Nightblood

In a world of eternal darkness, the light is slowly seeping in. It’s up to one particular winged warrior to save the Night.

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9. Chapter 9

Chapter 9

 

The Creatures train in secret. They decided to make a camp deep in the heart of the woods, not to the east or west or north or south. In the middle. They wandered until they found a clearing, and stopped to rest. There is barely one hundred of them, only half of those kept in a human mindset by charms. 

It wasn't much, but it is more than nothing. 

Missa, having been mentally human for the longest, trains the others. She shows them how to summon the faint line between animal and human, and how to walk that line without landing on either side. 

She also teaches them fighting manoeuvres, instructing them on how to use their natural weapons to their advantage. Slicing with claws, biting and ripping with vicious efficiency with their teeth. 

They are a force of nature, and a destructive one. 

Creatures fall into two categories, Naturals and Changeds, those 'infected' by other Creatures. 

Naturals were rare, and were rumoured to be able to stay human-minded longer. 

Missa is Natural, and it is clear she had no trouble staying human in the mind, but is it merely because of the amulet or is it true that Naturals were more human-minded than the Changed? 

It didn't matter now though, she continued to aid the others to think human, though most were beyond help. 

➿➿➿

I help teach Carson more fighting moves. He improves, but not by much. It would have to be enough. 

The boys insist on fighting. And while I think Ryan is completely able to hold his own, though I admit I do not want him to risk himself fighting, Carson however can barely hold up against Ryan in practice. What would happen on the battlefield? 

There is no time to find out. The Daybloods were set to attack in merely another Cycle, and so all preparations are kicked into high gear. Dais sharpens weapons. Carson trains not stop, only pausing for short breaks to eat or drink. 

Ryan trains too, though not as vigorously, practicing how to deflect blows of magic and dodge the Dayblood's scorching wings. 

I lose track of time, sometimes sitting in a tree watching shadows dance, sometimes practicing magic, sometimes sparring. 

At some point, Ryan approaches me. 

"Not just Daybloods will be attacking. A mortal army will fight beside them," he announces, and fear strikes through me. Would just the Nightbloods be enough? 

We were sworn to protect the mortals, and would not involve them unless absolutely necessary. I have second thoughts about the boys, but Ryan is Strennan, and Strennans are renowned for their skill in battle, despite being mortal. Is an age-old reputation good enough foundation for my judgement?

It would have to be. No telling him he couldn't fight now. 

What about Carson though? He clearly wasn't ready, and I didn't want him to risk his life. 

I groan in frustration. So much indecision!

I come to a conclusion, that I will let Carson fight, but under the protection of a charm. One he wouldn't know about.

I take a dagger, one I had stol—borrowed, from Nightblood camp, and begin to work the charm. I click a clean cut along the palm of my hand, and began to work the spell. 

First I buy the magic. I say the words, whispered in a tongue long forgotten, and then begin shaping the magic. 

I whisper the instructions to what I wanted it to do, still in the unknown language, and imagined taking the magic and reshaping it so it would do just that. 

I direct it at the dagger, grimacing as I watch the silver slowly begin to glow white and trickle off into the hilt of the dagger, rolling over it only to be absorbed. 

Finished, I collect up the dagger and bring it to Carson. 

"A gift," I state, handing it to him. He accepts, examining it. The hilt is made from wood covered in Greyskin leather, the blade long and curved, curving right  before hooking around to the left. Stones decorate the hilt, blood-red granite for strength, pale yellow citrine for speed and pinkish halite for healing. The stones provided limited magic though, more for luck and decoration than what they actually stood for. 

The charm I had worked had been to activate those stones, causing them to glow in the moonlight. Thankfully, Carson didn't notice the glowing, he is more interested in the dagger's blade. 

"What kind of metal is this made of?" He asks, indicating the wicked sharp metal blade. 

"Guranthimite," I answer. The rare metal is extremely conductive, heating and cooling very rapidly. It is also iridescent, shimmering strange colours depending on which way you turned it. 

He nods in vague interest, and goes to practice. 

➿➿➿

Missa leads the Creatures through the trees. Not all of them, but a select party of six, including herself. 

Nih, tall and intimidating, with reptilian skin and jagged teach that show without him even opening his mouth. 

Haja, lean an wolf-like. Her hair pale white and falling near her waste, her eyes icy blue with black flecks. She could pass for human at first glance, until you say the fur that dusted her neck, her short, claw-tipped and white-furred fingers and the tail that snaked out from behind her, bushy and wolf. 

Zafh, the muscular multi-aspect. His jaw is slightly elongated into a muzzle, covered in grey-brown fur. Reptilian skin plagues his arms, thick and tough. His legs are slender and gazelle like, brown furred with white spots, his feet gnarled eagle feet. His eyes are his most human quality, pale green and open. 

Then there is Canna and Hijor, the twins, also multi-aspect but strangely beautiful, with pale white fur cloaking their neck and shoulders, before giving way to human skin. Snake-like scales begin at their lower arms, interlocking plates of silver. 

They race through the trees, on a hunting mission. Missa had emerged as leader of the Creatures, though she wasn't sure how. When she had left she had put Pai, a young reptile-aspect, in charge.  

The Creatures branch out, each taking their own path. The plan is to meet up again in one hour at camp. 

Missa weaves agilely through the tightly packed trees. The woods are empty, but eventually she catches wind of a deer, legs slender and antlers branching out gracefully. 

The deer is black with grey spots. It blends in well with the Night, but Missa's keen cat eyes spot it without trouble. 

She leaps gracefully forward, anding on top of the deer. The dagger strapped to her belt is deadweight, dragging her down. She sink her fangs into the soft tissue on the back of the deer's neck, digging her claws into its sides to stay on. 

The deer bucks and struggles, but eventually its efforts grow weaker, before it goes still. 

Missa delicately removes herself from the deers back, wiping blood from her face and hands. 

She lifts the deer, slinging it over her shoulder. The shape is bulky and awkward, but she has no difficulty lifting it. 

Unsure of the way she came, Missa wanders through the trees, trying to trace her way back to camp. The weight of the deer is crushing, and her shoulders soon begin to ache from the pressure. 

Eventually she finds the faint trail the hunting party had followed, and begins to make her way back to camp. Along the way she meets up with Zafh and Hijor, also laden with prey, Zafh carrying a Mithileen and Hijor hefting a Greyskin. Greyskins are not generally used for food, their meet dry and flavourless and their skin leathery and hard to pierce, but marinated right and smoked, it lasted a long time without rot.

They make it back to camp, where they begin to prepare the food. The rest of the party come back empty, minus a few who bear fruits or herbs. 

They feast, completely aware of the looming battle. 

➿➿➿

The Nightbloods are ready. Little to their knowledge, the buzz of the Elixir has long since worn off. Their luck has expired. Some carry spare vials, but there is not enough for everyone. 

They won't have luck on their side. 

But they are strong and skilled. It would have to be enough. 

One Cycle until the Daybloods are set to attack. 

➿➿➿

The magic is almost ready. He is hidden, protected by half an army. Just a Cycle until he pushes his final attack. He is ready. 

Nothing can stand in his way now. 

➿➿➿

I spread my wings, flying swiftly through the star dotted sky. I watch Carson and Ryan sparring below, with Dais giving them both tips and instructing them, demonstrating moves and showing them how to grip their swords and daggers. 

Carson has gone through a major transformation. He whirls, quick and cunning. With each blast of his dagger against Ryan's broadsword a crash echoes, and Ryan is forced back. 

Despite his obvious speed and strength, Carson is still beaten back by Ryan. He knows where Carson is going to strike and moves to cover before hand. 

It's like he can see fifteen moves ahead, which he can. 

Carson lunges to stab him in the side, but Ryan twists and brings the pommel of his weapon down on the back of Carson's head.

Carson yelps and crumples, twisting over and sweeping Ryan's legs out from under him, bringing Ryan tumbling down with him. Ryan sees it coming however and angles himself so he falls on top of Carson, placing his broadsword's blade against the soft flesh of his throat. 

At some point Ryan had managed to track down some kohl and his eyes were thickly rimmed, his sapphire streaked silver eyes shining in contrast. 

I swoop down, landing next to them, arms crossed. 

Carson wails in surrender, and Ryan lifts off of him. He scrabbles to his feet, brushing dust from his black pants. 

The moonlight falls on his face, and I feel my heart flutter. Carson is undeniably handsome, but doesn't feel right by my side like Ryan. 

His face has grown gaunt, cheeks hollow and eyes haunted. His hair, once shimmering pale gold, has faded into glistening silver. His skin has lost its tan, taking on a greyish tinge. His bones jut painfully underneath his skin, and I feel fear grip me. 

I clear my throat, drawing the boys' attention. 

I show them the satchel slung to my side, offering them some of the Greyskin jerky and dried fruit stashed inside. They gobble it down, exchanging words of thanks. 

"We are going to set out for the border within the hour," I announce, almost laughing at the boys' shocked faces. With less than half a Cycle yet, we needed to reach the border fast. 

"What!?" Carson exclaims, outraged. 

"There's at least a four hour journey to the place they are set to attack, and just ten hours left to the Cycle," I explain, trying not to let annoyance show in my voice. 

"So can't we wait? Until you know, we have four hours? So we'll be arriving just in time?" Carson persists, and the urge to slap him grows nearly unbearable. 

"We are leaving within the hour. Get ready," I command. 

"Fine," Carson grumbles, and suddenly marches off to gather up his stuff. 

"I like how you handled that," Ryan murmurs, staring me in the eye. As usual, a thrill shoots through me as I gaze into his stunning eyes.

"Thank you," I answer, lowering my gaze and blushing. 

"Sometimes Carson acts like a whiny child, even when we're about to face the potential end of our world," he states, and I can't help but to chuckle. 

"Something funny?" He asks, and I feel myself drawing closer to him. I gaze up into his glistening eyes. He gazes back down at me, his eyes full of passion. 

"Yes, you," I tease. 

"Aw come on now!" He protests, and I press a light kiss to his cheek. "That all I get?" 

"Do you want more?" He nods slightly, and lowers his heads towards mine. I raise myself up, and press my lips to his, relishing the moment. He raps his arm around me, and I in turn wrap mine around him, curving my wings to keep him sheltered from the wind. 

I pull my head away, resting it on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, steady and definite. 

"I'm so tired..." I mumble, and I feel Ryan shift beneath me. 

"Let's go have a nap," he suggests.

"No time," I protest, but I already feel him guiding me towards the house, towards the warmth and safety of the couch by the fire, where we collapse, tumbling asleep. 

➿➿➿

The Creatures begin their journey to the northern border, marching through the trees with Missa at their head. She leads bravely, with ferocity. There is an eight hour walk to the Divide, but with Creature speed they could make it in seven. 

They weave through the trees. Last Return, they had feasted. Now, hunger burns equally in the pit of their stomachs. Some snack on fruit or  dried meat. Others hunt on the fly, stopping occasionally to slaughter an animal and devour it, giving in to the primal urges that ran wild in their minds. 

Some had been outfitted with charms, the strongest, the ones who could afford to be human. 

The weaker ones had to stay animal, their hardwired instincts and animal strength the only thing keeping them from being useless. The only thing that would keep them from being slaughtered on the battlefield. 

Missa leads with bravery, only able to hope the charms would hold. The more animal ones had to be herded, kept carefully restrained. If not, they would turn on the rest of the Creatures, and it wouldn't end well. 

Animal instincts and enhanced strength did not mix well. 

So Missa leads with her head held high, not letting her troubled thoughts show. 

 

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