A Beginning

Jorry stood at the edge, looking out into the night. Wind tugged at his hair and pulled dust and sand across his exposed skin. The swaying motion under his feet was a slow and steady rhythm that comforted him. It also threatened to lull him into sleep. He rubbed grit out of his eyes and refocused on the dark abyss before him.

He knew somewhere down there was land. He'd even been on it once or twice—Jorry had been unsettled by the absolute stillness of the ground. Up here, on the back of a Shamble, there was always motion. Always noise. There was the creak of ropes used to haul up cargo from Below, the grinding of the Shambles gigantic metal legs as it took each step, and the steady blow of wind. And that was at night. By day, the city behind him was abuzz with the sounds of thousands of people going about their daily lives—merchants hawking wares, druids and farmers tending the grove, kids running through the narrow alleyways and screaming nonsense words, and the soft cry of nargulls.

Wait, thought Jorry, did I just hear—? His mind snapped back to the present, and he heard it again—a soft whispering call of a nargull. We're days from the coast yet.

"Raiders!" Jorry cried, grabbing his bow from the nearby railing.

Someone in the darkness below Jorry cursed. And chaos broke out. Three raiders, hulking brutes wearing sheet anchor packs began to pull themselves over the railing. Sheet anchors were large pieces of canvas used to help slow someone down when falling. Raiders used them frequently for quick escapes.

Jorry, too close for arrow work, slammed his hand gripping the bow into the face of the nearest raider. The bow hardened his grip, and he felt the man's nose crunch beneath his hand. But the man didn't plummet into the darkness below as he'd envisioned.

He just looked angry.

"Gods below," Jorry cried, "Raiders!" He didn't hear anyone else raising the alarm.

Are they already aboard? What Happened to Scand? What do they want? But he knew the answer to that last, at least. They wanted what raiders always wanted—a druid.

One of the raiders was already up and past him, sprinting for the grove behind Jorry. Another raider advanced on the guard, his axe gripped in both hands.

Cursing his bow as useless, he dropped it to the ground and drew the sword at his side just in time to meet the first heavy blow from the raider's axe. Steel rang against steel in the night. Bits of the raider's axeblade chipped off and flew into Jorry's face.

Rusty steel is no match for a slaveblade. Jorry was glad to have something go his way. He pushed back against the raider, who stumbled, growled and swung a heavy, arching attack with his axe. Jorry decided to press what little advantage he had. He ducked under the axe and charged the still off-balance raider. He put his shoulder in the man's stomach; he felt the man's wind leave him. But Jorry kept churning his legs. A heartbeat later he felt another collision, hear the wooden railing crack, and tried to reverse his momentum.

He narrowly escaped the raider's clutching hands, and he tried not to see the terror in the man's eyes as he fell backward off of the Shamble.

Jorry didn't have a moment to reflect upon the soon-to-be-dead raider. The raider with the crunched nose had recovered and was drawing his axe with a low growl in his throat. Jorry rolled to his feet and squared off against the brute. The man's large lower jaw, sloped forehead, and the greenish tint to the blood running down his ruined nose told of orcish ancestry.

Great. I don't have time for this, Jorry thought. He glanced at the grove. He could hear the sounds of fighting there now. The city, in the distance beyond the grove, was dimly lit, as it usually was this late at night. But Jorry thought he saw torches moving as forces gathered to repel the attack.

They'll save the druid. I just need to handle this one remaining raider, he lied to himself.

The raider raised his axe above his head, careless for how open he left himself, and swung down on Jorry like he was splitting wood. Jorry had his sword up in plenty of time, but the strength behind the blow knocked him back to the ground, shattered the axe against his blade, and drove his own sword into his flailing left arm.

Jorry screamed at the pain. The orc-man, now armed with only an axe shaft, drew back to pound Jorry's head into mush. And an arrow appeared in his throat, quickly followed by another. The raider spun, surprise on his face, and fell.

"Gods, a raid. I didn't know," Scand ran up out of the darkness and knelt over Jorry. "Are you alright? I didn't know."

"I'm fine, thank you—" Scand's words sank in. "You were with her weren't you?" Jorry hopped to his feet, anger replacing relief.

Before the Scand could reply, movement came towards them from the darkness of the grove.

"We got the raiders here," Scand called.

"Too bad," rumbled a low voice, "Arthax was my sister's."

Out of the darkness stepped a group of ten men, all bleeding and bruised; all holding bloody weapons drawn. Being pulled along behind the lead man with his hands bound and his mouth gagged was Tagith, one of the druid initiates.

"Tagith," Jorry said and stepped forward, raising his sword.

The man holding Tagith's bonds, and likely the chieftain of these raiders, stopped and smiled at Jorry.

"You would attack ten men with just the two of you?" He chuckled. The men behind him chuckled, too. There was no humor in any of it. "You're skilled if you killed my men. And brave, too. Give us no trouble, and you'll live. Give us trouble..." The raider chieftain said nothing. The only sounds for heartbeats were the constant clanging of the Shamble walking and blowing of the wind.

"Jorry." Scand put his hand on Jorry's shoulder, heedless of the sword wound there.

Tagith's eyes pled with Jorry. But dying here wouldn't save Tagith. Jorry knew that. He lowered his sword and backed away.

Tagith screamed around his gag, and shook his head. The chieftain didn't give Jorry a second glance.

"We have what we came for, let's go." With that he ran at the broken railing, pulling a terrified Tagith after him. The other raiders followed swiftly after. As they disappeared into the darkness below, Jorry could hear sheet anchors pop open. He didn't believe in the Dead Gods, but he said a prayer that the Chieftain's had been one of them.