- May 7, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 44)
“Oh, to be bred and domesticated, just to die.”
Astrid, 448 A.C.A
Gronin was the God of the Earth. Zenos could claim to be the God of Sky, and Thassia the Goddess of the Sea, but they knew they were the surface of all that was Him. And so, across the world, people across different countries celebrated him with Gronicka or some holiday of the like.
Except for Susanna. They were the patrons of the Sun and Moon, of Peace and War, and not even the Earth could lay claim to either.
Despite seeing the logic in the faith of her home nation, Astrid couldn’t help but think, What I could have had?
People danced and tossed flowers through the streets without a care. While Astrid wore her hat, her hood was down and her cloak did not hide the fact that she was not Rayne.
But it was Gronicka, there was no time to care for such things. There was only time to give tulips to lovers, bouquets to mothers, roses to fathers, and platters of meat to all manner of neighbors.
In the Raze, the heat was always threatening to smother her, so her lungs grew strong. Now, when she inhaled, every flower and plant down the block found itself tickling the back of her throat.
She found herself wandering through the streets when she was taken by both arms. She tensed up and flexed both her arms only to find that she’s pulled two women close to her. They laugh and playfully poke at her face as Astrid hid her shock.
What risked becoming embarrassment became awe as a crown of flowers was placed on her head. She looked up at them like a small child would, and she saw they wore the same.
They presented her with a meat bar and bid her greetings or goodbyes. She didn’t pay much attention to it. She could only look between the gifts they had given her, and the flower crowns everyone was putting on.
They began to sing words that held no meaning to her, but the melody made her grin nonetheless. What she could not sing she could hum, and when they could dance, she danced just as they did.
She danced like the children, without care, without fear of what lay outside Shadetown’s borders. She let loose muscles that she never used for war, and let happy shrills that were appropriate for one day and one day only.
And she wasn’t alone.
She wasn’t one of many but she wasn’t one. There was only celebration and cheers. There was only dancing, and being spun around.
Astrid nearly fell on her face but stopped to find herself staring at the meat bar she had been given. She took a rabid bite and tasted an explosion of different meaty bits, fused together by a hardened mix of sauces. It made her heartburn, and her mouth water as the striking taste left her nostrils aflame.
“This terrible for you,” she knew, “I love it.”
She munched down on the meat bar as she watched more and more people get out of their homes with tables. Shopkeepers brought out statues made from bones and wax, expertly filed down into the shapes of small leaves, and plants.
Kids brought out the same, made with cheese.
She went up and down admiring them, finding a cheese stick and a child pressing it towards her face for her to see.
“What’s that?” Astrid asked.
With a hole where her first adult tooth was growing, she squealed, “It’s a stick!”
“What an excellent stick!” Astrid said.
“Thank you!” the small girl said as she showed it to the next person who would look.
Hana would have loved this.
That’s all Astrid could think about, how Hana and the other Raze kids would love to see the effort everyone put into celebrating the Earth. She couldn’t get enough of it. There was nothing to drag her down to Earth, ironically. She was nearly skipping, threatening to leap up and into the sky.
The clouds above never felt so attainable.
Astrid’s arm was so sharply pulled that she fell onto her bottom and dropped her meat treat onto the ground. It had so little left, she was so close to finishing it. It was the stuff of tears and nightmares, but Astrid hadn’t paid it a second look.
What she saw in front other was the stuff of dreams.
The world slowed down as the creature with the golden head of an eagle, and a body to eclipse a lion walked past her.
It could only be described as majestic as its feathers rippled with the twist of its beak. The creature’s neck arched so that it pressed into the body of its rider. It held its head above all the mortals with esteem it reserved for itself.
What a proud creature it was, with the slits of a predator, and the golden shine of a workhorse. A beast that conquered the skies walked the city streets on its four-taloned feet, and Astrid could not tear her eyes away.
There never was or will be anything more beautiful.
Then it walked away. A rock began to form in Astrid’s chest until people all around her started to follow.
“Where are you going?” she muttered and then repeated herself. She repeated herself louder and louder until someone finally turned and told her through their own grin.
“The griffin show!”
Suddenly, there were no words more beautiful.
Astrid was on her feet, but she didn’t know when it happened. It just happened. She was on her feet and following everyone down the street.
Everyone seemed to be gathering towards the steps before the castle bridge, following this griffin as it stepped up and planted its talons deep into the cobblestone ground. Its rider whipped the reins to make it ease its hold.
Then the man atop the griffin tore off his helmet, and all the women and children started swooning. The men acted as if they weren’t allowed to.
I have no idea who this is.
Everyone seemed enamored with this fair-haired stranger riding atop a far more elegant creature. It was as the people started calling for his attention, referencing him as, ‘my lord,’ that Astrid figured out he was someone important.
He was the youngest son of House Skyhold, brother of the Queen, and he was the first one to ride a griffin.
He spoke some words to the crowd that made them cheer, but Astrid didn’t hear them. There was dulling sound over her ears as she started to push to get closer. From far away her ill eyes saw beauty, imagine what she could see if she were closer.
In her mind, it was as if she hadn’t been an arm’s distance from the creature minutes before. She fought to see it again.
Astrid trudged through crowds of people who were shocked to see someone so rude amongst them, but they let it go. She could not hold attention when a lord and his mythical pet stood before them.
The griffin had begun to flap its wings as Astrid got to the front. She didn’t get to see how its knees bent to prepare for lift-off, but she got to see it fly up, up, and away.
It began to fly up and around, flipping, spinning, and twirling for the amusement of the people below. People said their ‘ooh’s and ‘aaahh’s save for Astrid. As she stood there, looking up, trying to follow the blurred creature, her eyes began to tear up. The strain on her corneas was too great as she tried to concentrate.
Then she stopped trying to watch it, and let her head slowly droop down.
Then it landed with a thud.
Astrid jumped back, along with several others, and like them all, her eyes were locked on. She didn’t see its complete take-off, but she saw how the creature stood as if it bore the weight of the world. Then she saw how it stood up, effortlessly shrugging off that weight, and giving its feathers a little shake.
Astrid could grin ear to ear just being able to look at it again. The sounds of horns did distract her. The announcement of Lady Skyhold’s arrival with their famed guest did make the Legionnaire blink.
The griffin could have been making way for the King and Queen themselves, and Astrid’s eyes would have followed the beast. There was only one who could steal her attention away.
“And another welcome for the esteemed Warlock Amidala, of House Kain!”
That name pulled Astrid’s eyes away, and the past tore apart the grin on Astrid’s face.
“Thank you! Thank you! Cloudtower and Shadetown have been such gracious hosts!” the witch spoke, the crowd hanging onto her every word.
Then Astrid pulled on her hood.
“To share this holiday with you all has been a balm to my soul in these trying times, but the news your noble lord brings signals good times ahead!”
The young lord of Skyhold began to speak and knights of the noble guard began to come down to hand out flyers. Astrid didn’t take one, nor did she hear the important words the lord was saying. These were words that would see the war prolonged, and Raydorn press harder into Kronish and Susannan territory. They were words that would signal more death for many more years to come, but not a word of it was heard by Astrid.
Astrid only stared daggers at a woman she had seen only twice in her life. She stared and hoped that would be enough to kill her, when her axe would not do the job, not yet anyway.
The image of their first meeting so many years ago, the image of this unaging yet eternally ancient face staring down at her, was seared in Astrid’s memory.
The burnt wood of the hut, the burning sting of ash in her nostrils, and the coolness brought about by the tears streaming down her cheeks.
The way her father fell to his knees as her mother left them for that woman. The way the witch looked back just to snicker.
But her mother never looked back. She took the cloak and the hood that Amidala gave her and never looked back. Astrid could picture her mother looking, but whenever she did, she couldn’t picture her face, so she must not have.
‘Never forget why you’re here, never forget what separates you from the rest,’ Lapis told her.
As she felt the burn going down her chees again, she swore, I will remember, always.
The sound of screeching griffins began to fill the sky, as did the blowing gusts of wind, and the sight of them soon afterward. There were dozens flying above, with riders atop their backs.
It should have been the best thing Astrid had ever seen, and instead, she looked up with tear-stained cheeks.
“It is tear-jerking, isn’t it?” a man said, as he looked up along with her and everyone else.
Astrid glanced his way, but that was for but a brief moment before she wiped away her tears.
“They… they domesticated them, so many of them.”
“They have to for the war.”
“Weren’t you listening? The griffins are going to train with the Stormguard. We’ll wipe out those dirty fucking Krones in no time.”
Just like that, the world dragged her down from the sky.
Oh, to be bred and domesticated, just to die. A life no better than cattle for them. I can relate.
“Have a happy Gronicka,” the man said as he went away, and Astrid stood in place, still looking up.
When her eyes came back down, she was looking at the witch as she let her guard down.
It’s still there, in her eyes. The Nothing.
“Happy Gronicka,” Astrid muttered, “you feral bitch,” and turned away towards Shadetown.
I’ll have your head one day.
Unlike their ax-wielding friend, Andelyn Stella and Jack Starshield stood out in their own homeland. With Andy’s hovering eyes scoping out every corner, and Jack’s downtrodden expression, they were easy to spot.
I hate feeling… seen, Andy thought to herself. This should have been an easy stealth mission, but we’re getting side-eyed and side glances from every other person. We need to get off the street.
Andy heard an unprompted groan of frustration from the man behind her, and she turned around to find Jack brooding harder than usual. Maybe what I need is to ditch him.
Andy spotted a dark alley, devoid of people, perfect for a rendezvous. She grabbed Jack’s wrists and started pulling him along.
“Uh, hey, what gives? We’ve wasted enough to already-”
When Andy rounded the corner, she pulled Jack into the shadows and slammed him against the wall. Her hand was over his mouth to muffle his sounds of pain.
He smacked her hand away to whisper-shout, “What gives?!”
“You’re drawing attention to us,” she said as she looked around the corner to see if anyone was following them. When she looked back she added, “And you were being annoying.”
“That’s no surprise,” Malum said from the shadows.
Andy and Malum both slammed their hands over Jack’s mouth as the little lord shrieked like a little girl. He smacked both their hands away to whisper-shout some more. “What in all Hedone was that?!”
Neither said a word to him. Andy immediately got down to business, asking Malum, “Did you find anything about the Aurora Knight?”
Two words were all it took to make Jack’s stiff disposition dissipate.
It almost returned when Malum shook his head, but then he raised his finger. “I did find plenty of other relevant information, like that this town is hosting a special friend of ours.”
Andy stepped closer, her friend’s name a sputtering whisper on her tongue. “Ha-harry?”
Malum shook his head with a grave pause that would make the dead lie stiller.
Both of the exiled Rayne nobles stiffened, but they stood straighter.
Jack ran his hand down his chin as he took control of his thoughts, and Andy did the same. They slowly turned their eyes to each other’s, taking what this meant.
“We get her…” Jack started.
“… we get everything,” Andy finished.
“Cute, but little much, don’t you think?” Malum mocked them.
“She’s not the only famous guest here for the holiday festival,” Malum told them, “there’s an Honorguard here too, the Bard of the Song, should we be worried?”
Malum surely knew the answer to that when he saw the two of them stiffen again.
Henry Lockley is here?
Andy grabbed her head but resisted the urge to pull her hair out. She had never met the Bard of the Song, but the stories she had heard were enough to not want to have to deal with him.
I would have preferred the Giant’s Blood to be here, though that would make no sense. The fucking bard is much better for this moral-boosting appearance.
“Anything I should know?” Malum asked.
“You haven’t heard of him?” Andy asked back. “That’s actually a bit shocking.”
“I can’t know everything.”
Jack turned and leaned against the wall as the sense of danger was finally setting in for him. “He might be the most dangerous man in Raydorn.”
The comment gained an immediate scoff from the assassin. Rather than a verbal lashing, the two Rayne nobles maintained their calm and increasingly defeated-looking demeanor.
Jack stared off into space, lost in thought of the past, but there was little forlorn in his eyes this time. “Kion was the only one who stood a chance, his armor and the blade making him immune to the worst of what the Bard can do, but that feels more like a technicality.”
Malum let the silence hang in the air as he continued to question just what it was that had these two so scared of their own shadows. He waited like they were going to change their tune but it never came.
Andy only piled on the reasons to fear. “He doesn’t fight like anyone else, he doesn’t even fight. He uses the wind and his music to control you, to make you see things that aren’t there.”
“Whole battalions will turn on each other like that,” Jack added with a snap.
“I think Susanna has a run-on-sight order for him,” Andy said, “I’m sure they’re glad he’s been stuck being Amidala’s bodyguard for the holiday.”
“He might even be working for her, be in on what they did to Kion.”
Malum gestured for him to slow down. “Let’s not jump to conclusions, not if this guy is half as dangerous as you two seem to think. We don’t want to add another to our growing list of enemies.”
“Even if he’s not working with her, he’s still going to want to capture or kill us, he’s an Honorguard of Raydon, a country which we’re currently standing in as wanted criminals,” and with a snippy side-eye at Jack, “in case anyone here forgot.”
“No one forgot, but we need more information, fast,” Malum said as he tried to keep them from devolving into insults.
Why do I do that? Andy asked herself. The second tensions were high, I wanted to fight with Jack to distract myself. That’ll cause problems, it’s not a better distraction than alcohol. Remember that Andelyn Stella.
Jack’s glare hardened on Andy, but he was able to let it go and turn back to Malum. “The fastest way to get information would be to split up and ask around. We can’t do that standing around here together.”
The other two both agreed, though Andy agreed rather quickly, but before any of them could lead, Malum took a gander at their little group and noticed something.
Andy stopped mid-turn. “Wait, she didn’t leave with you?”
Malum’s head tipped ever so slightly in that way everyone was familiar with. “I’m trying to be stealthy and inconspicuous, why would I bring Astrid along?”
Andy immediately flipped him off.
Jack’s fluttered as he tried to think about when they lost Astrid. It’s a normal response when you lose a person who was known for being the loudest person in the room. The funny thing is, when you’re so used to the noise coming out of someone’s mouth, you don’t always notice when they stop.
“She wasn’t with us this morning,” Starshield muttered, his finger flipping between them, “and she hasn’t been with you…?”
All at once, the three of them began to share their collective brain cell and say, “The griffins.”
“I’ll go grab her,” Malum volunteered as he began to angrily collect his cloak, “I’ll make sure she doesn’t do something like try to steal an egg.”
Right as the assassin walked by him, Jack asked, “Griffins lay eggs?”
Malum stopped, and his head slowly turned to Jack, hesitating a bit, just a bit, before looking him in the eye. “You are aware that they have bird heads and wings?”
Jack wagged his finger as he pointed out, “But they also have lion bodies, which means a mammal’s private parts, right?”
“I…” Malum raised his finger but ended up just grabbing his chin, as he grunted. “Huh…huh?”
“Guys, really?” Andy asked them. “Come on.”
As she pushed between them, Malum asserted that, “It’s an important question.”
“Uh-huh, you can compare junk later, let’s get a move on.”
Andy separated from them and went back into the street. She pulled her hood over her head to hide her identity, but it was no use. The darkness would always stand out in a world that had a filter of light over it. When everyone was happy, the fact that you were hiding your unhappy face showed.
Though, by this point in her life, Andy should be used to having eyes on her. Whether it was because of her white hair, the fact that she was a woman in armor, or just being such a public drunk, she had plenty of opportunities to grow used to people’s prying eyes.
She had become so well versed in it that she knew when a certain assassin was watching her.
If he wants to be that way, then fine, let him, it’s just everyone else’s time he’s wasting.
Andy let him watch as she made her rounds. She took down her hood as she approached vendors. It’s hard to chat people up when you’re the sketchiest-looking person they’d ever seen.
But a woman’s smile melted most walls. Few men on the street thought twice about it, fools that they were. She asked them all kinds of suspicious questions and made downright devious conversation, but they told her everything because she was a pretty woman giving them attention. How abhorrent they must be if their own wives wanted nothing to do with such behavior.
Naivety and the known foolishness of men allowed Andy to learn about the ball that was to be held soon, and that the Bard of the Song would be performing as the guest of honor alongside the warlock. Apparently, griffins were joining the war force, something that made Andy mock a grin.
There wasn’t much information to go around, but after several blocks of the same information, it felt more trustworthy. Information gathering wasn’t only about finding something worth hearing, but hearing it enough from different people so that you could trust it.
Who trusts the truth when it’s only told once?
At some point, Andy noticed Malum slip away, likely off to search for Astrid or find information himself. You know, the things he was supposed to be doing.
But maybe there was a reason behind the distrust. The moment Andy’s eyes set on a tavern, she had a destination. I did my job, and I’m good.
It was as she walked into the bar, and found it destitute of life and excitement that she remembered the town’s drought once again.
Her lip started to quiver.
“Why me…” she groaned as she found an empty seat amongst empty seats, and then decided against it. Rather than stay in this wooden pit of sobriety and lack of prostitution, she would suffer in the open, making it everyone’s problem.
Or she would have if she hadn’t run into a face she had seen before.
As they literally bumped into each other, he grew this smirk that was unlike other smirks. It didn’t make Andy feel didn’t dirty. “Oh hello, perfect, I was looking for you.”
“Do I know you?”
His hand went to his chest. “I’m your brother in pain! We sobbed together, forlorn over the state of wine and ale in this godforsaken town!”
Andy’s eyes squinted as it took her a moment, but it came to her. “Ohh, I remember you now, sorry, this place is dry too, the fucking madmen were serious about forgoing anything made from plants.”
“I respect their commitment, I really do, but why shove it down our throat?”
Andy’s fists clenched as she was taken over by the urge to shake them. “Yes, that’s why I’ve been saying! Why do I have to celebrate your way?!”
“There should be no one way to celebrate Gronicka!”
They both jumped as this random old lady yelled at them and waved her cane at them. They stared at her together until she had wobbled out of earshot.
The two looked at each other, but the man with the handlebar mustache and matching goatee couldn’t help but start laughing. She arched her brow, but she couldn’t help but giggle, his laugh being infectious.
Who is this man, and can he find me a drink?
While she had met him before, there was a sense of kinship she felt for him. Pain was a powerful unifier, and alcohol was a degrader of rational thought. The lack of it wasn’t a difficult thing to bond over, but more than that, she felt like she knew him… like…
Really knew him.
Then she remembered. “You said you were looking for me, are you following me?” He wouldn’t have been her first stalker, but she would be his last victim if that were the case.
Though there wasn’t much malice to sense as he tilted his head down at her. “Lass, you’re the only person with white hair like… ever, you’re not the hardest to pick out of the crowd. No one needs to stalk you.”
Andy stared at him for a moment, before slowly pulling her hood over her head. “Duly noted, still doesn’t answer why a boy from the Growing Fields is looking for me.”
Then it was his turn to arch his brow. “How… could you tell I’m from the Fields?”
Andy looked away as she made a not-so-innocent shrug. “All you Northerners call women lass far too often.”
The man’s cheeks threatened to turn red. “My apologies la-, my lady.”
Andy smirked at him, as he tried to smile and wave off his mistake. “I’m not a lady, though it is better than lass. I mean…”
The man put a hand over his chest as he said, “My apologies, the way you held your head begged to differ.”
Malum would get a kick out of hearing that.
“What do you want?”
It was his turn to give her that not-so-innocent shrug. The one where you close your eyes and mock a smile. You shut your eyes so no one can see the intention behind your words.
Get ready for the ambush-
“I seek a drinking buddy,” he said, making her blink twice, “someone to take enjoyment in mocking the festivities with me.”
Andy’s eyes only fluttered in honest to god confusion.
I just met this man, does he think I want to jump in the sack with him because we both can’t drink? Also, why would I mock… well, that’s pretty spot on but he shouldn’t know that after one interaction.
“Why would I mock the festival? It’s a spot of peace and tranquility, to get away from the war.”
This man had to gall to laugh right in her face. “Please, Skyhold knows nothing of the war. The Queen is a Skyhold, which means Shadestown has all but avoided most of the draft. Have you noticed how many young men are still here? Sure, there are some volunteers, but by and large, the war hasn’t reached here, these people aren’t in reprieve.”
“Maybe not, but we are, and we wouldn’t have this place to reprieve to if they themselves were not…” with a gesture to the unfamiliar greenery and the life around them, “free of the outside world.”
“Hmph… maybe you have a point.”
Andy put her hand behind her ear and started asking, “Ah, what was that?”
The man placed his hand in front of his mouth, as he pretended to cough, “Oh, how terrible, I seem to lack the ability to repeat myself without alcohol.”
“Ah, I see, well, if you find any, why don’t you tell me, I’d be happy to hear what you said over a drink.”
The man paused for a moment and began raising a finger that stilled Andy’s heart. Then he gestured her closer as if what he was about to say next was nothing less than the juiciest of secrets. “If you want a drink and a real drink at that… the one place that would have it is Cloudtower, and as one of the people who’s going to perform there later, opener for the headliner, I could use a companion. The bureaucrats are always interested in hearing music but never all that interested in listening to anything.”
There was a moment where Andy considered what she would be willing to do for alcohol, and humor a date with a man was not one of them.
“Sorry, you’re not my type.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Oh, I know, you stared longer at the bartender’s tits than any other man in the bar.”
Suddenly, she looked more like a tomato than a woman. “I- I- did not!”
He only waved her off as she fumed at him. “I’m sure she didn’t care after you tipped her, or maybe she did and she hates you, I don’t know. Either way, I am happily taken, and not at all looking for companionship like that, just… someone halfway interesting to talk to between sets. You’ve already changed my mind with nary a word as far as I’m concerned, you’re the most interesting person here.”
Am I willing to humor a friend date with a man to get into Cloudtower, and before Malum got a way in at that?
That I can do.
But she didn’t want him to think he could so easily convince her into anything. “I thought you didn’t repeat yourself?”
His hands remained clasped as he told her, “See, you do listen, maybe tonight won’t be so boring. Do you have something you can wear?”
“I haven’t said yes.”
He squinted his eyes and gave her this knowing smile. “Haven’t you though?”
“Hmph, no,” she reiterated, assuring him that he didn’t know shit. “I don’t have exactly anything to wear to the castle.”
That earned her a wink. “I’ll bring you something tomorrow so we can get it tailored, and then, we party. I’ll meet you where we met?”
Andy waited the appropriate amount of seconds to mock hesitation as if either of their sharp minds would have believed it.
“Fine, if you’re late, I’ll kick your ass.”
“What if you’re late?
“That’s a forgone conclusion, better prepare.”
With their word their bond, he smiled and turned to walk away. “That I will, Andy,” he said, as he bid her his goodbyes, “be seeing you.”
“See you…” she said as she watched him disappear into the crowd after this sound…
The sound of a string being plucked drew her eye from his back for a mere moment, but a mere moment was all she needed to lose sight of him.
That’s no normal guy, whatever stupid dress he brings me better have a spot for a knife or at least be long enough to hide one. Knowing him feels like it could easily be a curse as a stroke of luck. I didn’t even get his name.
That thought immediately caused Andy to be struck by another, one that made her back lose feeling, and her head grew more than a little fuzzy.
He had called her by her name.
And she had never told him it.
His footsteps weren’t terribly quiet, but that could be used to his advantage. As one pair of soldiers patrolled together down the streets, the pitter-patter of his footsteps made them turn around.
“You there!” they called after the cloaked fellow stopped in his tracks. This wasn’t enough to arrest someone. Maybe it was in the capital, but not in Shadestown.
But a man in a dark cloak, turning to run at the sight of guards certainly was.
They gave immediate chase after him, following his loud footsteps into a dark alley. They were yelling after him, waking several people in their homes. In their heavy armor, they were not quick on their feet. The man had been in the alley long enough to lose them by the time they rounded the corner.
Amateurs, the cloaked man thought of them as they still ran into the darkness anyway.
A quick gust of wind picked one man off his feet and flew him head-first into the brick wall. The second soldier turned around to see that he had quickly become the pursued rather than the pursuer.
The cloaked man’s knuckles were caught in the moonlight, and under that glow, they were stark white from how hard the Wind gripped them.
The cloaked man delivered a swift kick to the air. The soldier was confused until a gust of wind sent his armored leg flying up off the ground. Before gravity could do its job, the cloaked man delivered a swipe, and a gust of the Wind hit the man in the chest, sending him back first into the wall.
Where the first was knocked unconscious for the few moments the cloaked man needed, the second was only relieved of the air in his lungs. It gave his attacker the perfect amount of time to approach him, take him by the collar of his armor, and slam him against the wall.
“Where is the Aurora Knight?” Jack questioned him as the man still struggled to find breath. With some added backing from the Wind, Jack lifted the fully armored soldier off the ground, with his back against the wall. “Talk.”
You’d think Jack was some night wraith the way he stalked the soldiers from the rooftops. He waited until the night came to start following the soldiers who patrol Shadestown. If it works for Malum, it can work for me.
As the soldier managed to regain his breath, he sputtered out, “I…I have… no idea.”
Jack pulled back and slammed him against the wall again, the clanking sound of his arm beginning to rouse the first soldier.
Jack brought the soldier’s face in close, close enough to see the glow behind Jack’s eyes. “I know he’s here.”
“Then you know more than me! I have no idea where he is! I had no idea he would be here!”
Can I trust this information? Is this really a wasted trip?!
No, there’s still Amidala, the witch will know, but that’s taking the hardest way up the mountain… it’s worth it.
Jack pulled back his fist to knock the soldier’s lights out, but as he did so, his own hand revealed the crest on the man’s chest. A rainbow blade lodged in stone…
The Aurora Blade.
It’s the crest of House Thorn.
Jack quickly changed his grip to see the rest of the soldier’s armor, and up close he recognized the pattern in the colors. The black in gold-tinting nearly made him drop the soldier, and the familiar indentation of the abdomen only confirmed it.
Jack let the soldier go…
… by throwing him into the opposite wall.
Jack’s gladius sword cut through the moonlight as he unsheathed it, and pointed it towards the soldier on the ground. “Why do you wear the armor of the Black Legion? You are no legionnaire, the legion is nothing but wanted criminals.”
The soldier raised his arms in deference and surrendered. “I-I swear on my life, I-I’m Black Legion!”
He can’t possibly think I’ll believe that bullshit.
“The Legion is dead!”
As far as he can know.
“I’m not lying! I swear, I just came from Iron Rock, finished our weeks of boot camp, and got stationed here for the festival! I swear! I’m no imposter or criminal!”
Weeks? Legionnaires trained for months before even seeing combat, and years before being positioned around the country. There are exceptions for war, not festivals.
“If I’m lying, why is he wearing the same armor?” the soldier asked Jack, causing Jack to look towards the unconscious soldier to see his armor.
The soldier tried to take advantage of Jack’s wandering eyes, but as soon as he stepped up to his feet, he regretted it.
Jack’s fist darted forward through the air like an arrow let loose from a bow. The force of the Wind followed, and a small, precise, powerful dart of wind hit the soldier right in the head. The back of his head hit the brick behind him, and that was it.
He was wearing a helmet, Jack told himself as he watched the soldier fall to his knees, and then forward on his face. The lump of flesh took a bit to bleed. That could have been because the blow wasn’t serious, or the helmet was in the way, so Jack wouldn’t check.
He was already making his way through the alley to get away from the crime scene.
They couldn’t really be Black Legion, could they? Why would they rebuild it when they already had the Stormguard and the King’s Men? That would be redundant, reductive, and utterly pointless when you’re not training them right!
And sacrilegious to do so without a Thorn in charge.
Harry had no children or siblings, and his parents had long since passed. With him, there were no heirs to Iron Rock, to House Thorn, and to the Black Legion. Sacrilege it is then.