It's time for another chapter of To Look Skyward! We pick back up with Kirelon, where he is about to face down an assassin in the night. As always, you can find the Google Doc version here, and I welcome comments of all sorts! Give me your reaction, what you didn't believe, what you thought was awesome--every piece of feedback helps when I get to the second draft. Thanks for reading!
The flash of lightning saved Kirelon's life. If it had been but a moment later, he would have died without ever knowing he was in danger. As it happened, fate had other plans for him. He jerked to the right and rolled off his bed, crashing to the floor face first. He should have felt pain, but the adrenaline pumping through his system dulled it to the point of nonexistence, and he was on his feet and rushing towards the side door leading on to his porch before the assassin knew what had happened. Kirelon heard a shout of anger from behind him, but it was quickly drowned out by another clap of thunder.
As Kirelon burst through the door and into the stormy night, he felt a sharp stab of pain that pierced his veil of adrenaline and told him that he had just been stabbed with something. Had the man thrown a dagger? There was no way he could closed the distance in that short of time. Kirelon didn't have time to think about it further--he was hit by a wall of freezing rain the moment he stepped out on to the porch, numbing him to the bone and making him stumble and fall against the railing. The porch had a roof, of course, but the rain was being whipped around by the wind to come at Kirelon diagonally, soaking him thoroughly. It was so dark that he could barely see his own hands gripping the wood, and he floundered along the edge of the railing, knowing with deadly certainty that the assassin was just behind him.
He felt a tug at his mind, as if something was trying to stretch it apart and squeeze inside. The assassin was trying to Link with him. Kirelon's first instinct was to accept the Link and then lash back and Dominate the man--he was a Speaker after all, and should be able to overwhelm the assassin, even at equal elevation. What Kirelon felt in this man's mind, however, was a strength he had rarely seen before, even in his fellow Speakers. This man was very dangerous. In a snap judgement, Kirelon resisted the Link, pushing back with the full force of his will even as he finally righted himself on the edge of the railing. The assassin reeled back at the intensity of that push, and ceased the Linking process, leaving Kirelon alone once more.
Kirelon stumbled onward, one hand on the railing for stability, trusting in his memory of the porch's layout to guide him. Slowly, Kirelon adjusted to the wind and the rain and began racing along the edge of the porch, moving as fast as he dared. He felt so exposed, as if at any moment a sword would slide through his back and into his heart. Soon there's a curve around the bend of the house, Kirelon thought, mapping it out in his head. And then the walkway to Mesta's quarters. I could go down that way, try to wake him up. Two Speakers are better than one. But... His airship was in the opposite direction, at the docks a few buildings down. When Kirelon was about to reach the walkway, he glanced back to see if he could make out where his pursuer was. As he did so, another flash of lightning gave him a blurry vision of his surroundings, the rain so thick that he could only see a few feet before him. A few feet, however, were enough.
The assassin was tall and broadly-built, with a scraggly black beard and shaved head. He had a tattoo of some kind of purple-hued reptile wrapping around his face, and his lips were pulled back in an animal-like snarl. Once again, lightning was Kirelon's savior. The assassin held his long, slender sword low as he stabbed forward, and Kirelon dove to the floor just in time to miss that deadly strike. The Speaker scrambled to his feet with a cry of alarm as the assassin swung again, and for the third time, Kirelon narrowly avoided being skewered. They stood for a moment, facing each other with grim faces illuminated not by a sudden flash, but by a steady green light.
Anillend, the Great Moon, had broken through the clouds off in the distance, and lit the porch with an eerie emerald glow that made everything look surreal and ghostly. Then more lightning arced through the air and more thunder boomed. The electricity blasted wildly through the sky in a frenzy that blinded and deafened, and Kirelon said a quick, involuntary prayer of protection towards Chridius as he continued to watch his adversary.
"Why are you trying to kill me?" Kirelon shouted over the rain, making sure to stay well out of reach of the man's sword. "Who sent you?"
The man didn't answer, and began to advance again, sword held low.
Kirelon didn't have any martial training. He didn't know how to use a sword--at least, not well enough to bother keeping one on him--and would probably sooner break his knuckles than actually land a solid punch on someone. The only real strength he had was his Domination, and that wasn't going to be of any help to him unless he could get to a higher elevation. After what he had felt in the assassin's mind, Kirelon didn't dare attempt anything without having the advantage. Kirelon tensed his muscles in preparation. Alright, then, he thought. Advantage time.
He lunged at the railing even as the man closed the last few feet, sword swinging. This time, the weapon connected, if only briefly, and Kirelon felt a small pang in his side as the sword nicked him. He pressed on, grabbing the lip of the roof and hoisting his feet upward in a swing, ignoring the danger of such an attempt--if he slipped, he would die, as nothing was below him and the ground but miles of empty air. There was one other thing Kirelon was good at. He had spent his childhood in the mountains, and had quickly discovered that he had a knack for the running, climbing, and jumping that it required. With a spectacular heave of his muscles, Kirelon swung his body up and around, landing on the thatch roof with a grunt.
In that instant, he brought his mind out like a whip, Linking with the assassin and then pressing forward with his will to Dominate the man. There was a wall there, a strong fortification of mental endurance that barred him passage. Even with the extra power he had gained with the increase in elevation, it seemed impossible to break through that barrier. Kirelon kept pushing anyway, determined to end this. There was a moment--just a moment--when it looked as if he was going to crack the wall and Dominate, but then there was a resounding crack that sounded in his head, and he reeled backward, almost falling off the roof. Like a mental hand, the assassin's mind had struck him down, and it was all he could do to keep his sanity intact.
Kirelon winced as he broke free of the Link. He was going to have to be a lot higher than this if he wanted to Dominate that man. Unfortunately, this was as high as he could go, unless he went to the palace, or the tops of the peaks themselves. Kirelon scrambled over the roof to the other side of the building, throwing a wary glance behind him to see if the assassin was in pursuit. He was.
Ahead, his own roof ended, flowing into the thatching above the walkway leading to the next building. Kirelon threw all caution aside and ran as fast as he could across it, dangerously close to falling with each step. He reached the next building, crossed it, and was on the roof of the next walkway in only the briefest of moments, running so fast that he couldn't even see, despite the slowly descending intensity of the rain and the light from Anillend--everything was a blur before him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realized how stupid he was being, and how close he was to falling to his death, but now, in a blind animal panic, he paid logic no heed.
The next building was the last before the docks, and Kirelon skidded to a stop just before the roof ended--and just before he ran head long into open air. He glanced behind him, noting that the assassin was still on the second to last building, as he had been more cautious in his pursuit than Kirelon had been in his flight, but was closing fast. Kirelon took a deep breath and looked below him at the docks lined up at the southern edge of the Clouds. After the docks, there was nothing but the wind itself. Kirelon's own airship was one of the closest to the roof, and the Speaker contemplated the jump. It was possible, but not very likely, and with Kirelon had a feeling that his luck so far was about to run out. There was also the problem of elevation. If Kirelon left the roof, he would be vulnerable to attack from the assassin's mind, and Kirelon wasn't sure that he could stop the man if he came in force. In the split second before he had to make a decision, Kirelon wondered why the man hadn't simply gone on to the roof and tried to Dominate him while he was vulnerable. Kirelon would have had a chance to resist, certainly, as any attempt to Link, especially from that close range, immediately made the mind alert, but if the assassin was as good as Kirelon suspected he was... Kirelon glanced behind him again and all speculation fled from his mind. The assassin was almost here. He had to jump or die. Kirelon examined the distance he would have to cross with a professional eye, took a few steps back, and then ran full speed towards the lip of the roof.
Wind and rain whipped around him, increasing in intensity as he flew towards the airship, as if they would sweep him away like a leaf. And then he was falling. There was a narrow gap between the airship and the walkway, and Kirelon seemed to be headed straight down into that dark abyss. He cried out, waving his limbs about as if to propel himself forward. Even as he was sucked into the void, he reached out and grabbed the edge of the airship, his arms almost buckling under the sudden pressure. He hung there for a terribly long moment, sure that his muscles would give out, but they held, and he started to pull himself on to the deck of his ship, groaning at the throbbing ache in his arms. He caught a glimpse of the assassin above, leaping to the floor of the walkway, and then scrambled to untie his ship and push off. It was going to be nearly impossible to navigate in this weather, but he was going to have to risk it. It was either that or die at the hands of this man.
The assassin landed in a roll and then drew his sword from its scabbard in the same motion, rushing forward with deadly intent written on his face. The man was in front of him before he could cast off, and Kirelon fell backward, narrowly escaping the blade the assassin swung towards his head. In a move born of desperation, Kirelon rolled forward on the deck, tripping up the man's legs and sending him and his sword sprawling. Kirelon scrambled to his feet and untied the last bit of rope from the dock before the assassin could regain his blade and attack him once more. Kirelon put a foot out to push off from the dock, and for the first time realized that he wasn't wearing his boots. In his mad flight, he hadn't even noticed the fact that he was barefoot. The Speaker heard a growl from behind him, and pushed the airship out into the storm as the assassin regained his composure. Kirelon turned just in time to see the man running full speed at him, snarling. He cried out and dove to the side, holding his hands over his head as he waited for the inevitable blow.
Kirelon looked up to see that the assassin was standing on the dock, his sword sheathed, watching him with a cool gaze. The Speaker stood up and stared back, wondering why the man had fled. Maybe the assassin didn't want to be caught on an airship in a storm, and figured that Kirelon would be a dead man anyway. Kirelon turned away from the man as the ship was pulled to the right by a sudden gust of wind, away from the Clouds and into the void. He went to the mast and started to bring out the sail ever so slightly, to give him some way to navigate. No matter what the assassin's motives for letting him go, Kirelon would not die today. He would find a sheltered cave along the mountain side, and then deal with the consequences of all of this when the storm had ceased.
He heard a creaking sound, and looked up the mast in horror as it buckled, cracked, and broke in two, the free piece smashing against the deck of the ship and then flying away in the howling wind, sped along by the sail still attached to it. How in the world did that happen? Kirelon thought, shocked. I barely had the sail out--there was no way the mast would have broken that quickly. Kirelon took a step towards the rudder, trying to see if he could still steer the damaged ship despite the lack of a sail. Instead of landing on the solid material of a windwood tree, however, his foot fell away into emptiness. He tripped and fell to the floor of the deck, which he now realized was unraveling, the heavy ropes and complicated knots holding the windwood together having come undone. Kirelon held on as best as he could to the broken mast, which was sealed to one of the floating trees, and tried to stabilize himself on the quickly disintegrating deck.
It was then that he realized what had happened. He glanced back at the dock, which was now almost too far away to see clearly, and caught a glimpse of a lone figure still standing on the walkway, staring out at him. The assassin had sabotaged his airship--broken the mast and cut the ropes tying everything together in such a way that it would only start to break up when he cast off into the middle of the storm. That was why he had fled--he knew that it would be too dangerous to stay. He had planned it that way.
Though the pounding of the rain had softened slightly during the chase, the wind had only become more violent, and Kirelon was almost thrown into the dark emptiness spread out below him. He clung to the mast, pushed this way and that as the rest of his airship fell apart and blew away into the storm. Soon, he was alone on his single windwood log, disoriented and unsure of how much longer he could hold on. His hands groped along the edge of the mast, searching for anything to grip on to besides the smooth surface of the wood itself. He touched a protruding knob of some kind, and then rope--the spot where the excess rope from the mast was tied off. He looped his arms in between the tightly wound rope and gritted his teeth.
The storm raged.