Hadad stirred in his bed. He opened his eyes briefly before rolling back over in his bed. It was still dark. Too early to wake up. He sighed in irritation at whoever had been making the noise that woke him up.
He couldn’t remember what it was exactly. A muffled banging in the distance? A faint scream? Whatever it was had woken him up with a pounding heart. He couldn’t remember what it had been exactly, but it seemed too real to have been a dream.
The dark-haired, 17-year-old lad rolled over again. Trying to still his racing heart and get comfortable enough to will himself back to sleep.
He breathed deeply and focused on the thumping of his heart beating rhythmically in his chest. It had slowed considerably and he felt a wave of sleep wash over him.
Suddenly, he heard it again. This time louder. This time closer. And he was wide awake. He knew for sure that it wasn’t a dream.
Hadad sat bolt upright in his bed. Unsure of what to do. Should he look out the window and risk getting hurt? But maybe he could help whoever was out there.
Someone needed help. That much was clear. But…
Hadad lived on the outskirts of the city in his family’s warehouse. It’s where his relatives stored their grain after the harvest. It was still early in the year, and most of the crops had yet to be harvested.
But this year, he had been chosen to sleep in the dark, dank building to keep an eye on things. The closest house was a hundred yards down the road. Too far for someone to come save him. Too far for anyone to hear his screams for help if he needed it.
Hadad threw himself back under the covers and pulled them tightly around his head. Hoping that whatever was out there would soon go away.
It was only his third night sleeping here. At first, Hadad felt that it had been an honor to be chosen for the task. Or so he had thought.
He had just turned 17 and felt respected by his family for choosing him. But now, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. It had simply been a chore that no one else wanted to deal with, so they had tossed him into it.
The thought occurred to him that he would be an easy target if someone came in and saw him lying on the bed. He wouldn’t be able to see them or run.
The spry lad leaped out of bed and arranged the pillows and covers to make it seem like someone was still sleeping there.
Then he scrambled under the bed as far as he could into the corner where he curled up into a ball.
The smell of smoke and ash wafted into the room. Hadad sniffed and tried to fight back a sneeze. But it was no use even though he covered his nose and mouth with both hands to try and smother it.
There was a pounding from somewhere in the warehouse.
“Hadad. Hadad.” someone seemed to be saying.
He crawled quickly out from under his hiding place and moved stealthily toward the front door. Not wanting to make any noise, he crept forward and tried to peek through the cracks.
There was nothing there. Hadad moved around to the other side to look out the cracks in the middle and then along the far side. Nothing. It was pitch black still.
Hadad unlocked the door and opened it as slowly and quietly as he could. Not a soul in sight. He grabbed a pitchfork and stepped outside into the cool night air. Then walked to the edge of the building to peek around the corner.
The only sound Hadad heard were the cicadas buzzing and the wind blowing through the trees.
He tiptoed softly to the other end of the building past the door to the other side of the building to peek around that corner.
Nothing there. The boy snorted at his silliness and brushed off his fear. He circled the entire building in a normal walk without trying to be quiet.
Maybe it was better to make some noise and scare off whoever had been out there.
When he was back at the front door, Hadad turned to face the darkness.
“Hello! Anyone out there? Do you need help?”
But there was only silence. His shouts seemed to have stilled the cicadas and wind.
The relieved boy chuckled nervously to himself as he turned to re-enter the building.
A dark shadow flitted silently to the side. Hadad saw it in the corner of his eye and shrieked like a wounded rabbit. He launched the pitchfork from his hand into the darkness and threw himself back outside through the door.
Hadad raced down the road, glancing over his shoulder a time or two to make sure that it wasn’t following him. He finally stopped running but still kept walking toward his home under the light of the stars.
As he walked, he rehearsed what he would tell his family, but he couldn’t think of anything convincing to tell them that wouldn’t make him the laughingstock of the city. His father would be upset at him, and his uncles would be angry.
The look of embarrassment that Hadad imagined he would see though was what finally caused him to turn around. He didn’t want to be known as the boy who ran from a shadow.
Hadad returned to the door and poked his head inside. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the pitchfork stuck in the wall where he had thrown it. Something dark hung over it.
He moved forward slowly. It didn’t move. He kicked at it. Then laughed at himself. Softly at first. Then loudly as he realized it was just a tarp his uncles had hung to dry.
The boy removed the pitchfork gently so as to not make the holes any bigger than they already were from being so violently stabbed with the pitchfork. Then he hung it back up, locked the door, and went back to bed.
Hadad had just started to drift off to sleep when he heard the three loud thumps again. This time he raced to the door instead of trying to hide. But again, there was no one there.
When he turned though, Hadad notice a large, strange box leaning against the far wall of the warehouse. He hadn’t given it much thought previously, however, it did seem out of place.
He didn’t recall having seen it the previous nights. But what caught his attention was the strange, orange glow that emanated lightly from around it.
Hadad moved closer to see if he could get a better view. There was something definitely burning inside the box even though it wasn’t on fire.
He moved closer and felt heat emanating from the tall, black box. Each step closer caused the box to glow brighter and brighter.
The boy pressed his face against the crack for a better view. He could feel the heat wafting over his face, almost scalding his skin, but he couldn’t pull himself away. He felt attracted to the light like a moth to a flame.
The pressure of his body pushing up against door caused the it to creak slightly. It wasn’t loud, but it was enough to attract the attention of whatever was inside.
Something slammed against the door and Hadad leaped back. But he wanted to know what was inside. Curiosity pulled him toward the light. He never wanted anything so badly.
Hadad knew he shouldn’t, but felt powerless to stop. He felt an intense longing to see whatever golden-glowing treasure lay inside.
He stepped forward and reached out to touch the door. Then pushed against it. A loud hissing soon erupted and the doors parted in the middle as smoke and heat billowed out.
An intense lover for whatever was inside filled his heart. Or maybe it came from inside the box and embraced him. Hadad couldn’t tell which. But even though he was terrified, he didn’t want to leave.
The boy stuck his finger through the crack between the doors and tugged slightly. The door gave way easily and a dark arm slid out from between and brushed against him.
A cold chill went down his spine at the touch. He stepped away from the door as the arm felt around. Looking for him. Feeling the sides of the door.
Another arm followed. Slowly. Rhythmically. Moving around in sync and flow with the first. Each feeling around at the same speed and pace as the other, but on opposite sides of each other.
Then a third popped out. And a fourth. Then more and more. Hadad didn’t understand how there could be so many arms sliding out through the cracks.
He took a step back and tripped. Hadad fell to the ground in a sitting position but remained there. Watching. Waiting. Wondering what would happen next.
Soon there were dozens of arms pushing out through the opening. They didn’t push the door open any farther though. They simply moved around as if waiting for Hadad to do something.
Should he open it more for them? Should he let them out?
Hadad imagined trying to explain to his father and uncles what he had done. He could see the pain in his father’s eyes.
He could visualize his uncle’s angry curses berating him. He imagined their fists buffeting him around the ears for messing with something that wasn’t his.
But when he thought of his mother, Hadad could imagine the pride in her eyes. Her love for him clear in her face. Setting free these poor prisoners.
The lad stood to his feet and stepped forward. He pulled the door open. The arms reached out to touch him. Stroking his face and arms. They seemed to be thanking him for setting them free.
But they didn’t come out. Hadad could see shadows moving around in the light, but he couldn’t see their faces past the glow.
He grabbed one of the arms and gave it a firm tug. A loud shriek emanated from within, and a blast of icy cold wind swirled around Hadad’s body.
The hand he tugged grabbed him in return and squeezed tightly. The glow faded and the heat dissipated as an eerie wail filled the room.
Hadad felt the arm tugging him into the waiting mass of arms. Others tried to grab onto him, and he pulled hard to get away.
On the third tug, Hadad managed to wrench himself free and turned to run toward the door. He tried to unlock it, but his shaky hands seemed to fumble clumsily, almost uselessly.
His legs grew weak, and Hadad fell to his knees. The boy’s hands were still over his head hanging on to the doorknob, but he no longer felt it.
He no longer felt much of anything, but he could sense hands surrounding him. Dragging him back toward the box. Hadad attempted to get up, but his body felt sluggish and slow.
His body slid backward over the entire length of the floor toward the large, black box behind him. He turned his head to see what was pulling him, but couldn’t see in the darkness.
“Well done, Hadad. Welcome home to the horde.” a voice whispered in his ear as he slid through the door and watched the panels close slowly behind him.
“Welcome home to the horde,” a hundred voices whispered around him as everything faded into darkness.
When Hadad opened his eyes, both of his parents stood over him. Concerned looks on their faces. He could see fear in their eyes as his mother reached down to press her hand against his forehead.
“Why are you still asleep when the sun is so high in the sky? I don’t want a lazy son.” Hadad’s father almost shouted. “Your mother dragged me all the way down here when she found out you weren’t at school. What did you do all night? We’ve been trying to shake you awake for fifteen minutes.”
Hadad raised his arm to block the blow from his father’s outstretched hand.
But before his father’s blow landed, a black arm slid out from over the boy’s back and took the impact. The older man yelped in pain and leaped back to shake his hand and nurse it gingerly.
The boy looked down to watch the black arm slide away behind him.
“What happened, Gilgamesh?” his mother asked in a startled voice.
“I don’t know, Ninlil,” the man replied poking at Hadad’s arm gingerly. “The boy’s arm felt like a bar of iron.”
“He’s just growing up and becoming a man,” his mother said.
Hadad listened as his parent left the room nervously. He could sense their underlying fear. They didn’t seem to have seen his extra arm but could tell something was wrong.
“Don’t just lie there all day, boy,” his father scolded from the doorway. “Just because you watch the warehouse at night doesn’t mean you don’t have to do your regular share of chores at home.”
The boy tried to will his third arm to show itself again but nothing happened.
He leaped out of bed and shook himself off. Everything else still looked and felt normal. He brushed the wrinkles out of his clothes and made his bed before following his parents home.
Reizko crouched low behind the boulder and waited patiently for the opportunity to make a run for it. The flames from burning rock in the valley below him flared brightly into the night sky, but the heat didn’t bother him.
His companions watched from a safe distance. The heat was still almost unbearable from here. The suffocating wind blowing sparks and ash in their direction caused them to squint their eyes and cover their noses.
They wanted to turn away but couldn’t tear their eyes away from their fearless leader. As much as they wanted to accompany him, they could go no further.
Legend spoke of those like Reizko who descended from his family line who could walk through fire. Some said that they descended from an ancient line of dragon warriors.
His skin seemed normal, but the heat didn’t bother him. And he rarely bled in battle. They had seen him take blows that would have torn a normal human asunder, yet swords glanced off him like a child’s toy.
The long-haired warrior simply laughed it off and said it was his quick reflexes and sharp wits that had kept him out of harm’s way. But they had fought close beside him in many battles and knew there was something different about him.
Reizko saw a dark shadow in the sky circling in his direction. He turned to glance back at his men. He wanted to shout a warning but didn’t dare give his position away.
A silent motion with his hand would have to suffice. He hoped it was enough for them to see in the low light reflected in the smoky air.
The dark blur circled a few more times in the distance before veering back into the shadowy clouds of the night sky. Reizko hunched low behind the boulder until the shadow disappeared.
He waited for another minute to be sure it was gone. Then slid out from behind the boulder and dashed quickly to the next. Reizko moved swiftly and silently from one to the other. Zig zagging carefully across the rocky field toward the lava river flowing below.
Reizko made it to the edge of the boulder field and peered down toward the glowing orange and red river flowing past him below.
He could see the creature he had been tracking . There were three of them now. Reizko growled quietly under his breath. He had been sure they were only following one of these things. It must have met up with more of its kind.
It would prove to be more difficult to regain the Amulet of Banishment that had been stolen from the king’s treasures three days before.
The king had been reticent to tell him for what purpose it served or why it was so important. But Reizko could tell from the king’s demeanor and the desperation in his voice that it held great value.
He watched and waited as they jabbered away and two of the foul creatures slinked off toward a small hole in the rocks. The third stayed outside under the night sky as if guarding their cave.
Eventually, the lazy guard leaned up against a rock and set his weapon to the side. Reizko moved stealthily forward. Weaving his way around till he came out behind the snoozing creature.
Reizko shivered as he looked upon the guard’s countenance. Its narrow reptilian-shaped face somehow seemed oddly familiar.
He couldn’t bring himself to kill the sleeping being. It seemed too humanoid even though it wasn’t like him and his fellow men.
Reizko picked up its spear quietly so that the hideous creature couldn’t use it on him if it woke up. He crept toward the cave entrance and crouched to get through.
The warrior flattened himself against the wall so he wouldn’t stand out in the entrance against the night sky as he waited for his eyes to adjust from the glow of the lava river outside to the darkness inside.
Soft snores emanated from a short distance away. Amplified by the walls of the cave, it sounded like they were directly in front of him.
But after a few moments, his eyes could make out their dark shapes stretched out against the back wall of the short cave about twenty feet away. He now recognized the scent he had been using to follow this creature. Only in here, the foul odor was almost unbearable. Reizko tried not to gag.
Their bags lay in the space between them. The Amulet of Banishment on top in plain sight just as the king had described. A large turquoise jewel about the size of his palm wrapped in unpolished silver connected to a thick black cord.
Reizko breathed a size of relief that he wouldn’t have to dig around or search for it. Or worse, that it was wrapped around their neck.
A bit of gravel crunched in the sand underneath his feet as he stepped forward. Reizko crouched to make himself as small as possible as one of the creatures stirred from his sleep. But it rolled over and began snoring again.
A few more steps and Reizko had the Amulet in his grasp. He moved as quickly as he dared, barely breathing until he was safely outside.
Circling back up through the rocks and boulders, Reizko could see his men still there waiting for him. He lifted the large purple Amulet triumphantly over his head for them to see.
But they didn’t seem to be as excited as he expected. In fact, they didn’t seem to be looking at him at all. Their eyes were fixed in the air above him.
Reizko turned just in time to see a giant eagle swooping in with its claws outstretched. The warrior leaped to the side and pulled his sword from its sheath to meet the oncoming feathered fiend.
He swung at it, but the eagle swerved mid-air. The blade sang as it sliced through the air, but feathers brushed over it softly as the eagle wrapped one of its giant claws around Reizko’s waist. It’s wings beat wildly against his head as the monstrous bird lifted him into the air.
The warrior raised his sword to hack at the eagle’s leg but clattered uselessly against the solid, yellow scales.
The sharp clang of steel rang solidly through the sword and vibrated down into his forearm. His hand went numb and Reizko’s grip loosened from the pain.
He watched the sword drop to the ground below. His friends rushed forward valiantly through the heat to help him, but it was too late. The bird was already out of reach.
They stood watching the eagle lift Reizko up from the earth and carry him away as their arms shielded their faces from the heat.
The men watched helplessly until the darkness swallowed up the eagle clutching their fearless leader. Gogi bent down to pick up Reizko’s sword.
He almost missed the amulet half-buried in the sand. The swirling dust and pebbles from the beat of eagle’s wings covered most of it. But a gleam from the jewel’s shiny side caught Gogi’s sharp eye.
He snatched it up quickly and glanced around to make sure that none of his companions had seen it before sliding it into his pocket.
Gogi didn’t feel sad like his fellow companions. He had long envied Reizko and now had the chance to step forward to take his place.
“Farewell, Reizko!” Gogi chanted with the other men holding their hands over their hearts to salute his bravery. “May the eagles carry your soul into the great beyond, and may your campfire blaze brightest among the stars in the night sky.”
When a teenage villager discovers someone is trying to kill her grandfather to take an artifact that he recently discovered, she helps him escape from the hospital only to discover that someone she trusts is part of the plot.
They make a run for it but are attacked before they get very far. Then they are followed by some suspicious characters and discover just how far their attackers are willing to go to get what they want. But all seems lost when Aurora messes up their plans.
And when things get totally out of hand and the young girl must do whatever it takes to save her grandfather and those she loves. Can she protect her grandfather from their enemy’s dangerous weapon before it’s too late?
A clean, short read of approximately 8,000 words that teens and adults can enjoy in a single sitting. No cliffhangers, although the author would be happy to write more of these fun stories about Aurora and her golden firebird friends if there is enough interest.
Start Reading Chapter 1 – Shocking News >>>
“Grandfather,” Aurora shrieked in shock. “What did you do that for?”
Aurora reached down to help Aaron as he rolled to the side and groaned. Grandfather grabbed her arm and pulled her away from him.
“Don’t you find it strange that the constable told you I was dead before anyone actually tried to kill me?” Grandfather growled. “Some coincidence.”
The girl looked up with surprise and confusion in her eyes.
“Good thing I’m sick and weak or I would have broken your jaw, punk,” Grandfather spat over his shoulder.
Aurora followed her grandfather with a backward glance at the constable, who was pulling himself to his feet. Aaron took a step forward and then stopped to put his head between his legs. It didn’t surprise her. Aurora knew her grandfather was a great warrior. He had once trained the younger generations for war and to protect their town.
Grandfather’s specialty was hand-to-hand combat. Though now he was a respected elder and only oversaw the training schools, leaving most of the training to his former students. But he still worked out hard himself and trained those in his home on a daily basis. That included Aurora, who knew how hard he could hit.
The elderly man’s strength seemed to return with each step, and he moved furiously toward his home. Aurora had to hurry to keep up with him.
“Slow down, Grandfather,” Aurora said. “What’s the rush? Shouldn’t we just go back to the hospital and wait for the sheriff or someone who can help? You can explain what happened and figure out who’s trying to kill you.”
Aurora rambled on until they came to the house. Grandfather paused after they walked through the door and locked it.
“Child, I know what’s going on and who is trying to kill me. Right now, we are all in danger. I need to collect a few items and we need to leave. They know you were with me, which means you are now in danger as well. Gather a pack with your things because you’ll have to come with me.”
“But where are we going? How long will we be gone?” she asked. “How should I know what to pack if I don’t know where we are going or for how long?”
Grandfather had entered his bedroom and begun throwing random items on his bed. The room was in shambles. It looked like a tornado had blasted through his room.
“Be prepared for anything, Aurora,” he said, stopping to look up at her sadly. “I don’t know when it will be safe to return to Bunbenong again. Maybe never.”
Aurora wanted to make him sit down and tell her what was going on. She wanted to ask him a million questions. But she had promised to respect him and be obedient. She knew from previous arguments with him he was just as stubborn as her. Aurora could also see that he was worried and in a hurry to leave, so she went to her room to pack a bag.
Her room was in shambles, too. Someone had knocked things off the shelves and torn everything out of her dresser drawers. She grabbed her backpack and began to fill it. It took several tries of packing and unpacking it before she managed to fit in everything she thought was important in her life. In the end, Aurora had to leave behind many of the items she had originally put in the backpack.
The girl laid everything out on the bed around her and repacked it for the final time. Then she put everything else back in its place. She hoped they would soon be able to return home. When she had finished, Aurora walked down the hall, looking for her grandfather.
He smiled sadly when she found him in his bedroom. The old man was putting the last of his things in his backpack. It wasn’t very large and didn’t even seem to be very full, which gave her hope that they wouldn’t be gone long.
Grandfather zipped up the bag and tossed it over his shoulder. He had lost some weight over the last couple of days, but other than that didn’t look like he had been in the hospital at all. The old man locked the door behind them as they stepped outside.
Aurora noticed a pack of boys playing with a ball in the middle of the street. She didn’t recognize any of them as they walked past the players. They seemed to be too old and big to be playing in the street, but they ignored her. As she and grandfather walked down the street, Aurora heard the patter of running feet.
As she turned to see what was going on, someone slammed into her from behind. Aurora stumbled forward and fell to the ground.
Continue Reading Chapter 4 – Pocket Trinkets >>>
Several hands grabbed each of her arms and slipped the backpack off of her shoulders before she could recover.
Grandfather was on the ground to her right as well. His backpack having been taken as well. Aurora leaped to her feet to give chase, but three of the large boys blocked her path. The other two, who had their backpacks, were already racing down the street to the corner.
Aurora leaped at the first boy in front of her and kicked him in the side. He blocked and grabbed her leg. While his arms were busy holding her foot, Aurora yanked her leg back down, which knocked him off balance. Meantime, she was already following through with an open plan to the side of his face. Aurora scored a solid blow just behind the jawbone below his ear.
The boy looked at her in stunned shock as he fell backward without a sound. Aurora leaped over him at the next boy in front of her. He glanced up at her in surprise, as if he hadn’t expected her to knock his friend out that easily.
Before Aurora could attack him, his friend standing to the side leaped forward to hit grandfather who had gotten to his feet on her left. Grandfather blocked the boy’s punch, and Aurora lashed out with a wicked sidekick that nailed him right where his midribs met his stomach. The air rushed out his lungs as he gave a loud groan.
She felt a crack under her feet as she followed through. A rib or two had broken. The boy screamed in pain as he fell to the ground at grandfather’s feet.
The third boy raised his palms toward them as looked from his friends to Aurora and then to grandfather. He turned to run, but Aurora leaped forward and kicked him just behind the knees with a hard push on his back to knock him forward.
He fell onto his knees and then pitched forward. His forehead and nose met the ground with a large crunch. As he slid forward and tried to roll over, Aurora slammed the heel of her foot down on the back of his calf.
“Argh! Please. I’m sorry,” the boy begged, as if pleading for his life.
The boys that had taken their bags were fast runners, and too much time had passed during the fight. Aurora knew that even with her speed, she wouldn’t be able to catch them. They were long gone. Aurora sighed and kneeled down beside the boy as he cowered away from her.
“Why did you take our backpacks? Where did your friends take them?” Aurora asked him with a smack to the face.
“Please, don’t hurt me,” the boy begged. “I don’t know. They just told me and my friends here to keep you from chasing them.”
“I don’t believe you,” Aurora spat. “Who are those boys? Who sent them?”
“I don’t know,” the boy whined. “I really don’t. I know these two here. We’re all neighbors a few streets over. But I’ve never seen those other two. They just asked us to help them take back something that you had stolen from them. But I didn’t know you were going to be just a…” the boy’s voice trailed off.
“What? An old man and a little girl who could kick your butts.” Aurora said.
The girl looked up at her grandfather. The old man shook his head and shrugged. He motioned for her to get up and follow him.
“We can’t just leave without our backpacks, Grandfather,” she said. “I packed all my best and most important life possessions in there.”
Grandfather put his arm around her and patted her arm comfortingly as he picked up his pace. “It’s okay. I will buy you more things to replace them. And I’ll let you choose even better things so you won’t remember them.”
“But it’s not fair. We can’t just let them get away with it. Those things are important to us? We need them.” Aurora complained.
“Hey, my little bird. We escaped with our lives. They already tried to kill me once, remember. They will try again once they realize that what they are looking for isn’t in either of those backpacks.”
Aurora looked at him in surprise. She had noticed back at the door that grandfather had been tapping his pocket from time to time. He smiled at her and winked.
Continue Reading Chapter 5 – Killing Intent
“What is it?” she asked.
Grandfather shook his head and pursed his lips. “We shouldn’t talk about it here. Little birds are listening all around us. I’ll tell you later,” he whispered.
Aurora fought the urge to glance down, to try and see what he had in his pocket. Grandfather led her down the way to a small store. Inside, he bought a bag and a few supplies of non-perishable food. It was the same size as his previous backpack. Aurora realized he hadn’t packed many personal items. Where was he planning on taking her?
The door opened, and two men walked into the store. She sensed grandfather stiffen at their presence. He moved farther to the back and around a shelf.
“If anything happens to me, take this to Goulbern Mountain. There is a cave at the eastern base near the red and gold Firebird tree. Go inside and call for Lort. She will know what to have you do with it.” Grandfather said as he pressed a small bag into her hands.
“Wait! Why?” she whispered.
But grandfather was already moving on down the aisle. He peeked around the far end of the shelves and then grabbed another item for his basket.
Aurora placed the bag he had handed her into a pocket as one of the men turned down their aisle. She glanced at grandfather and followed his lead of looking at the shelves as if the items held great interest. The man walked past grandfather and pulled a bag of salt from the shelf. Then walked on past Aurora.
She relaxed, as did grandfather. They hurried to the clerk and paid for the items in their basket. Aurora breathed a sigh of relief as they walked outside. Grandfather smiled at her.
“Let’s go find some horses sturdy enough to take us to the Goulbern Mountain,” he said, handing her the pack of supplies. “I’ll let you carry this for now.”
Aurora noticed sweat dripping off his brow. It was warm outside, and they had been walking a lot. But she didn’t think it had been enough to warrant Grandpa to be sweating this profusely.
“Are you feeling alright?” she asked as she hefted the pack onto her back.
“Of course, kiddo! It feels great to be out and about again. I hated being in that place. Remind me never to drink anything poisoned again.” he grunted.
The girl looked at him curiously as they strode down the street toward the horse stable and asked. “What do you mean by that? Were you really poisoned? The doctors said you had some kind of flu.”
Grandfather nodded seriously. The smile wiped from his face. “That they did. The last thing I remember is eating at Todd’s Tavern. When I woke up in the hospital, I was in a lot of pain. My stomach felt like it was full of hot coals. Someone came and started interrogating me. I passed out again though.”
“That was yesterday,” Aurora said. “The nurse told me you had come to. I waited around to see if you would come to again. I waited till visiting hours were over and the nurse kicked me out.”
“Hm! You did, did you?” Grandfather said with a grateful pat on her shoulder. “Then I regained consciousness again this morning. My stomach felt better, but I was still weak. That man came back again to ask me questions. So, I pretended I had passed out. He stayed in the room and I overheard him and someone else talking. They wanted that thing I gave you. They were waiting for me to regain consciousness. But regardless of whether I gave it to them or not, they were intent on killing me.”
Continue Reading Chapter 6 – Killing Thing >>>
Aurora shuddered. They came to the stable and grandfather lowered his voice.
“So, I lay there in that bed until I felt better. When he went out to use the bathroom, I hid behind the door with a bench. I hit him over the head when the man came back in. I was weak and didn’t control the blow very well. Hit him harder than I meant to. He fell forward and slammed his head into the corner of the bed like a dumb fool.”
“It’s okay, Grandfather. You were just trying to protect yourself. You shouldn’t be sad about killing him.”
Grandfather chuckled and said, “I’m not sad about killing him. I just wanted to know why they were after this thing.”
“You don’t know what this is?” Aurora asked, tapping her pocket conspicuously.
Grandfather shook his head. “Found it while I was out hunting last weekend. I showed it to a few of my buddies, but no one seemed to know what it was for.”
“You think one of them was after it?” she asked.
The old man shook his head. “Nah. They probably just went blabbing to all their friends. Word must have gotten out to someone who knows what it is. But I don’t know why they just didn’t come ask me for it. I probably would have just sold it to them. Instead, they poisoned me and tried to kill me for it. It doesn’t make much sense. Unless something happened that I don’t remember.”
Grandfather rang the bell impatiently for the third time before a stable boy came racing in through the door.
“A thousand pardons, sir. Someone opened the front gate and let the horses out.” The young man smiled apologetically as he asked what he could get for them.
“Did all of the horses escape?” Grandfather asked, with a worried glance at Aurora.
“Oh, no, sir,” the boy said proudly. “I did manage to close the gate before they all got out. I have three that are immediately available. And Theo is out rounding up the rest. He should have them back shortly if you don’t like the ones that are here now.”
Grandfather nodded and said, “We’ll take ‘em. Whatever you’ve got is fine. As long as they both have four legs and can carry us to the other side of the Penminster Valley and then across the Shimmering Plains.”
“Of course they can, sir. We only have the best horses. I’ll fetch them for you.” the stable boy said with the confident boast of a vendor selling his wares.
He glanced over to Aurora and said, “What can I get for you?”
The girl started to explain that she was with grandfather when she realized that the stable boy and been talking to someone standing behind her. She turned to see the same two men who had followed them into the store earlier. One of them leaned against the door frame. The other took a step inside the stable.
“Nothing,” said the man leaning against the wall. “We just want something from this old man here.”
He spat onto the ground and kicked some hay to cover it before taking another step forward to stand beside his partner. These weren’t the boys who had run off with the backpacks. Aurora realized they must have been the ones who sent them. She took a step closer to grandfather.
“Uh-huh! No, ma’am. Step away from him,” the man said, brushing his long, brown bangs out of his eyes. “We saw what you did to those boys. So, you just stay back.”
The man pulled something black and menacing from his waist. It was about the size of her forearm. He pointed it in her direction. Aurora didn’t know what it was, but she didn’t like the acrid smell that hit her nostrils. She did as the man said and took a small step back.
“Now, I know you all don’t know what one of these here things is in these parts. So, I want to demonstrate this for you because I really don’t want to hurt you. If I do, it’ll be your own fault. Okay?”
Neither Aurora nor her grandfather responded. The men were still too far away to hurt them. The man pushed the hair back from his forehead and grasped the thing he was holding with both hands.
Continue Reading Chapter 7 – Golden Angels >>>
“See that horse out yonder?” he asked.
Aurora, grandfather, and the stable boy all turned to look through the back door. A black stallion had wandered up and begun drinking from the water trough. A loud explosion spooked the heebie-jeebies out of all three of them, causing them to flinch and cover their ears. Aurora instinctively dropped back, like a rock, to the ground.
The horse shrieked with a sound she had never heard before. As she scrambled to her feet, Aurora could see it kneeling on his forelegs, gasping for air. It keeled over to the side and struggled in the throes of death. Hot tears of anger filled her eyes.
“This here is called a gun. I think you understand what it’s capable of. Now, I take no pleasure in killing a beautiful animal like that, but I just needed to demonstrate its power for you. Got it, old man. Because if you don’t tell me where that little artifact is, well, let’s just say I won’t be wasting this weapon on shooting any more horses.”
Aurora lifted her hand to wipe the tears away from her eyes, and her hand brushed against her pocket. It was empty.
She glanced down and noticed that it had fallen out of her pocket when she dropped to the ground. Fortunately, it was brown like the hay that covered the ground and blended in so that it wasn’t very visible.
“You already tried to kill me before,” Grandfather said coldly. “I’m not afraid of you or death.”
The girl took another step back from her grandfather. Not out of fear, but using it as an excuse to push hay with the back of her foot to cover the object. She glanced over at the stable boy. He noticed what she was doing and looked up to meet her gaze. Aurora gave him a warning glare, but she was afraid he might tell the men what he had seen out of fear.
The man with the gun smiled wickedly. “Oh, I didn’t say I was going to kill you. We can use it to blow your leg off. It causes a lot of pain. You’re better off just telling us where it is.”
Then he added as an afterthought, “Or we could just I shoot that little girl there.” He swung the thing he called a gun in her direction.
Instinctively, Aurora threw her hands over her head and dropped to the ground. She heard a crack and saw a flash of light before everything went black in front of her eyes.
“This is it. I’ve gone and died,” Aurora thought to herself.
The girl lay there quietly, wondering what would happen next. Would an angel descend from heaven and pull her spirit from her body? A demon, maybe? She shuddered. A bird chirped in the distance.
This was taking too long. If she were dying, wouldn’t she lose consciousness? Everything should be fading away around her.
Aurora opened her eyes to see a golden bird soaring far above her. Others joined it in its lazy flight around her in the sky above. The sunlight reflected off them in a fiery shimmer. She lifted her head and looked around the small clearing surrounded by large, beautiful green trees. All of them filled with the same fiery golden fowl.
She stood to her feet. Rocks and boulders encircled her about ten paces out. One by one the golden birds from the trees began to flit toward her and land on the stones. Others circled down from above, but instead of landing on the rocks, they circled her.
As she looked closer, Aurora noticed their feathers looked like flames of fire. They circled in, closer and closer. The pack of winged creatures encircling her grew thicker and brighter until Aurora felt as if she were suffocating.
Continue Reading Chapter 8 – Horse Attack >>>
“Was this what death felt like? Were these her angels?” Aurora thought as they pressed in against her, their wingtips brushing against her skin.
Aurora screamed and sat up with a start. Back in the stable. The familiar smell of horses. That same smokey stench from the thing that man called a gun. He was still there, standing in front of her with that silly grin on his face.
“What happened there, little lady?” he said with a chuckle. “Thought we lost you for a minute.”
Grandfather was standing there with a worried look on his face. He seemed fine, though. Aurora smiled weakly at him before pushing herself to her feet. She felt something crackle under her and saw the brown bag between bits of hay. Whatever was inside it had shattered when she fell on top of it.
“Now, where were we?” the man with the gun asked. “Oh, yeah. The artifact. Hand it over and everyone can leave. Of course, we’ll tie you up and take the horses so you can’t follow us. But like I said before, I really don’t want to hurt anybody. This thing is really ugly and can do major damage.”
Grandfather looked over at the horse lying on the ground, bleeding out. He looked at the man with the gun. Then glanced over at Aurora. He nodded encouragingly, as if telling her to hand it over. The other men looked at her as well and smiled expectantly.
“What is this thing?” she asked.
“What does it matter to you, girl,” the man drawled and spat on the floor again. “Just hand it over.”
Aurora shrugged flippantly.
“It might be an ancient evil that you want to unleash on the earth,” she replied. “In which case, it’s better I sacrifice myself so that others may live in peace.”
The man who had remained silent this entire time took a step forward and growled at her menacingly.
“You better hand that over if you know what’s good for you, you little brat!”
The man with the gun reached over and stopped him.
“Relax. Calm down, y’all. Everybody’s so tense. Let’s just take it easy,” he said with a laugh. “Just tell her, Matt. You don’t have to get all bent out of shape about it.”
The man called Matt pulled the wide black hat off his head and cocked it to the side.
“Fine,” he said. “The truth is yet that we don’t for sure ourselves. We’ve just been tasked to fetch it for someone.”
“Why?” Aurora asked, just stalling for time. Trying to think of a way to get out of this mess without having to give them what they wanted.
“I said, I don’t know,” the man growled as he squeezed his hat between his hands angrily.
“No, silly! She just wants to know what we want it for,” the man with the gun said. “We’re just doing it for the money, kid. We go out looking for stuff because we like an adventure. And because we get receive a good recompense.”
He motioned with his hand for the girl to hand it over. “Be a good girl, like your grandfather says. Like I said, we don’t want to hurt anybody.”
“Then don’t,” she said. “We can pay you money and you can go back home. Tell whoever sent you that it was gone.”
“Well, we can’t do that because then our reputation would be on the line. If we come back empty-handed, then we lose the respect of those who send us. See, we like to keep things practical. We’re practical men. We prefer not to lose our cool and negotiate rationally. Well, I don’t, anyway. Matt here can get a little more carried away at times. That’s why I get to hold the gun. Don’t want him shooting you before we get what we came for. Right?”
Just as he said that, a boy on a horse came charging furiously through the wide door. He barreled down on Matt and the man with the gun. Both leaped out of the way, barely escaping getting trampled.
The horse backed away from them toward Aurora, and she had to back up as well. The boy pulled a long knife from its sheath and screamed loudly as he leaped from the horse at the man with the gun. “You killed my horse, you mangy mongrels.”
The man rolled to the side. His gun roared loudly. The boy fell to his knees at the man’s side. His knife flew back from his hand and clattered to the ground at Aurora’s feet. She gasped at the small hole that appeared in the boy’s body as he fell forward on top of the man.
Matt scrambled forward on his hands and knees to pull the boy off his partner’s body.
Continue Reading Chapter 9 – Beautiful Feathers >>>
“Nix? You okay?” he shouted. “Nixon, answer me, buddy.”
Nixon spluttered and wiped blood off himself as he scrambled to his feet with the gun still in his hand. He had a hard look in his eye. He kicked at the boy lying dead at his feet.
“I said I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I’m not afraid to use this thing if I have to. Now, give me the Firebird Jar, and don’t even think about touching that knife on the floor. Else you’ll end up with a hole in you like your friend there.”
Aurora glanced at her grandfather. He nodded at her again. The stable boy that had first greeted them now sat against the wall by the double doors in stunned silence. His eyes glued to his coworker’s dead body, still bleeding out onto the barn floor where it got seeped up by the hay and formed a thick, red mat.
She started to bend over to pick up the jar, but Nixon jerked the gun toward her.
“I said, not to go for the knife. No funny stuff, brat. I’ll blow your head off without a second thought.”
Aurora’s hands shook as she stood back up. She glared at him angrily. “It’s right there on the floor under that bit of hay. Do I look like my arms are long enough to reach the knife from here?”
She used her foot to brush the hay off of the small, brown bag. She nodded toward it without taking her eyes off of Nixon. Then bent down to pick it up. Matt circled around to take it from her. Then walked over to Nixon where they huddled together enthusiastically.
Nixon took the bag and handed Matt the gun. He squeezed it gently and frowned. He shook the brown bag and heard the clinking of pottery. A scowl darkened his face as he untied the drawstring and opened it gingerly. He dumped the contents into his open palm.
Aurora saw several white pieces of pottery fall out into the palm of his large hand. He shook it again, and something small and golden rolled out as well. Nixon rolled it around on the palm of his hand. It looked like the mummified remains of the golden birds she had seen in her vision after falling on top of the jar.
The bird shuddered. Then lifted its head. It fluttered its wings and hopped to Nixon’s thumb. He tried to reach out to grab it, but it leaped into the air and spread its wings.
Nixon flailed his arms as he tried to snatch it out of the air, but he was too clumsy. Aurora wanted to laugh, but maintained her composure.
The golden bird lighted on her shoulder and chirped loudly in her ear. It trilled off a beautiful song. And it almost sounded like Aurora could understand what it was saying as it taunted and jeered at the man still holding the jar it had come from.
The man looked at her in astonishment. His face went red with rage. “You broke the Firebird Jar!” Nixon roared at her.
Matt looked from his friend’s furious, red face to the girl. His face went dark with rage as well, but he remained silent. He pulled up the gun with both hands and pointed it in her direction. It recoiled in his hands.
Aurora saw the puff of smoke long before she heard the noise. She saw the slug leave the barrel. The round metal object floating in her direction. Coming at her chest. She knew if it hit her, it would tear through her just like it had the stable boy that had attacked Nixon and Matt.
The slug was about halfway to her before she heard the blast of the gun roar. But it didn’t cause her to jump or flinch. The golden bird on her shoulder continued to sing its trilling song. Telling her not to worry. All she had to do was stand up for herself and fight. Everything would be alright.
Soon the air around her was filled with the sound of dozens of golden birds. Aurora saw them flitting in through the eaves and windows and doorways. Joining in with her golden bird’s song. More continued to pour in and join the chorus. Soon it seemed there were hundreds. Filling every nook and cranny of the stable with their beautiful feathers and songs.
Her attention returned to the slug flying from the air. Now it was only an arm’s reach from her. She could have stretched out her finger and touched it. It mesmerized her. She turned and watched it continue its flight through the air as it floated past her.
Continue Reading Chapter 10 – Racing Horses