Wings to Fly
Brion scrambled up the ladder onto the next platform. The concrete was deeply pitted, revealing the metal skeleton inside in multiple places. He paused for one second and then started to run along the wide platform. There had to be another ladder somewhere.
A woman's voice from behind caught his attention. “Brion! Brion, wait!”
One leap brought him over a hole in the pathway. Brion skidded to a stop and turned around.
Valor was making her way toward him, only slightly slower. She stopped on the other side of the hole. “Where's Arella?”
“I haven't seen her yet. I think she's further up.” Brion gestured to the sky above, crisscrossed with dead roads and railroads.
“How did she get so far ahead of us?” Valor pulled a small pair of binoculars out of the pouch on her belt.
“I don't know. Do you see Eryl?”
Valor grimaced, scanning the sky with the binoculars. “Not a glimpse of either. I hope the kid's all right.” She lowered the binoculars. “We'd better keep moving.”
Brion nodded. “Stay close to me.” He turned and started running again. He could hear Valor's light footsteps keeping pace behind him.
Everything had been going according to plan only an hour ago. They'd slipped in just as the bombing stopped, making their way toward Kolviar's palace.
Arella had shouted a warning at the same time he did. Brion had grabbed Eryl, pulling the boy to the ground just as the...thing had swept over them. By the time he was on his feet again, Arella had been sprinting ahead to the nearest ladder to the pathways ahead.
He would have followed her, but the thing—large, gray, and winged—was sweeping back around for another attack. Both pistols were in his hands and he was firing before he even thought.
Its skin must have been like armor. Ignoring his shots—and Valor's—it dove on them again.
“Aim for the eyes!” Valor yelled, throwing herself down again. “And Eryl, stay down!”
Brion dropped to the ground again himself, throwing a brief glance at Eryl. The young shapechanger was on the ground, looking back over his shoulder. “Valor! There are soldiers!”
The creature was past them again. Brion scrambled to his feet, but held his shots until he could see the eyes.
“Eryl, get moving,” Valor ordered. “Catch up to Arella. Brion and I will handle the soldiers.” Her eyes had turned flaming red. “I need something more powerful than these pistols.”
“We make it out of this, I'll get you something more powerful. Can you handle the soldiers?” Brion's eyes traced the flight of the creature. Just a little longer...
He spared one quick glance to see that Eryl had obeyed Valor. The boy was climbing the ladder Arella had taken.
“Don't worry about me.” Valor gave a grunt, hauling a piece of rubble upright to provide some protection. “Just give me warning if I need to duck.”
The flying creature swung back around. Brion's eyes narrowed. He tucked his left-hand pistol back into its holster and lifted the right-hand gun, steadying his wrist with his left hand. There were the eyes...Brion held his breath, waiting for it to draw closer. His finger tightened slowly, gently on the trigger.
He fired three times. The creature jerked, a shriek ripping out of it. It spiraled up and away, wings flapping wildly. “Hit it.” He swung around in time to see Valor fire her gun several times. “How many soldiers?”
“Ten.” She jerked back behind her shelter. “Correction. Eight.”
Brion leaned back against the wall of the alley until the shooting had stopped. “Do we take them all now or follow the others?”
“I'd be happier if we had helmets.” Valor leaned out and fired before ducking back. “Missed.”
“I'll get to work on that when I get you a stronger gun,” Brion promised. He leaned out to fire a few shots of his own. “Winged someone.” He glanced over at the ladder. No sign of Eryl or Arella. “Valor, we can't stay here.”
She looked over at him with a frown. “Intuition?”
“I think so.” Something about their situation wasn't sitting well with him, anyway. The ladder was calling.
“Got it. Get going; I'll be along in a second. I want to leave them a surprise.” She was digging in her pouch again.
Brion hesitated and then nodded, reminding himself that she knew what she was doing. “Be careful.”
“Don't wait for me,” Valor added. She was sticking a tiny piece of explosive to the wall. “No sense in making a target of yourself up there.” Picking up her gun again, she fired several more shots. “Now go!”
And now they were both running along the bombed roadway, looking for the next level up. Brion didn't need to have seen where she went to know that Arella had kept going up. He didn't know why she'd bolted like that, but he trusted her judgment as much as he trusted his own.
There. A ladder up ahead. Jumping over a deep crack, Brion slowed to a jog as he approached the ladder. He glanced over his shoulder.
Valor grinned at him, her eyes green again. She wasn't breathing hard, but beads of sweat dotted her forehead. “I'm still with you. Don't worry about me.”
“No pursuit, either,” Brion said, looking past her. “I can't imagine your 'surprise' really killed all of them.”
Valor shrugged. “Don't question good fortune.”
“Unless it's not fortune,” Brion grumbled. He grabbed the ladder and started climbing. “Who builds places like this anyway?”
“I think they wanted to show off their construction skills,” Valor said from below. “Waste of money if you ask me.”
“Especially now.” Brion reached the top of the ladder. “Railroad. At least the bombing should have stopped the trains.” He turned and helped Valor up the last few rungs.
“Which way?” the Alcean asked, brushing some hair out of her face.
He couldn't see a ladder either direction. “Right.”
There was a small walkway alongside the actual train track. It was too narrow for them to go side-by-side, so Brion took the lead again.
A distant shriek jerked them both to a stop. Brion tilted his head back, scanning the sky and the pathways above.
Perched on a roadway near the top, a dark shape spread its wings, giving another scream—of outrage, Brion thought, not pain.
“It's that thing again,” Valor muttered.
“Can I have your binoculars, please?” Was Arella up there fighting the thing by herself? She had a good gun, but there wasn't any shelter.
Valor pressed the binoculars into his hand. Brion brought them up to his eyes, looking for the creature. There. Yes, that was Arella up there too, pistol in hand.
“She's there and she's fine so far.” Brion lowered the binoculars a fraction. “We'd better hurry.” He took one last look through the binoculars—in time to see the creature's wing strike Arella in the side. She went right over the edge of the roadway. “Arella!” He shoved the binoculars back at Valor and took off at a dead run.
Logically, he knew there was nothing he could do. He was too far away and even if he was closer, there was no way for him to stop Arella's fall. A quiet pressure at the back of his mind kept him moving, though. It was a sensation he'd learned not to ignore.
“Brion!” Valor's startled call didn't slow him down.
The wing had knocked Arella in the head. She fell without knowing she was falling, the wind ripping through her hair and pulling it out of her braid.
Her body started to glow with a faint white light.
The glow strengthened.
Her eyes snapped open, glowing so brightly the eyes themselves were hidden. Wings of light unfolded from her shoulders, spreading wide and slowing her descent.
It only took a thought to halt her fall. For a moment, Arella hovered in midair. Her head tilted back, looking up at the creature that had knocked her down.
It wasn't looking back. She was forgotten, no longer deemed a threat.
Arella smiled. Her wings swept downward, sending her hurtling back up.
The creature's head swung back around toward her. It jerked back, snarling.
Arella paused in front of it, hovering. She reached behind her back. Two hilts of light solidified in her hands. As she drew her hands back, the hilts lengthened into swords.
Blades held in front of her, Arella smiled at the creature. “Let's try this again, shall we?”
With an angry shriek, it lunged forward, teeth snapping. A quick burst of speed sent Arella flying above his head. She dropped almost immediately, landing on its neck. Both blades slashed down.
The creature threw its head backwards. Shaken loose, Arella lost her grip on her swords. They dissipated into the air.
She landed on the creature's back and rolled off into thin air. Her wings snapped out to catch her and slow her fall. Two quick wing-beats launched her above the creature.
It was going to be a tough fight, even with...wings and swords of light. She took a deep breath and reached back for the swords again.
Motion to the side caught her attention. Eryl was sprinting along the roadway. He jumped up on a small pile of rubble and leaped off it, transforming into a wolf midair.
Not wanting the creature to notice him, Arella gave a yell and dove downward, swords of light grasped in her hands again.
Arella: Seventh Questor, which is a little hard to explain in a short space. Suffice it to say, she has certain powers and abilities. This is where she discovers she can sprout wings, fly, glow like a lightbulb, and pull swords out of her back. Her instinctive knowledge of what to do is part of being a Questor.
Brion: Fifth Questor. He's far more aware than Arella of his gifts, for the simple reason that while there have been other Fifth Questors with the same gifts, Arella is the first Seventh. Brion is a craftsman by Gift, and military by trade.
Eryl: a teenaged shapechanger and Valor's cousin. I don't really know a lot about him yet.
Valor: Alcean berserker by nature, saboteur by training. She's an explosives expert and good with any weapon you hand her.
If desired, I can explain things like Questors, shapechangers, and berserkers in separate blog posts.