Devryn - "The Bridges We Build"
We looked down on the entry gate to the massive stone bridge. The twin spires reached skyward with its thoroughfare pinned between, spanning across the deep gorge to another pair marking its completion on the other side. Time had not crippled this edifice, only blotched the surface in ochre stains. A testament to the long-forgotten craftsmen.
The Fates smiled on us this day, as it seemed only restless soldiers hid among the patches of stone and trees along the road that led up to its arcades. Could count no more than eight on random mounds, sprawled out under makeshift lean-tos.
I sighed in exasperation as I rested my chin on my hands, scanning to be sure the she-elf had not found her way here. Persistent.
“We can take those guys. No problem,” Seth turned to look at me, his sunburned nose and cheeks a bright pink.
“But do we want to? Leaving bodies?”
“Dump them below.”
I peered out, “Probably should not let anyone think we passed through here. Keep them guessing.” Caution should temper this decision. The Graud Vuasari Bridge makes a reliable choke point, and would let my pursuers mark my westerly progress. The Vuasari River cut through the steppes, traveling north and south when this far north. The stubborn river lacked that temerity to dry up, years of fashioning a rocky canyon to mark its dominance.
A climb down echoed in my head as not the worst idea. But it would be the swim across that would most likely kill us, though. A plunge in its fast-moving waters, pressing you against the jagged walls on either side, if not grinding you to meal on the rocks below.
“What do we do?” Seth whispered.
I shook my head, “You know they can’t hear you at this distance?”
Raina clicked her tongue, “We can’t go around. A day, at least, either way”.
She was right. There were fording points about a day north and a highly patrolled bridge by Prince Messra’s soldiers almost two days south. The canyon did have safer areas to swim, where Vuasari’s rapids were lessened between the wider gaps.
“I’m a bit hungry and would like a warm bed. Or, at least something over my head for a night.” I added. “Inna Bogarta is long-days walk west of here, with some manors along the way. Plenty of opportunities to rest and mend”
Looking at Seth’s face, beyond his reddened cheeks, his features had dulled and grown a bit pasty. The constant exposure to the steppe marred his jovial visage. He could prance about all he wanted but death comes in all forms.
“We could wait them out,” Seth offered.
Raina looked to the scene and back again. “They are all positioned off the bridge. We could skirt the canyon and get behind them. They should be expecting… you to come up on them from that direction,” nodding to the road. “We should wait for dark to cross.”
I looked at her, a moment too long, “Hmm… okay.”
Seth smiled one of those teeth-filled smiles. I’m starting to not like that smile.
With that, we each found spots under the stunted trees, a poor attempt to get out of the sun while staying warm from the frosty air. The others lounged, sleeping when they could, as we waited for nightfall. As inconspicuous as I could make it, I began examining the tattoos. They were all over my body… arms, legs, feet.
Getting curious, meatbag? I could feel a sharp nail prick my foot as I looked at a swirling set of lines that ran along the inside of my foot.
Pulling on the boot, I felt you were near.
Yeah, meatbag should. I couldn’t see him but furrows in the sand showed clawed feet next to my leg.
Where have you been?
Around, he purred with an odd, guttural hum.
Molesting things, I imagine.
I could almost hear his lips curl into a grin.
Please, explain to me what is going on.
You are being hunted by an angry elf…
Look, you flying piece of..., my anger rose and I could see a retreat in the sand. With this! I said in a huff, lifting my jerkin a little to expose the intricate lines and swirls of blue.
Master, I am not. But what I have seen, you are marked by the Trebeche an’ Winsunik circle of affirmation.
The swirl? The first tattoo?
Yes. It opens your… The imp passed, no word for your tongue… but, maybe a gate or door, I think.
I sat there soaking it in. The cool wind made my exposed arms rise in goosepimples.
The pointy ear, she go to do something. Bam! She, like… sucked in. Never seen that before. The imp kicking a loose stone only echoed the nonchalance in his tone with the last statement. You might die. A chuckle fluttered in my mind and I heard its wings flap and he left me to my thoughts.
* * * *
Night fell. The evening calls from the tiny steppe birds quieted and left a calm among the sandy dunes.
I dozed in and out. Flashes of the elf mage writhing in pain waking me twice. The creature’s words still hung in my brain, she was sucked in. They could not seem more truer based on the dried husk that was left behind.
Seth alerted me that they were ready to go. I joined them as they found our previous vantage point, looking out onto the bridge. One moon sat low in the sky leaving everything in a near-inky blackness. My vision battled between my normal sight and perceiving everything in muted grays, depending on where the light touched. A throb began to pulse behind my eyes. Not used to this.
“No campsite,” Seth said.
“A sign they are waiting for something… or somebody,” I added.
We climbed down and stalked over to the edge of the gorge. Every step made with caution as the sand seemed tense and ready to betray us at any moment.
Hushed voices picked up in volume as we drew closer to the road. A lookout position on top of a neighboring mound alerted us to our nearing the mouth. Seth led the way, often melting into the deep shadows and brush. Raina next, her footfalls also demonstrated her talent to be quiet when she wanted. I could not keep their pace as my boots seemed to scream in my ears, like an ox dancing on a wood floor.
The stone pillars of the bridge came into the sight in the gloom, promising our finish to this game. Seth climbed down into the gorge, briefly disappearing in its maw, and then back into view as he scaled the side of a bridge support.
Raina took the safer route of edging over the bridge’s sidewall, swinging her feet over on her belly. As I stepped up to mimic her maneuver, the palm of my left hand began to itch. The pinch of small needles prickling my flesh would not stop. I swung over, looking as Seth skirted the wall, heading away, with Raina in tow. To his right, I made out a small urn sitting in the middle of the bridge, blanked in the blackness, but gray to my eyes.
“Tssss… Seth,” I risked a hard whisper. He kept moving. Keeping low, I hurried to catch up.
“Seth, stop…” I watched as the seal along the urn’s cap turned bright red, then a vivid yellow. A fiery eruption burst forth. Seth slammed into the stone, collapsing to the ground. Raina, from the force, was flung upward and over the low wall, her hands desperately grabbing for a purchase.
I rushed over, locking my hands on her wrists as she dangled above the hidden abyss below. Her eyes pled to mine in fear, don’t let go.
With a heave, I pulled with everything I had. Her light frame came freely, her legs lifting over and scrambling to stand.
When she stood safe, it was too late for me to hear the scuffing of boots on the bridge to realize the full threat. I turned to see men running up, bows drawn.
I flung my jacket free, ready to pull my blade. An arrow loosed. It found my upper chest. Pain washed over me, and with all the momentum and movement, my hip rolled against the wall, and over I went.