064 The Fractured Maid · 4


The Fractured Maid · 4
Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, Main Gate
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool
Twilight gave way to daybreak
The song of mountain birds rose up to lead the morning din
The villagers began their autumn day as any other
Atop the village walls the guards of the local militia exchanged posts
On the eastern horizon a shadow drew near  
“I


t couldn’t be!”

Staring down their spyglass, the sentry positioned above the main gate of Lonely Root swallowed hard. Approaching the village on horseback and dressed in leathers, long coats, and wide brimmed hats was a posse the guard knew the appearance of all too well. What stayed them from sounding the alarm immediately at the approach of the small army of bandits was a twenty-five-meter-tall mechanized biped that appeared as a suit of armor for a man too skinny with a distended stomach. Held in it’s left hand was a massive pole from which an equally massive black flag with a stylized image of a stitched together skull on it. Seeing that skull in the light of the morning sun the sentry finally reached for the alarm. As they began to crank the manual alarm, they also grabbed a radio receiver and shouted into it in a near panic.

“Be aware people of Lonely Root, the Skull Leathers are approaching en masse and are in possession of a Dolmen! I repeat, the Skull Leathers are approaching and have a Dolmen! All citizens, please remain indoors until advised otherwise! All militia men, report to your posts!”

The message along with the alarm blared across the village’s public announcement system and jolted the villagers from their routine-based stupor. Within the chest positioned cockpit of the mechanized biped known as a Dolmen, the icaran ruffian that Chain had spared the morning before pulled down the black bandana that was covering his mouth and sneered.

“I told you I’d make you regret it whelp. No one makes a fool out of Fangbeak and lives to tell the tale.”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, lonely Root Inn
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool
T
“What do we do Maye

At the front desk of the village’s only inn, Finch turned a panicked look onto her centaur companion. Maye was far less unnerved by the sudden situation as she was annoyed and spoke in a touch harsher tone to Finch than she should have.

“There is no reason to panic Finch. We are already unwelcomed here and ill equipped to deal with that group of bandits in any number larger than a handful besides. If we act quickly, we might even be able to escape and rendezvous with the Chapel.”

“Wait. You’re not thinking of abandoning them are you Maye?”

“Why must you always paint the worst picture of me? No Finch. I am not suggesting we abandon them, but neither of us are equipped to help them as we–”

“We have my Dolmen!”

A most displeased expression crossed Maye’s face at Finch’s interruption, especially as she brought up the machine she had hidden away within the abandoned church, but Finch did not back down.

“I have our communication equipment in the church so we can call the Chapel for help and I can buy time with the Dolmen.”

“Have you even finished reconstructing that thing?”

Finch hung her head in defeat but did not quite fully concede.

“Well, no… …not yet… but it just needs to have the Artificial Gate Generator engaged and the systems synchronized with the new machinery.”

“And can you do that?

Maye’s next question finally stole any further argument from Finch and the younger girl admitted defeat with her whole body. Pleased with Finch’s concession Maye began to lay out her plan of action.

“With that settled, we shall leave immediately. As we have no reason to stay, once we determine where the bandits are approaching from, we can move to–”

Before Maye could finish, or really get started, the crackling and high-pitched whine of a speaker blared across all of Lonely Root. As the static and crackling of the speaker that was obviously turned too high subsided, a voice that Finch recognized from the prior day descended upon the village.

- People of this pitiful excuse of a village, most of you have probably heard my name whispered by wary travelers and rightfully know to fear it. Well, there is at least one traveler in these parts who has not heard the name of Fangbeak, leader of the Skull Leathers, the most feared gang in all of the Athera Mountains. That fool has earned my ire, and if you don’t wish to incur my wrath then you’ll hand over the whelp Sa·B·er maid in chainmail who calls herself the Chainmaid. -

“Good, he’s here for the heretic. That should allow us to slip away unnoticed.”

“You’re just going to abandon Chain too after you promised to help her?”

“We can’t help her in these circumstances Finch. It’s best we rendezvous with the Chapel and then ambush these bandits if we are to help anyone. Now quickly, while we have the chance.”

Snatching Finch’s wrist, Maye dragged the icaran girl behind her as she made for the inn’s front door. Her harsh handling of a child would have normally earned her curious stares but the people around her were distracted wondering who this ‘Chainmaid’ was. Their confusion should have made it easy for Maye to leave unnoticed, but Fangbeak was not done speaking yet and what he had to say next assured that would not happen.

- Now before you unfortunate worms beg me to spare you about some whelp you haven’t ever seen before, I can give you a way to bring them out to me that shouldn’t be too hard for you. I know you’re harboring a couple of Daughters of the Cardinal Church and can tell you that the little one with the bright red hair was personally acting as the Chainmaid’s guide. To make it simple for you; if you can’t find the Chainmaid, find the red headed church girl and have her show you where the Chainmaid is hiding. I’ll give you an hour to bring me the Chainmaid before I break down your front gate and have my men burn your pitiful dirt hole to the ground. Don’t keep me waiting.  -

“Maye…”

Finch tried to hide behind her centaur companion’s flank, but it was too late. Every patron of the inn who was up and, in the lobby, had their terrified and terrifying eyes boring into Finch.

“What are you hiding for? This is obviously your fault!”

“How fall the Cardinal Church has fallen. Setting bandits on us non-believers. Is that how you try to gain converts now?”

“Who cares about that? Why aren’t you running to get this Sa·B·er?”

“I don’t… I didn’t mean… This isn’t my fault…”

“What was that Running from what you’ve done!”

“You coward!

“Worthless brat!”

Finch’s attempts to try to say anything only served to further incite the mob in the inn. Their attacks and demands fell like hammers upon the child and she could not stop the tears from flowing. Maye had had enough and whipped her rifle off her back and slowly and deliberately stared down it at every patron in the lobby. Naturally they quieted down and allowed her to speak.

“The lot of you would attack a child whose only desire is to help those she sees in need of aid? And here I thought the heretic was deserving of my scorn. What ever happened to your militia? Is it not their responsibility to defend your village?”

“From unprovoked attacks you monster!”

“Yeah, didn’t you hear? They brought a Dolmen because of that ‘child’ you’re trying to defend.”

“Do you just want us to die for your foolishness?”

“Monster!”

A breakfast cup flew out from somewhere and shattered against the side of Maye’s head. The blow drew blood and Finch let out a shrill scream. Her scream did not relieve the inn patrons however and more breakfast dishes found their violent way to the unguarded centaur. Gritting her teeth against the blows Maye tried to brace herself for them as she suddenly yanked Finch onto her back.

“Hold on!”

Rearing and bucking about in a violent circle to deter the patron’s further attacks, Maye bolted through the door as soon as she had an opening. The patrons were quick to follow with shouts of coward and more thrown dishware, but outdoors none of them could match the four-legged pace of the centaur. Her pace did not protect her from the patrons’ actions attracting the guards who took her ignoring of their demands to stop and continued retreat as grounds to open fire with their rifles. Again, Finch screamed as bullets whizzed about her and Maye. Maye remained astoundingly calm considering her circumstances and surprised Finch as she asked her a question.

“You said that you have our communication equipment in the church?”

“Huh? I mean, yes.”

“Then this is your chance to attempt starting your machine. I’ll get us there as fast as I can and will contact the Chapel while you try. It looks like your machine is going to be the only way out of this mess for us.”

“Then I won’t let you down Maye.”

“We can’t afford for you to.”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, Abandoned Church
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool

The answer to Chain’s question of how Finch had gotten the Dolmen into the church turned out to be as simple as the back of the church had fallen away but was disguised by the overgrowth of vegetation. Not wasting time on the front door of the church that should have been locked, Maye trotted in through that vegetation and Finch jumped from her back to the control console hooked up to the Dolmen’s arm. Maye meanwhile found the communication radio and set about attempting to contact the Chapel.

“Come on! Work! Please!”

Working furiously on the console to engage the Dolmen, Finch pleaded desperately for it to come to life. No amount of pleading from her or combination of synchronization commands on the console stirred the mechanized giant however. She did not intend to give up but the sound of gun hammers being cocked froze her where she stood.

“The both of you; step away from those consoles slowly.”

The voice of the guard earned a click of Maye’s tongue, but she held her arms up as she turned around slowly to appease their demands. Finch was too terrified and shocked that simple villagers could threaten her life as easily as a bandit to do more than look over her shoulder. Her failure to follow the command earned her a gunshot that ricocheted off the console beside her head. She screamed in response and fell to her knees clutching at her head. The guard who lead the others into the church showed no sympathy as he reminded her of the command he issued.

“I said to step away from the console.”

“What is wrong with you She’s just a child!”

A gun shot at Maye’s feet kept the centaur from taking a step forward and she scowled as the guard returned her disdain with his own.

“This child is the key to appeasing an army of angry bandits who have a Dolmen. We have no means to fend them off without suffering massive casualties. We can’t afford to waste any more time because they’re a child. Now talk. Where is the Chainmaid?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know… Maye chased her off as soon as I brought her to town. I don’t know where she is now…”

“What do you mean you don’t know

The lead guard started to take a step towards Finch, his arm lowering to obviously grab the girl once he reached her. Finch was helpless due to her shock to do anything but stare in abject terror while Maye was kept in check by the guns of the other guards being trained on her. The scene was changed in an instant however as a distinctive ringing sound of chainmail clad fingers snapping was followed by an arrow suddenly striking the ground before the lead guard. The normal reaction to the sudden appearance of the fired projectile would have been to find the shooter, but the nature of the arrow was not normal by any account and everyone present muttered the same word in response to it.

“Light.”

The arrow that had brought the unfolding scene to a stop was constructed of no physical material, but instead was comprised entirely of light. The arrow of light seemed to possess hypnotic properties as no one present could take their eyes off of it, or even move until a voice spoke up from above.

“Wow! That worked better than I expected. And here I was afraid that I’d have to jump down and hurt someone to put a stop to whatever was happening.”

Called up by Chain’s voice, the eyes of everyone present scanned up the Dolmen to where she stood on the seated machine’s shoulder, her hair and cape blowing in the morning breeze. Neither her features, including her chainmail and sword hanging from her shoulder, nor Drop sitting on her shoulder were what held everyone’s focus though. What held everyone’s focus was the bow she held in her left hand to which she had notched another arrow of light as the bow, like the arrow, was comprised entirely of light. Though Chain had everyone’s attention it was Maye who spoke next in total shock and disbelief.

“A heretic is a Child of Her Light… How is that possible… Only Sa·B·ers blessed with Her Light should be able to be possessed of her Light.”




Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater

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