multi-pronged bull’s horns. And then tied around the helmet, covering his eyes entirely, was a length of tightly-wrapped dark red cloth. How he could see through it was a mystery. Perhaps he couldn’t at all.

The other Drae left at the swordsman’s command, who motioned for Wil to pick up a spear from one of his fallen fellow guards and allowed him to circle around to Kyrill’s side. The four of them stood there, each patiently waiting for someone else to make the first move. It may have been four against one, but there was something about how the man held himself that let the rest of them know he was not one to be underestimated.

With a quick twist of his wrists, the man repositioned his blade to deflect an oncoming arrow, his sword humming after the impact.


The man wasn’t harmed in the slightest, but it did at least serve to kick things off. The swordsman lunged at Wil and the fight was on. His movements and reactions were lightning fast as he single-handedly fought off Kyrill, Isha and Camden with ease. He remained on the defensive, though it seemed like he was holding back. Somehow. Perhaps he was testing them? It was difficult to say. All Kyrill knew for certain was this man was likely the best combatant he’d ever faced and he might not even be able to see.

Once again trying to steal a cheap attack, Aoife tried to sneak up behind him, but without even looking he spun to block her dagger at the last second. He launched his shoulder into her, sending her tumbling back before his blade came singing through the air. Kyrill threw himself forward to intercept the attack, blocking the blade with his shield and pulling Aoife to safety. It was a risky maneuver, one that the swordsman took full advantage of as he pulled his sword up across Kyrill’s back and shoulder. Pain screamed through his nerves like heat. He couldn’t see just how bad he was hit, but he could still move his arm. It was all that mattered.

With Kyrill and Aoife now on one side and Isha and Camden on the other, the man was surrounded. The only way out was either through them or off the side of a several story fall. He didn’t seem bothered by the fact.

Blood was starting to run down Kyrill’s arm and over his clenched fist, dripping from his axe to the stone floor below him. Each droplet counted the seconds until their melee commenced once again.

Above the Drae’s empty sheathe was another shorter sword, both of which were tied to his side with thick black rope. He withdrew the second blade with his free hand, holding it like a dagger, adjusted his stance, and attacked.

With Kyrill wounded and Aoife relegated to daggers, the swordsman turned his attention on Isha and Camden. He expertly dealt with their onslaught, deflecting their jabbing spears, though they were able to bring him dangerously close to the side of the ledge. A fall wouldn’t guarantee his death, but he would surely be unable to retreat before any of them could finish him off. The man’s mask made it impossible to read his expression, but Kyrill hoped he was shitting himself, the cocky bastard. Still, even four against one, they were unable to land a single blow on the man.

At least not before the shadow descended over them.

It was but a silhouette at first, the light from the sinkhole giving it an almost angelic look. It was anything but. The great bird came swooping down from the sky to hover just above the swordsman.

“Fuck, not again,” Wil whimpered.

So much for impossible.

Kyrill had thought he had been catching glimpses of the great winged beast as it was careening over the mayhem spreading through the streets. Now it was so close he was able to see details up close and far more personal than he cared for. It turns out that it did, actually, have a mane like a lion. In fact, its entire body resembled that of a lion or big cat more than any bird he’d ever seen, but it’s body was covered in feathers. It also had two big claws coming out of the top of its wings like a bat. And most frightening of all was the man riding on the beast’s back, his long white hair flowing in the wind, eyes full of color.

“Is it that time already, Raaz?” the swordsman yelled. “Pity. Things were just getting interesting. Well, I must apologize, but it seems we must part ways. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday, though likely not.”

The swordsman turned and leapt off the edge only to be deftly caught in the beast’s mighty talons and carried away up through the sinkhole.

“That’s what I call a grand fucking exit,” Isha commented, her breath quick and panicked.

Kyrill looked back towards the tunnel entrance to see the rest of the Drae and their circus of monsters were running to leave. Were they being driven off? Getting away?

“Did we just win?” Wil asked.

“They’re... retreating.”

But why? If anything, it had felt like they had the upper hand nearly the entire time. They took out a lone archer and a few birds. Perhaps others fared better elsewhere, but it seemed the Drae were handling themselves just fine. Toying with them, even.

Adrenaline still pumping, Kyrill could hear his own heart beating in his ears, but the sounds of battle had died off. The howling, however, had not. If anything, it was growing louder.

The Pier.

Whatever the Drae were doing, it hadn’t been stopped yet. And now they were fleeing before the city came crashing down.

They made their way back to the Loch and found people cowering in fear, terrorized by a second appearance of the Drae. More wounded lay bloody in the streets, another path carved through The Howl in the Drae’s hasty exit. It was entirely possible they hadn’t even made it out yet. The others may have been tempted to pursue and not let them get away, but the thought never even crossed Kyrill’s mind.

After exiting the tunnel, Kyrill bounded across the bridge and headed straight for the tunnels that led to the Pier, leaving a faint trail of speckled blood. The howling wind had grown even stronger, like he was traversing the side of a snowy mountain. It wasn’t enough to stop him from entering, but it did force him to shield his eyes from the stinging wind violently whipping against his face. All this happening underground made for a slightly disorienting sensation. Kyrill held his shield up to brace his eyes just as he saw a figure approaching them.

It was Anders. And held in his arms was Neera's unconscious body.

“She needs help,” the man said, struggling to carry her, rushing to meet them at the tunnel entrance.

Isha ran to his side and held Neera’s face in her hands. “Neera! Are you okay? Neera?!” Dried blood crusted her skin in streaks from her ears and nose, but she didn’t seem visibly hurt otherwise. The girl moaned and twisted in Anders’ arms.

“My... head.” She kept her eyes shut tight, as if she had been sleeping and someone flung her curtains wide open. “What happened?”

Kyrill looked back into the tunnel, the wind still harsh against his squinting eyes. He was concerned for Neera, of course, but he was growing even more concerned about something else.

Moswen was nowhere to be seen.

“Anders, where's Moz?” he asked, trying to remain calm.

“He... he’s still...”

“WHERE'S MOZ?” he screamed at the man, overcome with worry. He tried to yell again, but his words were cut short as he was overcome by something else altogether, a strange and sudden sensation like he was stumbling to regain his sense of balance. It felt like being plunged underwater by a huge wave, unable to rely on your own senses to discern which way was up. Before he knew it he was on his hands and knees.

“Shit! Kyrill?!” Aoife yelled. She bent down and put her arm around his back.

He felt his senses begin to dull. He could feel her hand against him, but also somehow not. He heard her voice less and less, as if she was getting further and further away, lost in the growing tempest of wind.

Fear overtook him as the unfamiliar sensation grew more intense. Was he having a stroke? It felt like he was having an out of body experience, like what people sometimes describe when they come back from the brink of death, or at least he imagined it as such. He’d never died before. And he didn’t intend to test the theory today, especially after surviving what the day had thrown at him already.

“Kyrill!” Aoife screamed again, shaking him now. Or was she? It was difficult to tell.

He hadn’t blacked out, but he suddenly realized his vision had faltered, almost like the tunnel vision one might experience from standing up too fast. Though it had never really left to begin with. Just changed perspectives. As his vision slowly returned, he raised his head to look to Aoife at his side, but she wasn’t there.

“Kyrill, your eyes...” Aoife’s voice echoed from beyond.

What Kyrill now saw, he somehow inherently knew, was not that of his own sight. He was looking through Moswen’s eyes, perceiving his surroundings. In the background of it all, like another layer of experience, were his own disconnected senses faintly reverberating within the ether of his mind.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Kyrill? How the fuck...” Moswen asked, his voice clear as day.

“You can hear me?”

“Yeah! What the fuck, dude?”

“Of course I can hear you, Kyrill,” Aoife responded. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I said I’m fine.”

“What?” Moswen asked, even more confused.

“No, not you. I’m talking to Aoife.”

“What?” he asked again.

“What?” Aoife repeated.

“Everyone just stop talking!” he pleaded.

Isha had been so concerned with Neera that she only finally took notice at Kyrill’s sudden outburst.

“Well I’ll be fucked. Kyrill, your eyes...”

“I know! Moz and I’s bond was weird enough already. I’m seeing what he’s seeing. We can talk to each other apparently.”

“Fascinating,” Anders said to himself.

Kyrill, overcome by the situation, hadn’t processed just what he was, in fact, seeing. Moswen stood at the foot of a long bridge that led towards a room carved into a massive pillar of stone. Surrounding the pillar, centered on the room itself, was a shimmering, translucent sphere of energy. A rainbow of faintly visible colors flowed and mixed around the surface of the sphere like a giant soap bubble. Outside of the bubble, the tempest raged. Wind ripped and whirled around, banners and tapestries flapping in the wind, anything not tied down long gone. Inside the elemental barrier, however, it was perfectly calm.

Calm, aside from the bodies.

A number of bodies, none of them Drae, lie motionless on the bridge, just past the precipice of the barrier. Blood pooled from their ears and noses, their eyes wide open, frozen in shock.

“Tell him the Drae are fleeing,” Isha said. “We don’t have much time. We have to get out of here!”

Moswen was already walking across the bridge, the shimmering barrier growing ever nearer. He had found the source. He was right there.


“I have to do this, Kyrill,” he responded. He looked at the bodies of the men and women lying dead just beyond the shimmer. “I have to try.”

Moswen stood at the edge. Inside, they could make out a single silhouette in the center of the room. Just one man. Stop him and they save the city. But standing between them was a wall of glistening iridescence from which a clamoring storm spilled forth, one that several men had apparently attempted to traverse only to drop dead at their feet.

“Moz, please. Just turn back. Run,” Kyrill begged. “I can’t lose you.”

“I can do this, Kyrill. I can feel it.” He nocked an arrow. Kyrill felt him take in a heavy breath. “I’m sorry.”

And through the shimmer he stepped.

Their connection was instantly lost. Like a shock to his system, his senses came back into focus and Kyrill was himself once again. He found his friends huddled around him, waiting. Even with them surrounding him, he felt incredibly alone. They looked to him with eyes filled with worry. They could only have heard Kyrill’s side of the conversation, but it had been enough. They knew.

Kyrill climbed to his feet. Without saying a word, he took off in a sprint. Headfirst into the tunnels he ran, back to Moswen. He had to try.

The tunnels weren’t incredibly long, but he wasn’t even halfway through before the winds died off. Just like that, it was over. No thunder, no flash, no nothing. It just stopped. And the city still stood. Had Moswen succeeded? Did that mean he was alive?

Kyrill continued running as fast as his tired feet could carry him. He passed through tunnels, up stairs, past overhangs and catwalks until he eventually found the bridge peppered with the bodies of those who had tried to stop the Drae and failed. Moswen, thank the gods, was not amongst them. The young hunter stood alive and well in the carved out room just beyond the bridge, with no barrier between them.

Moswen turned to meet Kyrill as he rushed into the room. Tears spilled down the young man’s face as Kyrill wrapped his arms around him and pulled him off his feet.

They said not a word, content to be alive and together once again.


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Posted by Matt on 12.16.20
This chapter was quite the long one, but BOY did a lot happen.
Their first real encounter with the Drae AND the realization that Kyrill and Moswen aren't just bonded, but also capable of... well, it's basically warging like in Game of Thrones, let's be honest, but I don't quite know what to actually call it yet. What I *do* know, though, is that I'm going to do a hell of a lot more with it than GoT did.
Ok, enough of that. I need to stop before I start having season 8 PTSD flashbacks.
Posted by Anonymous on 12.22.20
You really like your nautical metaphors don't you?

So do I ;)
the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet