Fan Fiction

26 May 2004, 13:49 PM

Part I: Flight of the Crane by Jonathan Goss []

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"There," Thirteen Mountain Storm said with a burst, jabbing a gloved finger into the horizon.

Nine Crane Flooding Wind peered into the direction of his comrade's limb. Yet despite his excellent vision all he could see was craggy tundra stretching for miles. "I think the excitement of the past few hours has warped your mind, friend." He said bemusedly. "Either that or you're just getting senile in your old age." Of course, Thirteen was decidedly older than Nine Crane: two centuries older in fact, but to a Heron Guard it was grain on the beach.

Thirteen grunted with frustration. "Don't you see that shadow? What is that? Myrkridia?"

Nine Crane shrugged. "Of course it is. What else could it be?" The Heron Guard stood silently for a moment beside his brother at arms. "Maybe it's a Trow?"

Thirteen lowered his arm to his side, his eyes never leaving the distant mystery. "No, they're fighting for us now." He paused to rest his eyes. "Besides, it's not moving like a Trow."

"Well, I guess it can't be a Trow anyway." Nine Crane admitted with an amused grin. Thirteen turned to him. "The ground isn't rumbling."

Thirteen Mountain kicked a pebble at his feet out of frustration of the mystery. What would be a silent tumbling of the small rock across dusty earth was as clear as a mortar blast to Thirteen's gifted senses. It wasn't a Trow out there, he knew that. What was left of their shattered race had sided with the Light, and there was no such thing as a splinter tribe among the Trow. Their loyalty was flawless. So it wasn't them. But the shadow was bigger than a Myrkridia, which utterly perplexed the grizzled warrior. Regardless of what it was, something was out there. Something big.

Nine Crane shifted a bit on the sandy earth beneath his booted feet. It was strange to think that all those decades ago he had stood on this very spot. Of course, back then Muirthemne was a shining jewel of a metropolis, a brilliant and magnificent testament to the Cath Bruig Empire. It broke his heart now to stand in that same place in the former capital city and peer out over the dusty slopes and man high sections of wall that used to be the city's outer gardens. It brought visible tears to his eyes to think that he was not here to stay its destruction. But the same could be said for every Heron Guard. It was the kind of shame and regret that would have killed lesser men. But the Heron Guard persevered. They survived. And now, here they were, standing along the parapets and walls of their once great city, swords at their backs, banners flapping in the breeze.

It seemed only moments ago that Alric had been named the new Emperor of the Cath Bruig, and that the mighty Heron Guard were reinstated. Nine Crane would never forget the sensation of loosing the rope cords that held his tiles to him. The liberation of his back from their weight was as a phoenix of his very essence. Nor would the reassuring feeling of his sabres resting confidently in his hands soon be forgotten.

It was magnificent.

It was jubilant.

It was short lived.

No sooner had the former Journeymen cast down their tiles and dusted off their armor than Fulthir, a berserk, came racing into the palace courtyard, shouting at the top of his lungs that the Myrkridians were amassing outside the city walls. No words were spoken among the immortal elites. Every Heron Guard hastened their arming and proceeded without delay to Fulthir's position. Nine Crane could not help but feel a twinge of amusement tug at his lips as he watched the scarred and bare form of Fulthir twitch and fidget anxiously. The berserk waited, albeit impatiently, for the elites to gather themselves together, and Nine Crane could tell as he set his helmet over his long hair, that the berserk was young. The absence of gray from his beard gave himself away. Within moments the force of Heron Guards were racing as fast as they could for the outer walls.

The walls.

Get to the walls.

Behind them had joined three Trow and a pair of Dwarven Mortar brigadiers. As they sprinted across the uneven, broken terrain of the former city courtyards Nine Crane could not help but yearn for the company of some of his former comrades. So many had died in the early days of Balor's war. Nine Crane remembered in particular the first siege of Seven Gates, where twenty Journeymen had lost their lives defending the narrow passes and ravines. It was an appalling loss. Nine Crane remembered the tears that were shed by the surviving Journeymen over the loss of their brothers. The tears wept by them turned the earth at their feet to mud. And where blood and sweat had not moistened the ground, the sobbing of countless former Heron Guards at the deaths of so many alike had.

Nine Crane wished for their company now, if for nothing else than a simple joke as they strode with haste for the besieged walls. But Nine Crane would have to settle for the swarthy and sarcastic humor of the Dwarves. Uni and Duri seemed to let lose a foul comment or arrogant slur every other step as their short legs tried in vain to keep up with the rest of the troupe. And Umbra Tempest, a soot colored Trow, seemed to grow more and more agitated towards them with every word. Or every step. Nine Crane wondered for a moment if the gorgon would sweep each of them up into his calloused hands or simply stomp them into the earth. Luckily, neither occurred.

To Nine Crane's surprise, however, it was Mergus Crepusculum, another of the Trow, who offered to carry the Dwarves in his hands all the way to the front line in order to hurry their pace and alleviate their ill-fated suffering. What was even more shocking to the experienced Heron Guard was that the Dwarves reluctantly agreed. So here they were; dozens of Heron Guards accompanied by three Trow, one of which carrying a pair of Dwarven Mortar brigadiers in his arms like loaves of bread. All being led by a hyperactive berserk. Surely it was not an imposing sight for the allies of the Light. Certainly not a deterrent to the Myrkridian horde that awaited them.

"You know, Nine Crane," Thirteen Mountain began as they sprinted swiftly across the earth. "The last time we fought together I killed thrice as many enemies as you." He turned to his friend who was striding beside him, and gave him a devilish grin. "I bet you I can do it again."

"I bet you can, Thirteen." Nine Crane answered casually. "But you forget, ole chum, that you were on the front line in that one, and I was six columns back with the reserves. Hardly a fair comparison."

"Maybe, but let us not debate minutia. I still bet I can best you in notches on my belt."

Nine Crane only shook his head and sighed in exasperation. Why was everything always a pissing contest with Thirteen Mountain? Why was he always trying to one-up everyone he came across? Nine Crane could only scowl at his friend. It was his worst trait, and no doubt his biggest flaw. But, perhaps it was not that bad. Surely there could have been worse flaws in Thirteen's personality. He could have been a drunk, or a blood thirsty killer. Those traits were far worse, and usually reserved for lesser men, such as the Legion's warriors. But if the Heron Guard suffered from a singular disease it was that of arrogance, and pride. Though by no means a deadly flaw, it was one that had proven a problem in the past.

"You forget, Thirteen," Nine Crane added. "That the last time we fought together your bravado warranted my aiding."

"Yes, yes," the other admitted. "How could I forget? But I still say I never needed saving. No matter how many wounds I received."

As they drew closer to the walls Nine Crane and Thirteen Mountain could hear the distant tearing pop of mortar rounds exploding. It was a noise that pierced armor and flesh with its cacophony. Without a word the Heron Guard all but doubled their pace. Yet most of them knew that things were not yet dire. It was never the repetitive sound of Dwarven explosions or the clamorous ringing of warriors' steel that worried Nine Crane. It was when that repetition stopped that his hackles rose. For a ceasing of the noise meant that the allies were no longer fighting, which was never good. It usually meant that they were dead. But for now it seemed as though the Dwarf, whoever he was, was doing a good job of taking it to the enemy: the sickening sound of mortar rounds exploding onto the ground was as a tearing away of some daemon from the earth, screeching and howling in thunderous fury. Perhaps the outer walls were being held, despite the breaches. Nine Crane would know soon enough.

As the reinforcements drew in to the patch of rising mortar smoke and the light colored trail of a campfire, they beheld a near unbelievable sight: twelve berserks and a single Dwarven Mortar brigadier stood practically unscathed. In between them and the breach in the wall was a field littered with the chum and bloody parts of Myrkridia. Only a couple of berserks could be seen wrapping bloody wounds, and even as the Dwarf readied another round Nine Crane could see the archers coming in from the flanks to join them. The elite immortal was impressed. Perhaps they did not need to haste!

"That didn't take long." One of the berserks said to Fulthir as they approached the campfire.

Thirteen moved to the forefront. He observed the carnage wrought by the defenders with a stoic visage and hard expression. "It looks like we could have taken our time, Northman."

"The name's Algir." The berserk said with a seething tone. The animosity between certain berserks and Journeymen had always been prevalent within certain groups. The berserks resented the former Heron Guards for not fighting as they once had, and the Journeymen sometimes thought of the berserks as mindless barbarians with no sense of propriety or honor. Algir and Thirteen Mountain Storm exhibited this now.

"Algir," Thirteen repeated casually. "No doubt there will be more."


"Well, lets get to it." Within seconds the troupe was split up and sent to their destinations outside the wall. It was quickly determined that two ramps would be easier to defend than three sections of broken wall, so the berserks and Heron Guards went with the Dwarven Mortars to one ramp while the archers and the Trow, accompanied by Nine Crane and Thirteen Mountain, went to another. Time would tell if it would prove a worthy defense.

And now, it seemed, time was all Nine Crane Flooding Wind and Thirteen Mountain Storm had. It was nearly twenty minutes ago that they had separated out their forces and set up formations. And so far nothing. Except for Thirteen's shadowy delusions.

"I still say it's a Myrkridia." Thirteen repeated, this time with emphasis.

His companion shrugged. "You may be right." He admitted. "But that's going to be one hell of a big Myrkridia."

Thirteen laughed. "Good, then you can have him." Nine Crane bared his teeth in apprehension at the prospect. Thirteen chuckled at his friend.

In the distance Nine Crane heard the unmistakable sound of the mortars firing their shells. And that was just the beginning.

~ You have reached your journey's end ~