Aaron’s Notes: I wrote this short story on my trip to Glacier National Park last year. It was intended to be 7 Episodes, with 1 Episode released via web and mobile every few months. I’m going to release Episode 1 on the blog a section at a time. I’d love to get your feedback as it goes along!
Here’s the final part of Episode 1 of Shattered. Let me know what you think. Do you want to hear the rest of the story?
Oh, and this is at least PG-13.
Brin drew a circle in the gravel outside the door of her home. She set her bow on the ground outside of the circle. Drawing her sword, she sat cross-legged within the circle. She unhinged the sword and set both halves across her lap. She made sure the bow was close at hand. Pulling a few strands of hair from her head, she laid them in the outline of the circle. As she laid each hair down a whispered Word transferred a tiny sliver of her being into the hair. That essence would remain alert around her body while she was on the hunt.
The preparations complete, Brin closed her eyes and began to hum the Words that would free her spirit from the bonds that anchored it to her mortal shell. Brin was an outstanding tracker. She used all her senses and keen wits to unerringly track any creature that moved on the ground. She was able to push any of her senses beyond her body to aid in tracking. But there were times when the normal tracking methods were not enough. At those times, Brin had to spirit walk.
The bonds that tied her spirit to her body broke away silently. Brin kept the strongest bond, that from her spirit to her heart, intact. Without it, her spirit could not return, and Brin’s body would pass away, while her spirit would roam the earth for eternity; no ageless paradise would await her soul.
Brin felt herself rise up, and she turned to look back at her body. The familiar thrill of freedom trilled through her. Even the pervasive grief of her son’s demise diminished to an almost tolerable level. In spirit form, there were few constraints. She could see the tracks of the swallow’s wings that flew by moments before. She could travel swifter than the wind. She could hear the snow melting on the glacier in the mountain. Brin always had to be careful to remember her body and her mission. If she strayed too far, the tether to her body would snap and her body would die. Her spirit would dwindle in power and the freedom she felt now would disappear forever.
Willing herself higher, Brin looked back once more. She could see the vigilant power of the circle. If anyone came close, she would sense it and return to defend herself. It was time to hunt. Faster than an arrow arcing in for the kill, Brin propelled herself high above the valley. Her home was just a speck in the distance. A network of energy wrapped itself around the valley and her secret home in seven increasingly large circles. From here, the dweomers designed first to hide and then defend the valley looked intact. She knew that was not the truth.
She willed herself down for a closer look at the inner circle. There! She spotted a tiny disturbance in the otherwise perfect integrity of the magic. She darted in to inspect it. A hole had been cunningly wrought in the barrier. Nowhere was the energy severed. Rather, someone with great skill and patience had sliced the shield lengthwise, and carefully pulled it apart. What remained was a very small hole the perpetrators were able to slip through undetected. Brin had never seen such a thing attempted, much less successfully pulled off.
There were no footprints or broken branches from which Brin could divine the path of her quarry. Yet in her spirit form, Brin could detect fading signatures of energy, much like a bit of cloak snagged on a branch. There were three different energies that Brin could sense. One was definitely human; the other two were similar to each other, and decidedly not human.
Looking closer, Brin was able to confirm exactly what she suspected when she awoke with a start in the night. The dreadmach had returned. In that moment, all the questions about how that was possible were thrust to the side. Brin had their trail.
Like a braying hound catching the scent of a fox, Brin hurtled through the valley in pursuit of her prey. The signs of her target grew increasingly fresh. Brin sensed they were over the next hill and readied her swords for their brutal work.
Under a rocky outcropping, a mage sat tending his fire. His black robe moved like oil in the wind. Two dreadmachs flanked him, looking like nightmares come to life.
“That smug bastard thinks he has time for a spot of tea, does he?” Brin couldn’t believe her eyes. “Let’s see if he takes his tea with a spoonful of cold steel.” She willed herself faster and prepared to run the mage through.
And then she stopped, feet from her vengeance. Brin felt a stab of pain in her heart. She had reached the end of the tether to her body. She could push through the pain and bring death to her enemies, but it was likely she would lose contact with her body, and consequently, her life would end.
Brin waged a small battle with herself, but the outcome was not hers to decide. Just then, the mage looked at Brin. A smile cracked his pale, fleshy face.
“This guy is just full of surprises.” Brin thought. No one had detected her in spirit form before.
“Well hello, Brin Heavyshield.” His voice sounded like rocks being crushed into gravel. “You must be losing your touch. We have been expecting you all day. It has been a thirsty job sitting here waiting, so I brewed some tea. Care for some? Just come on over and have a seat. Oh, I’m sorry. You are just about at the end of your rope, are you not?” The mage chuckled fiendishly.
Brin stared silently and seethed. How could this man know so much about her? Even she didn’t know the extent of her range to within a few feet.
“Did you receive our message Brin? I do hope we did not disturb you too much.”
Brin started to strain forward before realizing that was exactly what he wanted. Separated from her body, she would bleed energy before they overwhelmed her spirit. The dreadmachs would capture her soul and take it to Memnon. She would be united with Max.
No. It was not yet time for her to join Max. Someone had to pay for his death.
“I promise you right now, your life is mine. I know your face and I know your scent and I will hunt you to the ends of the earth.” Brin was starting to lose her tenuous hold on her emotions. Yet underneath the rage and grief, she could sense that there was more trouble brewing.
“Brin, I am sure you understand our reluctance to disturb you last night. Even in the less than peak state we have found you in, you are more than a match for us. I am man enough to admit that much.”
Brin sensed he was the type of man that could pay out praise only when he had the upper hand. The thought chilled her.
“That is why we had to lure you into this trap. I was told it would work, but I must say, I am a little disappointed that it did. I mean, you are a legend! Should you not have sensed it? Even now, you still sit there with that dumb look on your face. Ha!”
“What are you talking about little man? There is nothing you can do to harm me,” Brin spit back at him.
“My, how the mighty have fallen. We planted two earth trolls in your yard. Even now they are digging out of the ground near your circle, which cannot detect them because they were there when you set the wards! Pretty tidy little trap, wouldn’t you say? Your child’s killers so close, yet you are unable to reach them, and your helpless body is about to be demolished by two earth trolls. It is perfect!
“I will admit you have come closer than most. But you have neglected one tiny thing.”
“Oh? And what would that be, Brin Heavyshield?” The mage sneered confidently.
“I need not be next to you to kill you.” With that, Brin pulled out the needle sharp whale bone pin that held the braid of her hair in place. With a flick of her wrist, she sent it speeding at the mage’s throat. It passed through him, drawing no blood and breaking no bones. Being but a spirit weapon, it did not affect his body. Brin saw his eyes go wide in horror and then go dim as his spirit, severed from his body by her dart, fled his mortal shell.
Brin did not stick around to gloat over his demise. The land blurred beneath her as she followed the strand that connected her to her body. She saw the huge, boulder-like trolls hammering her. The protective shield from her helmet was failing quickly. Brin plunged down towards the troll closest to her, swords thrust out before her. She tore through the troll, separating its body from whatever life force animated it. The rocks and dirt that formed its body crashed to the earth and fell apart.
Brin had aimed her dive so that she passed through the troll and slammed back into her body. She rolled to her right immediately, narrowly avoiding the hammer blow that would have crushed the life from her. She scooped up her bow as she regained her feet.
Brin pulled back the bow and an arrow of pure light materialized on the string. She let it fly. The arrow flared as it hit its mark, washing the troll in a brilliant, burning light. But it had no effect beyond setting some mossy tendrils alight. The earth troll lumbered after her. There was little Brin’s weapons could do to harm it. She did not have the time or peace of mind to spirit walk again. She certainly did not have the strength to go blow to blow with it. But she did have two things the creature lacked completely: speed and wits.
Brin replaced her bow and started a series of feints and darting attacks with her swords. She danced and leapt around the troll, keeping just out of the way of the creature’s ponderous blows. Steadily, she drew it on towards the stream. As they neared the bank, Brin rushed in close, feet pumping, and ran straight up the front of the earth troll. Her swords drew sparks with each strike. The troll tried to swat her, but it was too slow. Brin jumped backwards off the trolls face, performed a back flip, and landed neatly on the other side of the stream.
The earth troll tried to pursue, but it slipped on the muddy bank and pitched forward into the water. It struggled to rise, but the water was already wearing away the dirt sinews that held the rocks together. It quickly became just another feature in the river.
“Well, not quite as slow as I thought I was.” Brin had tracked down and killed the mage that helped the dreadmach into the valley, but that did not quench her anger. Bigger events seemed to be happening to even allow the dreadmach to return to this world. Brin needed to find out what happened, and figure out who was the mastermind of Max’s death and the attempt on her life.