Chapter Two – Light Before Dawn

Raelin woke suddenly. The instant she opened her eyes, she knew something was wrong.

An orange light stuttered across the bare wall, fading in and out of the shadows. Raelin’s first thought was of fires, like the ones they had used to sit around after dark, laughing and telling stories. But this was different. There was something sinister about this light. Something dangerous.

Raelin’s second thought was of Kelda. She turned, and saw that the bed was empty. Kelda was gone. And then the noise reached her. Shouts echoed in the streets below. Cries of fright mingled with them, lending their panicked tones to the night. One voice, much closer than the others, suddenly bellowed directly below her window.

“Look out!”

An instant later, a dark shape flew into the bedroom and tackled Raelin to the floor. In almost the same second, the far wall burst into angry flames.

The dark shape proved to be Mallidon. He leapt up, pulling Raelin with him.

“We have to get out!” he yelled above the roar of the flames. “Now!”

“Where’s Kelda?” Raelin half-shouted back.

“She’s fine,” Mallidon said, almost dragging her from the room.

Raelin got her feet under her as they exited the bedroom. The hallway was on fire. “What’s going on?” she asked, blinded by the sudden flickering light.

“No time to explain,” said Mallidon as another portion of the hall caught fire. “You have to get out.” He shoved Raelin off the edge of the hall, into black smoky air.

Raelin hit the bottom floor a moment later, somehow landing on her feet. More flames licked at the walls. No one was in sight. “Mallidon?” she called uncertainly. No sound came from the bedrooms upstairs. Cries continued to sound outside.

The front door was ajar, and Raelin went to it slowly, looking about her. Everything was dark. She could barely see where she was going by the insubstantial light of the flames. Her foot knocked into something hard, and she stooped to see what it was.

The Spear of Gerda glittered with a faint blue light all its own. Raelin snatched it from the floor – no fire would consume such an heirloom.

“Raelin!” Raknar burst through the door. It fell off of its burning hinges and crumbled to the ground. “Quickly! You have to get out. Where’s Mallidon?”

“I don’t know. He was upstairs. What’s going on?”

Raknar did not reply, but leapt to the air, flying for the burning bedrooms.

“Wait!” cried Raelin. “Where’s Kelda?”

“I’m right here,” said Kelda’s quiet voice from beyond the doorway. Raelin rushed through it, and then staggered backwards as she saw the village.

Several houses were burning. Kyrie were running in the streets, casting fearful glances behind them, or simply standing rooted to the spot, either with fear or confusion, Raelin could not tell. Some kyrie were mercilessly trying to break into their own homes through the burning debris, calling the names of their children with increasing urgency. Dark shapes rocketed through the sky overhead, their forms hidden by the black smoke that covered everything. Panic was everywhere.

“Raelin! Fly!”

Kelda shrieked. Raelin turned, instinctively diving for Kelda. She managed to shove her out of the way, and a moment later, something large, heavy, and covered in sweat rammed into her.

Raelin was flung at least three feet before slamming painfully into the ground. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t see. She could barely think. All she knew was that a terrible weight was pressing down on her. And then Mallidon let lose an angry cry, and the weight was gone.

It took Raelin a few seconds to regain her senses. She sat up groggily, not quite taking in the scene about her, still gasping for breath. What was going on?

“Mallidon!” Kelda screamed. “Look out!”

Raelin had never heard Kelda scream. She instantly knew it was something she never wanted to hear again. She forced her mind to snap back into action, and stumbled to her feet.

Mallidon was rolling about on the ground beside her. Raelin turned for a closer look, and leapt back, a cry of fright escaping her lips. Mallidon was wrestling another kyrie, but this kyrie had black leathery wings. His red skin glistened with sweat. His ugly face was twisted into a snarl. His powerful arms were wrapped about Mallidon, rapidly choking the life from him as they struggled in the dust. The kyrie was a minion, a minion of Utgar.

Mallidon was slowly turning blue. Raelin, without quite thinking, leapt forward and swung her fist with all her might into the minion’s face. She felt his nose break, and her own knuckles crack. She fell back with a cry of pain, even as Mallidon slammed his head into that of the minion. The minion released his grip. Mallidon rolled over in an instant, and began furiously punching the minion. Blood soon splattered the ground.

“Stop! Mallidon, stop!” Tears were streaming down Kelda’s face. She seemed incapable of moving from where she stood. Raelin saw that she was shaking terribly.

Mallidon staggered backwards from the body. Raelin couldn’t tell if the minion was dead or unconscious, and she couldn’t bring herself to find out. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice cracking.

“Attack,” Mallidon grunted. He wiped some blood from his mouth, still staring at the minion. He looked at his bloodied hands, and then back at the minion, as if not quite understanding what had just happened.

“Did you… Is he…?” Kelda stammered, eyes fixed on the unmoving southern kyrie.

Mallidon stepped forward and felt the minion’s neck. “Dead,” he said, stepping back. “Dead by me.”

As Raelin watched, a horrible slow grin began to spread across Mallidon’s face, illuminated ominously by the firelight. “Dead by me,” he repeated, his eyes glittering.

“Mallidon—”

“NO!”

Kelda let out a piercing scream, a scream which was abruptly cut short as another minion flew by, swinging his axe low. The axe cut deep into Kelda’s shoulder, and she promptly dropped to the ground, limp and white.

Mallidon turned, and in one fluid motion, reached up, grabbed the minion, and flung him to the ground. His eyes ignited with a deadly rage, and he leapt at the minion, beating him back as he struggled to get to his feet.  

Raknar arrived on the scene, flying to his daughter and bending over her. Raelin stood between the two, looking from one to the other. She finally went for Mallidon.

As it happened, Mallidon had long since killed the minion. Blood was spattered across them both, and his terrible grin was wider. There was something wrong with the grin. It seemed fixed, like it couldn’t be removed. Mallidon flew to Kelda, the unnatural grin still in place.

“Go!” Raknar shouted as they approached. He lifted Kelda and gently placed her in Mallidon’s arms. “Quickly! Take her to the garrison at Varenheim! I’ll be right behind you.”

Mallidon hesitated.

“Go!” Raknar thundered. “The village is overrun. You must escape. Go now, before the —”

An axe sailed cleanly into his gut. Raelin screamed. Kelda’s father, ignoring the axe, turned and slammed his fist into the approaching minion. The kyrie fell to the ground, his head snapped back. “Go!”

Mallidon grabbed Raelin before she could do anything. She grabbed the Spear of Gerda from the ground, and supported Kelda, who she saw was still awake, though bleeding freely. In a single bound, they leapt to the sky, laboring to the roof of their burning house. A minion was waiting for them.

Mallidon lunged at him, silent and deadly through the flames, and knocked him cleanly off of the roof. Most unfortunately, he landed in a pile of two more minions, both of whom immediately set upon him.

“Go!” he yelled at Raelin, as she wavered on the edge of the roof. “I’ll be fine!” This statement was punctuated by a terrible cracking from the area of his ribcage.

Kelda slipped. Raelin tightened her grasp, and jumped for the night. She was immediately assaulted by smoke. The air seemed too thin to support her. It had only been yesterday that flying had seemed so effortless, so carefree… now she labored through dark air, Kelda’s blood coating her hands, coughing on the smoke that she inhaled. She couldn’t see. She could barely hear. The smell of fire blotted out everything else. And then Kelda screamed again.

Raelin turned just in time to see the minion ascending to catch them.  Without thinking, she turned, and swung the spear into him. The tip caught him in the shoulder, and bit deep. A shudder seemed to run down the spear, and Raelin wrenched it free.

The minion lost some altitude. His wings shuddered, and then he dropped, quickly hidden by the smoke. Raelin stared blankly at the blood on the head of the spear, slowly dripping onto her arm. Blood for my father, she thought. Vengeance has begun.

At that moment, one of the houses collapsed. The smoke quickly invaded the new air, clearing a patch just below Raelin and Kelda, affording them an unobstructed view of Mallidon. He was fighting six minions by now. Two lay dead at his feet. Blood streamed down his arms and was splashed across his chest and face, until he was as red as his adversaries. Several deep gashes only added to the hideous color. He bellowed fiercely with each blow, but it was easy to see that he was losing ground. He took more hits than he delivered, and the fact that the minions had axes while he had naught but his two fists did not help.

Raelin wavered between escaping and staying. Should she save Mallidon or Kelda? She definitely couldn’t save both. Kelda was losing too much blood. As she teetered in indecision, the spear in her hands vibrated, and the tip suddenly shone with a blue light. Raelin looked at it apprehensively, but fortunately did not drop it. A moment later, a bubble of blue light exploded outwards from the tip of the spear, extending to encase Mallidon.

As she watched, an axe, aimed for Mallidon’s head, bounced harmlessly off of the blue light. Mallidon looked momentarily confused, and then delivered an uppercut to the minion. Another blow aimed for his heart was warded off by the strange force field. Mallidon leveled that minion as well. Raelin looked at the spear in her hands, glowing brightly. Perhaps part of Gerda was in the spear after all, watching over them, just as she had always imagined.

During this time, dawn had broken. The horizon had gone from gray to golden, and faint rays of light were now beginning to illuminate the burning village. The soft light struck the nearby river, the waters that had once been so white and pure. Raelin, seeing it briefly, saw that they were now red with blood.

“For Jandar! For the alliance!”

“Send these fiends back to the fires from whence they came!”

“Attack!”

Kyrie rushed past Raelin. These kyrie were no minions. Their wings were white and covered in feathers. They wore blue armor, and carried heavy hammers. They were sentinels, kyrie of Jandar’s army, dispatched from Varenheim. A squad of them landed on the minions about Mallidon, and quickly dispatched them. Other fights were similarly dealt with.

At that moment, Kelda slipped in Raelin’s grasp. Her eyelids fluttered. Raelin dropped a few feet in the air, but managed to catch her. She glanced at Kelda’s face. It was terribly white, and a shiver ran through her small frame.

“No. Kelda, no! Stay with me!”

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