Shades of Blood

When one of the deadliest creatures ever to walk the earth returns from extinction, the once-celebrated elven spellsinger, Shadestar, and the elf noble, Silverleaf, do everything in their power to rid the world of its evil.

But, can they succeed against the creature when the human kingdoms declare war against their elven neighbours?

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3. Seeking Shelter

Pathetic that after so many years he would die only a few steps from safety. The pain in his side was building, he could feel it rising like a wave on a storm-tossed ocean. Growing in magnitude and volume until the banks split and it rolls over and crashes down, obliterating everything in its wake. He knew that pain was coming, but like the sand of a beach or the solitary figure standing witness to a tidal wave, there was nothing he could do to stop it.

He didn’t have the strength to even cry out. He was exhausted, his mind playing tricks on him. He thought that someone had picked him up and was moving him into the sheltered tunnel of the gateway. Strange, the elf was saying something, but he couldn’t hear him. He nodded and tried to wave him away, but his hands wouldn’t respond to his commands. His head fell to his chest and he slumped sideways. Perhaps he wasn’t hallucinating.

Figures dashed past him. They bore arms. They had no idea what they were doing. They were going to die. All of them. He tried to tell them, he tried to stop their paltry offensive before they were slaughtered. They couldn’t hear, he wasn’t capable of speaking, he had failed. People were going to die and he would fail in his oath of protection.

She appeared to him again, crouched in front of him. She held a flask to his mouth and he automatically drank some of the liquid. It burned. His throat felt raw, but the burning liquid brought his mind back from the brink. He could think clearly again.

“Stand up, we have to leave.” She was trying to lift him, but he was a dead weight in her arms; strong as she was, Shadestar was not light and she couldn’t move him. “Stand up, damn you!”

He held out a hand, she took it and hauled back. He managed to get himself to his feet, but he didn’t think he could walk.

“My legs won’t hold if I move from this wall.”

“You’ll die if you don’t,” she replied.

“Then I will die. I cannot do the impossible.”

“By Dibenr, you will move!”

“We must leave, Lady.” It was one of the warriors. He was stood at her right shoulder, his hand placed carefully on her back. He was looking out at the skirmish. The sounds of battle raged, the shouts of men and the screams of the creature mingled with gurgling throats torn asunder, bent swords and rent shields rapping against flesh impervious to their bite. The men here were already dead; they just didn’t know it yet.

The elf nodded to her companion, but instead of leaving, she grabbed Shadestar and forced him to move; largely through bullying and brute strength.

“Keep moving your feet, if you don’t I’ll run you through and leave you for that thing.”

He kept on dragging his feet, doggedly continuing past the limit of his endurance.

“You wouldn’t...” he paused for breath, “...leave me. Why else... would you... have saved me earlier?”

“Don’t talk so much, keep walking.”

He grinned, she had smiled; to be able to smile and enjoy a jest at a time like this prevents the horror of reality crashing down on you.

Sounds of the fight were fading to stillness. No longer were the guards shouting battle cries or grunting with an impact. Instead, they whispered. The sound tangled together in the air, like the dry leaves of autumn raking across the ground. Shadestar couldn’t help but look behind him, the gateway arching over the bridge, merging to darkness at the edges. The torches burning along the wall were the only source of light now. His spell had faded, leaving only a faint luminescence behind. This was the end. Those men had to leave or be slaughtered.

“Keep moving,” she urged him, dragging him onwards.

“They’re going to die,” he replied.

“There’s nothing left for us to do.”

He shook his head as they walked away from the bridge, heart heavy and his gut screaming at him. One of the other elven warriors materialised into vision, he looked deformed. No, he just had something over his shoulder. The girl.

“Is she alive?”

The elf looked at him, his eyes shadowed yet gleaming.

“She holds on by a single sliver...”

His head felt strange, light. He nodded and tried to focus, but it was difficult.

“Come, there’s an inn. Safer inside than out.”

Shadestar practically dragged himself to the door. When he looked up to get the latch he saw a sign hanging above the doorway: ‘The Idiotic Peasant’. They were all idiots. They should be fleeing, not preparing to make a stand.

The tavern air was too warm and thick with smoke and it made him even more uncomfortable; he couldn’t stay here for long. They were stood in the entrance to the common room, the doorway opened straight onto it. Humans sat in large groups around the room. Everyone was staring at them; it made Shadestar feel nervous. He took a step forward and stumbled slightly, his companion straightened him again, but the spectators noticed.

“We seek shelter,” she said, her eyes locked on the face of the man who clearly owned the inn. He was stood behind a high bar, wearing an apron and wiping a glass; a glass now forgotten in his hands.

“We’re full,” he replied. His voice was tenuous, as slender as a grass stalk in a light wind.

“We have sustained wounds in battle. We seek shelter,” she said, her tone hardening.

Before the innkeeper could say another word, one of the men stood up and pointed at the elves.

“You ain’t welcome here, ears. Get out.”

His words were accompanied by murmurs of assent. The crowd appeared to be united against them. How long had it been since he’d last been with this many people? He couldn’t remember.

He was going to mention the creature, but it announced itself well enough when a body crashed through a window at the side of the room. Someone screamed, the men all stood up at once and drew weapons, shouting something – inaudible above the din. The elves moved into the room, the female turned to bolt the door. Shadestar prayed that no one else tried to seek sanctuary, they wouldn’t find it.

“What’s out there?” asked one of the men, he wasn’t really asking, but the elves responded regardless.

“It’s wounded, angry and cunning. It’s going to try and get inside. We must not let it.”

“Do not let it touch you. If it does, you die.”

 

“What is it?”

“A nightmare come alive,” Shadestar responded, “bent upon destruction and death. Sunrise might save us.”

“Might?” whispered a young woman.

Shadestar gazed into her eyes. She was shaking, clenching and unclenching her hands. He didn’t reply, just looked away when some of the men started moving to the windows. He shuffled over to his companions and lowered his voice.

“This is not going to end well. We can’t save these people.”

“Do you want to leave?”

Shadestar shook his head.

“Well, then, we have to try. My name is Silverleaf, my retainers, Emberwolf, Greenfeather, and Stonewolf, the wounded one.

“If only we had met under better circumstance.”

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