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Into the Lightening
Author's note: This is a draft for my HSC extension 2 english major project. I would really appreciate any comments or feedback. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I lay stiff in my bed, my hands clasped on my backpack lying on my chest. Images flashed through my mind. Red smeared on my face. Their diabolical smiles barely hidden by the darkness. Little pools of blood on the tar. It was months ago now but I relived it every night. I reached my hand up to the side of my lip; although the blood was no longer there I could still feel its wet stickiness. I could still taste it in my mouth, along with the sweat and tears and the screams. I trembled at the sudden screaming that filled my head. I heard whispers from invisible, unconquerable lips. Weak, the whisper accused me. This is your fault. You could have saved her.
The bag on my chest was filled with all the food I could take from the house without notice: a bottle of water, a torch, a lighter, a makeshift first aid kit, a compass I didn’t know how to use and $20. My hunting knife hung from my belt in its leather keeper. Mum and dad were still up in the kitchen, at each other’s throats yet again, arguing about money or me or the farm or mum wanting to move back to town. “The farm is only thirty kilometres from town! She can’t be there anymore, damn it! She needs to be away from it all. Her nightmares have stopped, or at least she doesn’t scream as much now we’re out here… she’s stopped saying Cassidy’s name under her breath…”
I tried not to listen. They argued nearly every night while I lay in my cold bed in my draughty room with squeaky floorboards. Mum grew up in this house, but it wasn’t home for me and it never would be, it was just a house filled with broken people.
Under the itchy blankets I was wearing my clothes and shoes.
I heard another plate smash against a wall. The farm is on a few thousand acres, not far from Pine Hill, where I lived when it happened. The town is rural, pretty much in the middle of New South Wales and small. The middle of nowhere.
The fighting started to ease. It won’t be long and I’ll be far away from here, I thought to myself, I’ll walk to the next town, Blanding, and then I’ll… I’ll... I’ll find my way to Sydney. I waited patiently while their voices got calmer and they quietly shuffled around the house. My heart was beating fast with anticipation. After what seemed like hours, they scurried off to bed and after what seemed like an even longer wait, I heard muffled snores coming from their room. I rose from my bed, stopped and cringed when the floor creaked under step. I waited till I heard snoring again, slipped the bag over my shoulders, and then gingerly crept from my room. “Anna, it’s late, what are you doing up?” Mum whispered, half asleep.
“Just going to the bathroom.”
“Alright then, goodnight.”
I walked quickly away from their door and to the back door, and escaped into the night, into my new life.
The warm summer air smelt sweet, it was heavy with rain waiting to fall. Perfect weather for covering tracks, I thought triumphantly as rain quietly started to fall. I started heading for the mountains, although they were still on the property it was quicker to cut across to Blanding and it was safer than taking the main roads. If anyone from Pine Hill saw me they’d haul me back to the dirt farm. I looked at my wrist watch, it read 10:17 and rain was lightly kissing the top of my head and my jacket, by 10:52 I was at the foot of the biggest mountain I’d ever seen, the one I had to overcome, and rain was pelting against me. Lighting struck the tip of the monumental structure. I was struggling to stand up against what had grown into a great storm. The mountain was colossal. It was covered in jagged rocks and as mighty as Mount Olympus. Fat droplets of rain stung my face and wind whipped blond hair against my neck. The grey storm clouds were low in the sky, concealing the top of the Mountain, making it look even more unreachable. ‘’Toughen up,’’ I muttered to my feet and finally began crawling up Mount Impossible, into the lightening.
I woke up sore and dazed when the sun was hot and high in the sky. My legs throbbed from walking for hours; the rest of me ached from sleeping on the ground. My tummy ached, I opened and ate a can of baked beans and afterwards I was still hungry, but reluctant to waste all my supplies on the first day. I stayed huddled amongst small bushes on a rock that was still cool and wet from the rain while I ate and watched the house and the little town in the distance. The house looked small from where I was perched and busy like an an’ts hive with mum buzzing around the small garden out the back watering and pruning while also on the phone, and dad scurrying around his car shed, coaxing his rusty old Ute to come to life again. I wasn’t far up the Mountain, even though I’d walked for what felt like all of the night. I rose and took one last look back at the small timber structure, the little people and the even smaller gloomy looking town, said a silent goodbye and turned my back on it forever to pick my way up the deadly Mountain tortured by rocks and thorny bushes.
It took three days to get to the top. In the cool mornings I’d walk, and then in the afternoons, when the rocks were warm from the sun and you’d sweat just standing, I’d sleep in the shade of gum trees against their strong trunks until the sun went down and the air was cool again, and then I’d walk most of the night. On the third afternoon when I reached the top, I clawed my way to a small clearing covered in lush grass and I fell to my knees. I couldn’t hold up my weight, I wasn’t sure if it was because of pain, or merely of relief after ignoring my pain for the last few days or something else, but I couldn’t lift myself up. I’d ignored my numb legs aching for rest, my stomach begging for proper food and my heart breaking from guilt. I crawled under a tree, the air felt viscous and sticky, like I was walking through a force field, and slept on a soft bed of grass.
In the early hours of the morning, when the sun was playing on the edge of the far off horizon, there was a rustle in the bushes on the opposite side of the clearing while I ate Doritos. Just a rabbit, I told myself, but I didn’t take my eyes off the bush. I bit my lip nervously. My eyes darted to another crunch in the foliage. I silently slid my knife out of its keeper and ran my forefinger over the blade. Nice and sharp. I stood up, shoulders tall and feet heavy on the ground, and held my weapon in front of my chest. Who the h.ell would be up here? Who could be up here? It was close to impossible to get there. It must be someone who never wants to be found…
“Who’s there?” I sternly asked a shaking branch, barely suppressing the fear in my voice.
My eyes darted, waiting for movement.
I spun around, with my knife at the ready, but there was nothing there but more foliage.
Before I could turn around I was on my back with a hand heavy on my neck, supressing the scream that would have otherwise escaped. A knee was planted firmly on my chest. “Who sent you?!” A deep, husky voice demanded.
I looked up but could barely see from the glare of the sun, I could only just make out the figure of a young man leaning over me. “Who sent you?” His voice grew harsher and his grip on my throat grew tighter.
Wordless air struggled out of my body, emptying my lungs. I clawed at his hand desperately and he loosened it, just enough for me to breathe. I tried to speak but the words only came out as struggling sputter. He released my throat and his hands came down roughly on my upper arms. “Answer me, spy” he growled fiercely.
“No one sent me,” I said carefully, my confusion obvious in my voice “Um, I ran away from home, I’m going to Condo.”
“They must be getting pretty desperate for spies, sending pretty girls after us,” he mumbled, obviously ignoring what I had said. Where he was kneeling over me I could see him better than before, I could see that his face was delicate, but his jaw was defined and strong. He wore a dirty cream coloured tonic with a thick tan leather belt about his waist and matching arm bands, the hilt of a sword towered his broad shoulder. He looked like he was going to a nerd convention for the movie Alexander the Great, except he wasn’t remotely weak or feeble. “What did they tell you to do to me? Do you have back up? You’d have to have backup, they’re probably ambushing us as we speak. Are they?”
“It’s just me, I have no back up, and nobody sent me. I’m not a spy, I’m just trying to get to Blanding to get a bus to Sydney.”
“It’s on the other side of the Mountain.”
“Wait,” he looked just as confused as I was at my interrogation, “are you telling me you’re not from Oros?”
“No, I’m from Pine Hill… What’s Oros?”
“It’s here, it’s this kingdom, this Mountain, all of this,” he stood up and put his hands in the air to show me, “this He.ll bound empire.”
I sat up and rubbed where his hands had held me down. Now he was standing up I could see a sword hanging from his waist, it reached past his knee, and a much smaller pocket knife secured on his leather belt on his other hip. I scrambled for my own knife that had fallen to the ground.
“I don’t believe you, the government is always coming up with new tinted ideas to fight this war, and this is just another one.” He appeared to be inspecting me, throwing thoughts around in his head. “What are you?”
“What do you mean what am I?” I furrowed my eyebrows and scowled. What an odd question.
“I mean what I mean; are you a nymph, a water sprite, a shifter, a witch, garden gnome, a dragon, maybe?” He smirked and I had to laugh, but I stopped when he held out his hands. His finger nails stretched into claws and the tips began to become a deep shimmering green colour that spread to his hands, and when it did, scales rippled over his skin, the same deep sea green colour, and soon he was green and scaled up to his elbows. “I haven’t mastered full dragon yet, this is all I can manage so far. It’s hard when I’m constantly on the run because shifting takes so much energy.”
He grinned, happy with himself and amused at the astonishment on my face. “I’m… I’m human,” I trembled, terrified and amazed at the metamorphosis I’d just watched.
He smiled at me charmingly, “No you’re not,” he said calmly, like he hadn’t just ripped out the foundations of my life out from under me. He swiftly jerked his arms in front of him and the dragon scales disappeared to reveal his human skin. “I, for example, am a shifter. Now you try.”
“I am a human,” his arrogance pi.ssed me off, but his charisma was more intriguing than I wanted to admit.
The boy examined me again, with his hand resting on his chin.
“It’s impossible, you can’t possibly be a human. Humans can’t get up here because of the enchantment.”
“The force field protecting the realm, it’s there specifically to keep people like me in and people like you, supposing you’re a human, out.”
He offered me his hand to help me off the ground, but I stood up myself. He just accused me of ambushing him and of not being human, I couldn’t trust him.
“I would have thought,” He continued, “that you were a nymph because you’re so beautiful, but that can’t be.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
My protests didn’t quiver his confidence. “You’re too powerful,” he continued, “too sure of yourself to be a nymph. Where a nymph would seduce to get her point across, you stand your ground. You’re strong yet graceful and intelligent. Ah, I’ve got it!” He snapped his fingers and his face lit up like a Christmas tree, “are you Aphrodite?”
“What? No I told you, I’m human,” I hissed.
“What’s your name, human?”
“My name is Anna Rose Murray, thanks very much for the interrogation, and I’ll be going now,” I picked up my pocket knife and packet of Doritos and stalked out of the clearing.
“I’m Loki Lighteningborn. You won’t make it to the other side of Oros, you know that right? You’d be lucky to make it to the next city,” Loki had followed me out of the clearing.
“And why’s that, Loki Lighteningborn?” I didn’t look at him, I could climb the Mountain on my own and I could cross it on my own, I didn’t need anyone else to help me run away or to take care of me the last three days, why did I now?
“Because there’s a war going on. The realm is plagued with civil war, you step foot into any town you’ll be a prisoner of war in no time, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, and extra especially if you’ve been seen with me.”
“Well, what do you suggest I do?”
“Come with me, I’ll get you where you need to go. After living here for 17 years, I know this Kingdom like the back of my hand.”
I stopped so I was facing him. “I’d rather be a prisoner of war.”
He laughed, not harmed by my insult. “Anna Rose, that’s your name right? Listen, you need something from me -to get to the other side of Oros with your head, and I need something from you- to get as far away from Oros as possible. If you could get up here, through the shield and the enchantment, then you could surely help me get out on the other side, right? And after that you can point me in the right direction and never see my face again. So, what do you think?”
Loki smiled charmingly at me, again, and waited for my answer. “Why are you running away from your Kingdom?”
“I’m a fugitive;” he looked proud, “Queen Invidia wants my head. She overthrew my Uncle, who was King, you see, and she’s scared of me because I’m of royal blood. I could form an uprising, theoretically. She’d be blood.y right about it too, if I had half the army she does. All my family is in chains, on the run or headless by the hand of Queen Invidia. I can’t save them, so I’m going to escape Oros and save myself. So are you in?”
As we walked, around us morphed from rough Australian foliage made up of gum trees, shrubs, salt bush and a million different kinds of burrs to lush forest with tall pine trees, tall grasses, scattered faded yellow rocks, evergreens. Olive plants dotted the landscape. There was no longer red dirt underfoot, but pale brown soil. The tall trees blocked out the harsh rays of the afternoon sun.
“So, we’re both run-aways, I’ve told you my story, now it’s your turn.” Confidence oozed out of him from every pore, he was charming and witty, and those are highly dangerous traits.
“I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“Oh, but you do, how can we be a team if I don’t know boo about you?”
“We’re not a team. You’re simply doing me a favour for a favour. Once we’re off this mountain that’s it, we’re done. If you must know, I saw Cassi- um, never mind, something bad happened to a friend and I just couldn’t get over it and I couldn’t stay where it happened and deal with the guilt. There’s nothing for me in the world I left behind.”
He looked at me with sad dark eyes.
“I don’t want your damn pity,” I growled.
“I understand. When the war broke out my Father fought alongside his brother Garret, the King. When Uncle was beheaded and Queen Invidia claimed the empire, her spies abducted Father and pressed him for information on where Garrets eldest child, Esmeralda, was hiding out. Father knew where she was, but he was an aggressively loyal man. When he refused to reveal her, they murdered him too. I can’t stay here anymore.” His face dropped when at the end, but up until then he had been alight with pride for his father and family.
“I’m sorry for your loss, it sounds like has was a great man.”
“He was. He raised us, our Mother died when I was young. I had a little sister called Sabrina, you see. We’ve only had each other for the last five years. Ever since Father died, Sabrina and I have been on the run. We’d stay in one place as long as we could, but once soldiers or Queen Invidia’s Minions come to town looking for us, we’d have to escape to the next village. Last week they found us hiding out in a stable on a farm, and they took Sabrina. They left me for dead, or so they thought, and god knows what they’ve done to my baby sister. She’s only 9, it was my job to protect her and I couldn’t, I tried to fight, but…” Tears swam in his eyes but refused to fall. Loki slowly unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it back to show me the stab wounds on his chest. I honestly didn’t know how he was still alive. They were tender and pink; some still had dried blood on them. My hand instinctively shot up to my own broken and bruised ribs. I thought about showing Loki my own trauma, but my fingers refused to move once they’d wrapped themselves around the hem of my t-shirt. I couldn’t reveal my bruises; that just made them real.
“They’ve chased me to the edge of Oros, so now I’m leaving. I’m paying one last visit to the city, Quarry, to The Dragon’s Tail. I have strong allies there, close family friends. And then I’m going to be free, from the war and from running, and from the daily fear of being beheaded. It makes every moment more precious, don’t you think? The way that any one of those moments could be our last, it makes everything that much more beautiful. It’s why the ever immortal Gods envy us.” His deadly black eyes pierced me, peeking out from his ebony curls. “It’s an interesting thing to live in fear, isn’t it? You get so fed up with the running that you tell yourself that you give up, that you don’t give a damn if you live or die, but you keep running anyways, and when it comes to it you kick and scream and struggle to defend your life.”
“Well,” I said finally, still thinking about his wounds, “I can see why you want to leave Oros. Where are you headed, after we get to… um, Australia, I guess?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how I’ll make a living or where I’ll go. My moth and Uncle and I used to help build homes for the poor people in our city, maybe I could keep building.”
“You could work in construction, the city is always morphing and growing and changing.”
“I guess you could say I’m kind of an expert on change,” Loki grinned, with a flick of his wrists, feathers sprouted from his skin. His arms were draped in big colourful feathers of all colours; they hung off his arms like a cloak. They stuffed under his shirt, and they thinned out on his neck into small fine feathers, still of every colour, before they stopped below his chin. He grinned widely, bent his knees to push off, and suddenly he was in the air, far above me, just above the tree tops. “How are you doing that?!”
“I told you, I’m a shifter,” He answered calmly, in comparison to my voice that was shrill with awe. He smiled down at me from above the trees.
He peered at something in the distance, and then glided down. He landed, well crash landed, and stumbled over to me. He casually brushed the dirt off his clothes.
“So you can just change into any animal you like, at any time?” I waited for his answer, half expecting a shrill, sweet birdsong.
“Not exactly,” he answered. “It takes a while to master each animal. One day I’ll be able to do full chicken legs and all. And it’s very draining. I don’t like morphing in a fight because it takes so much energy, plus it takes concentration. If my mind isn’t fully committed to the animal, things go wrong and I don’t shift right. But I am pretty abnormally powerful while I am ‘powered up,’ I guess that’s why it’s so draining, and why I lived when the soldiers attacked and took Sabrina. Anyways, I went up there to see how far we have to go. Quarry isn’t far from here, just a bit due north.”
I was glad the mood had lifted and moved on from his orphan-ness and the living nightmare that was seeing Cassidy die. The buoyancy had come back to Loki’s smile. “Shall we, ma Lady?’’
He held his hand out to me and, after a moment’s thought, I took it and we walked hand in hand to Quarry. After all, if everything he said was true, we could be dead tomorrow and therefore the moment incredibly beautiful.
Between the thick blanket of trees the fading afternoon sun glistened beautifully off pearly white stone. We edged closer to Quarry and soon I realised the white stone I saw formed tall smooth pillars that held up the open brass gates into the city. The mighty gates towered over us as we ventured further onto the pale stone clad road. The smooth white stone continued inside the gates, it ran along the ground and shot up to form small dwellings and larger, more elaborate buildings. Other homes were made of dull sand brick; others adorned gold and red tapestries and small gardens and arched entrances. People bustled along the streets in rags and sandals and hurried into and out of the bigger buildings, which appeared to house many families. Laundry hung over between windows and little wooden tables along the side of the main road boasted fresh produce and trinkets for sale from old, eager men. The main road ran on and on, filled with life and children playing in the dirt. I was stunned with awe when Loki grabbed my arm and ripped me behind a building.
“What the he.ll was that for? We’ve travelled all this way to get to here, why are you hesitating?”
“Shh,” Loki whispered, peering from behind the house, “there are soldiers in the city. This is going to be harder than I thought. We’re going to have to take the back ways. Okay, they’ve gone into the inn, we have to be quick. See that alley there?” I followed the line of his finger and saw the dark alley between what appeared to be a Blacksmith and a P and nodded. “That’s where we’re going; we can get to the back of The Dragon’s Tail from there without going on the main street for long. If I say run, you run, understood?”
I nodded again and Loki, without taking his eyes off the window he was watching, rose. Slowly, with caution, we made our way up the road, past a stone hut with a woman shaking out mats with her tail. Her pale yellow and orange serpent-like extremity patted the dust out of the mat she held. Awestruck, I tugged at Loki’s shirt, “what’s that?”
“I don’t know, Persian or something.”
“No, not the mat, the woman.”
“What, aren’t tentacles a thing in your world?”
“Well yeah, they are, but not on people.”
“So everyone is like you are, or me when I’m not shifting? I think the Gods have frowned upon your world; that sounds utterly boring. Although you, Anna Rose,” he smiled captivatingly at me, “are utterly intriguing.”
He didn’t give me time to blush, his eyes shot to the three men (I say “men” loosely here) they were strolling onto the main street. They were all similar in looks, big, bulky men with massive chests and arms and cruel, ugly faces. Their skin was grey and leathery. The one at the front seemed to be leading them.. A cigar hung from his thin grey lips. Dark brass muscle-style armour clung to their massive bodies which lead to brilliant red skirts that stopped just before faded greaves that protected their shins – from who? I couldn’t think of anyone stupid enough to even dare an unsolicited look in their direction. A strange crest lay in the middle of the armour, a black lion prowling, ready to pounce. It stood out against the faded gold. “The Queens colours,” muttered Loki.
Loki grabbed my hand roughly and walked faster. “Don’t see us, don’t see us,” he chanted to himself quietly. “D.amn it, how did they know I would be here? D.amn it.”
I tried to absorb as much of the scenery as I could while we sped through the town. Some of the houses had coloured stained glass windows with mythological tales on them; six headed serpents, men with goat legs, Medusa and, the grandest of all, the almighty Zeus casting lightning bolts from angry storm clouds. The white stone house next to it had stables, with black Pegasus’s nuzzling wooden buckets of oats. They were beautiful, majestic creatures; I wish I could have stared longer, but Loki started running and was still gripping my hand. I wondered if they were real, or if I was still asleep, lying alone on the grass in the clearing, or if I was still in in that dank dark alleyway with blood creeping from my lips and lining my jacket, lying next to Cassidy dying…
We slipped into the alley way we’d aimed for; we were surrounded by cemented blocks and wooden arched back doors. The stone that had been underfoot was replaced with well-trodden dirt. Loki led, still gripping my shaking hand, around a corner and another, through the labyrinth. “What were those things, coming out of the inn?”
“They are sons of Hades. They killed my Father,” Loki said in a small voice, “they’re the Queen’s minions. Grims, they’re called. They do all the Queens bidding. Big du.mb brutes. They were in exile for centuries as punishment of their rebellion against an ancient King. Before Queen Invidia came into power, she summoned them from exile and broke the curse on them, so that’s how she got most of her army. Her dark magic is beyond powerful.”
By then we were facing a little wooden door that was curved at the top. Black ink read The Dragon’s Tail, Employees Only. Loki tapped on the door in an elaborate pattern, like a password. The door opened to reveal a thin, smiling poor looking man with an extraordinary crooked nose wearing a long apron that covered his legs. He looked normal; surely that was just an illusion. We were in what looked like a little storage room for a mad scientist, the walls had shelves on them holding up various sized boxes and bottles of glitter, eye balls, liquids of all colours and textures. I was expecting pub-ish things, not dark magic things. The man squeezed Loki with his thin sinewy arms. “Uncle Puck, how are you?”
“You’re a sight for sore eyes! I’m swell, how are you, son?” Loki went to answer, but the man saw me and threw his frail hand out over Loki’s shoulder to shake my hand. “I didn’t see you there, love. I’m Puck, owner of Dragons Tail, and you are?”
Puck absolutely beamed. I couldn’t help but beam right back at him. “I’m Anna.”
He smiled and said it was nice to meet me and that I reminded him of someone and asked how I was and how long we were staying, but before we could answer he’d start talking again.
“Why on earth are we standing around in the potions room? Come, let’s go to the bar, you look like you need some food into you,” we nodded, “come, Medea will be so happy to see you.”
Puck turned to go and the ‘normal’ illusion was broken. The first thing I noticed, of all things, was that he wasn’t wearing pants. Then I took note of the horse that was his lower half. His centaur hooves click clacked on the hard stone floor.
So we walked up the creamy white stair case, through their strange living quarters with piles of parchment and plants I’d never seen, hanging out to dry, sat in the dim bar, ate potatoes and strange meat and guzzled glasses of wine. Medea, Puck’s wife, was a ball of joy, like Puck, although she wasn’t thin like him, she was chubby in the most adorable way. She was also chestnut-bottomed. I learnt that their other abnormality was their witchcraft. “We’ve been forced to do a lot more under the table magic deals, kiddo. As you can tell,” Puck motioned at the near empty pub, “business is slow. We’re damned if we get caught, and we’re damned if we don’t get the extra money.”
Loki explained to me how Queen Invidia outlawed all witchcraft, to minimize the chances of a revolt.
Puck was right, about business being slow, other than us there were only three or four old drunkards sipping their lager.
Loki and Puck talked tactics and the quickest way out of the realm and supplies and charms and enchantments. Medea scowled them when they started bad mouthing the Queen, “you’ll get yourselves blood.y arrested, and you know we can’t afford luxuries like bail.”
It was like the words set off a chain reaction. The Grims ambled into the pub, the same one at the front leading them to the bar, where Puck stood behind it. Loki looked at me, “if they see my face they’ll know who I am,” he looked down at the bar.
Medea trotted to the kitchen at the sight of them, I guessed to hide sorcery-like things.
“Are you the owner?” The head Grim’s voice was heavy.
“Yes, I am,” Puck stood up taller, but he had a scared look on his face, “how can I help you fellas?”
“I’m Sargent Kakoda John. There have been rumours that you’ve been harbouring fugitives in your establishment. I have a search warrant,” he produced a piece of parchment and handed it to Puck. “This rebel needs to be behind bars.”
“Well, um, if you insist, but you won’t find anything of interest. May I enquire who exactly you are hunting?”
Kakoda produced another sheet of parchment; I peeked and saw it was a sketch of Loki. “Nephew of the late King Garret.”
“I don’t know the lad, sorry. Besides, seventeen year olds aren’t permitted in bars.”
“How do you know he’s 17?”
“Um, lucky guess. Excuse me a moment, my wife is calling me.”
Puck trotted downstairs to his potions room to lock up.
The two Grims behind Sargent Kakoda scattered, but he stayed, and took a seat in the stool next to Loki. “You look a bit young to be in a pub,” he stared down at Loki.
Loki snarled, “and you look a bit old to be hunting down a kid.”
His cover was blown; he rose and spat on the creature.
Kakoda tried to throw Loki to the ground, but instead of falling he faced him and drew his sword.
“Ha! Little boys shouldn’t start fights with men.”
Kakoda withdrew his sword from its keeper, and crossed it with Loki’s. They stared at each other, Loki burned with anger for his father’s murderer, determined for revenge regardless of the odds.
Then, without warning, Kakoda threw his arm over the swords and king hit Loki in the jaw. He fell to the ground, he struggled to sit up and spit the blood out of his mouth. Kakoda picked up his sword and flung it across the room.
“Anna,” Loki strained to speak, “run! Get out of here!”
“No, just go. Trust me.”
I got up and ran for the stairs, but I saw Loki’s sword first. I didn’t know what I was thinking, I didn’t know how to use it, all I knew was I didn’t want to lose Loki, so I picked up the sword and seconds later I was standing behind Kakoda and holding it to his throat.
“Let us go and no one gets hurt.” My voice was low and stern; I didn’t recognise the sound even though it came from my own mouth. It was the voice of someone in control.
The tip of the sword sat neatly above his collar bones. “Little girls,” he purred, “shouldn’t be lurking in a dirty old wizard’s pub.”
The Grims marched in the door and circled around Loki, Kakoda and I. Kakoda escaped my grasp while I was distracted by the Grims ambushing us.
Loki, who was by then standing behind me, ran his hand up my thigh and swiftly undid the clasp on my knife keeper. He leapt at Kakoda, stood behind him with his hand on Kakoda’s head and the other hand holding the little knife sternly at his throat. Cold silver metal on grey skin. A droplet of blood ran over the blade. “Make one move towards me or Anna and he’s dead,” Loki negotiated from over Kakoda’s shoulder. “Anna, go find Puck. He’ll give you what I came for, and then we can go.”
I ran down the stairs as fast as my legs would allow me, while trying to keep the sword in my hand steady and distant. I found Puck and told him what happened; he rustled around and finally passed me a little silver flute. “This is what Loki came for?”
I had expected something more elaborative, like a potion that makes puppies or an extra arm. The flute had soft black swirls drawn on it, almost like vines had wrapped about the instrument so the vegetation could claim it as its own. The centre piece of the flute was a splendid lightning bolt made out of a stone that flickered when you moved it so the lightening looked alive. Lighteningborn.
“It was his Mother’s; he left it here for safe keeping because he wanted it to be looked after if something happened to him. It’s all he has left of his family, he wouldn’t leave without it. What you have in your hands there, my darling, is how he kept himself together when he lost everything.”
They had Loki on the floor under a heavy knee when I got up the stone stairs. Loose coils of jet black hair stuck to the blood and sweat on his anxious face. He looked like Cassidy did, whimpering under their strength. She begged for them to stop, but they just kept kicking her. She was reduced to a dog lying on its side, wide eyed and scared, just like me. Her brown begging eyes glistened with tears. A lump formed in my throat, it held back the words I wanted to say, I wanted to scream “She doesn’t have any money, stop hurting her, please, just stop hurting her!” but I couldn’t, I couldn’t do anything, I was frozen from the terror of the men in the balaclavas. Her grunts of pain became less and less audible. A car buzzed past and the thieves ran. “Cassidy,” blood spluttered from my mouth, “Cassidy.” My eyesight blurred but I could still see her brown doe eyes. “I’m sorry.” I tried to move closer to her, to hold her, but I couldn’t, I was too weak to move. It hurt to breathe. I reached out my hand, and, just before I lost all strength to stay awake, I felt her hand grip mine.
The few customers who had been in the bar had wisely evacuated. The Grims didn’t see me walk in. “We should just get rid of the rat here and now, Sargent. It would be easy, just throw him off the balcony.” He motioned to the door that led to the balcony towering over the main street’s hard stone road.
I slipped behind the bar where they couldn’t see me. ‘’We need to interrogate him, Edgar, you moron. His family are a top threat to the Empire. Send a raven to the Queen and ask her what she wants done with it. Don’t just stand there get to it. Reek, get off him and sit him up.’’
Edgar scurried off.
They dragged Loki to the bar and sat him against it, exactly opposite to me. The Grims spoke to him in mocking voices when they interrogated him.
The harsh voices droned on from the other side of the bar. “Where is Esmeralda?”
“I already told you, I don’t know.”
Crack. A steel covered hand on soft bare cheek. I cringed at the sound.
“This time I want an answer without the attitude, Little Prince.” Harsh snarls from between jagged teeth. “Where is the b.itch?”
“I don’t know.”
The Grims took deep heavy breaths like pit bulls. Their breathing was the only sound in the room, coming from where they hovered over Loki … then from above me. Kakoda’s cruel smile greeted my upturned head. “Why don’t you come over here and talk to us, Miss?”
Slowly, scared for Loki, I walked out from behind the bar.
“Reek, bring our guest closer, we don’t want her running down those stairs when our backs are turned.”
The biggest of the brutes roughly grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from the only escape, well other than over the balcony. When he’d placed me a safe distance from the stair case he let go of my freshly bruised arm. “Now we have some real leeway,” Kakoda growled, his ugly face still displaying a smile. He took a step towards me; I took a step back. Reek had stepped behind me. Kakoda touched my cheek, his skin was rough and calloused, and I pulled away. His hand followed me and held me tight around my neck. He moved his face close to mine. His hand reached for his sword, before he could raise it I pushed off the bully behind me with my feet so I could get enough momentum to bite Kakoda’s big nose. He dropped his sword and released my neck, but Reek had my arms firmly in his big beefy hands before I could utilise the moment, but at least I had the pleasure to see Kakoda fall to the floor. ‘’Ha! How can you protect a Queen, you can’t even handle two teenagers.’’
Kakoda got up and pulled me by the hair to the floor and held his weapon between my shoulder blades, I felt the cold metal cut the fibres of my shirt and pierce my skin. Loki stood, his face cut and bruised, but Edgar had come back and roughly pushed him back down by the head. He was weak from the beating. “Now, boy, you have one chance to save your little girlfriend. Don’t think I won’t push this sword right between her lungs in front of you if you don’t give us an answer. You’d better answer quickly too, I may slip. I might slit both your throats just for my own pleasure at the rate you’re goin-”
“She’s hiding out in King’s Fell. She’s in an underground basement at a Pub there, I don’t know the name of it, but-”
“But I think you do,” Kakoda let his sword hit the floor and grabbed a fist full of hair from the back of my head again and pulled me up so I was facing Loki. I was quivering with fear; this is going to be the last face I ever see is all I could think.
Loki kept eye contact with me as he whispered, “the Pub is called the Cathedral. That’s where Esmeralda is. I swear, just don’t hurt Anna.”
“I don’t remember making a promise like that. In fact, I don’t remember making any deal to trade information for her life… or yours. Edgar, if you’ll do the honours.” Kakoda motioned to Loki. The Grim pulled Loki to his feet to murder him, which is more than I had expected form the savage.
In one swift movement Kakoda’s sword was back in his brawny hand and running towards my body with skill and speed, and in the same moment Loki jerked his hands and his dragon arms torn me away from death. He leapt at Kakoda, his scale covered body towered over the big man, and an animalistic roar boomed from his still human lips with such force it blew back the hair on Kakoda’s head. Wings sprung from his back, immense, beautiful shining green and blue wings. Another great boom thundered from Loki, but this time flames flickered from his lips. I looked away but I still smelt searing flesh as Kakoda let out one last painful cry. The sound lingered in my ears, just like Cassidy’s cries.
When I finally drew in a deep breath and looked at the scene Loki had ‘powered down’ and was placing a piece of cloth from his torn tonic over Kakoda’s face, but I still saw the red, mutated skin.
Loki fell to his knees next to the corpse, drained from the metamorphosis. The muscles in his back quivered from the strain under his light brown skin.
“You’ve just condemned yourselves to Taratarus, you murdering dogs,” Reek and Edgar rose from behind the bar, where they’d cowered from Dragon-Loki, for their vengeance.
“Come on, get up!” I begged desperately. I struggled to pull Loki to his feet, and ran to the balcony while pulling him behind me.
“You’re just making this easier for us to kill you, girl. I’m going to put my sword through your gut and throw you off that ledge like a dead rat.”
The Grims drew their swords and strolled towards us. We had our backs to the balcony. We were cornered.
Loki whispered, “Why did you bring us out here? The stairs were right there...”
The blades crept closer.
“Trust me,” I whispered back.
I couldn’t save Cassidy, I thought, but maybe, just maybe, I can save him.
I threw my arms over Loki and the next moment we were falling through the air towards the deadly stone road, and then we were safe and I save him and I was no longer weak and Cassidy forgave me. The cart we landed in trotted along the road. I pulled off my jacket and used it to conceal us from the eyes peering over the balcony with bewilderment.
Around the corner we silently slipped out of our free ride and slid under a stables railing. “Shh,” I whispered to the dark winged beauty. The Pegasus nuzzled my hand with it soft warm nose and Loki edged on its bridle, never taking his eyes off the men standing a few metres away. I nimbly swung my leg over her. The reins in my hands promised a quick escape from the beautiful city and from the evil it boasted. Loki swung open the gate.
The men saw us. “Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Thieves! Thieves!” I pulled Loki onto the mount as the biggest of the men ran at us and grabbed crazily at us for a hold on one of the thieving scoundrels on his prized Pegasus.
“Fly!” I cried to no affect.
Loki kicked wildly at her flanks and she finally took flight, just too late. Loki clung to me desperately and kicked in a frenzied attempt to throw the man’s grip on his foot. Behind us I could hear the hard, heavy steps of the Grims. I looked down at the man, his face was distorted in anger. With every bit of strength I had left I threw my foot at his face. He fell to the ground in a puddle of red and we the left ground. I peered back at the Grims. They were only seconds too late to but their blades through our thudding hearts.
Soon enough Quarry was in the distance, just a speck behind us. Loki moved his face close to mine.
“Now, Anna Rose, how shall I repay you?” He jested. His smile hadn’t lost any of its charm.
“Repay me for what?”
“For saving my life, silly. Twice, I might add. Ah, I know.”
He kissed me lightly; his lips were soft and warm. He lent back and grinned triumphantly.
“Was that sufficient?”
“Hmmm,” I pretended to think the proposal over, “nah, not quite.”
I kissed him, hard.
The baby never slept through the whole night, he would always mummer or softly cry in the early mornings, babbling for a bottle.
“Anna,” Loki didn’t even open his eyes when he rolled over to address me. “It’s your turn.”
“No it’s your turn, I put him to bed.”
With that he reluctantly opened his eyes and stumbled to the kitchen. Morning light was seeping in between the curtains. Crisp light came down on Anthos in his cot next to our bed, like little lightning bolts kissing his chest as it rose and fell with the gibberish he was muttering. My Lighteningborn baby.
Loki came back into our bedroom, a bit more animated than when he practically sleep-walked out. He delicately picked up Anthos, who looked magnificent in his bare roundness. Loki fed the small round thing in his arms; all the while he played a lullaby on his silver flute. The lullaby was one from Oros, it was his favourite. He played it through the long nights in the homeless shelter in Sydney. Music filled the bus when we travelled to the tiny farm we slaved to buy. He sung me back to sleep with it when the nightmares woke me. Eventually I stopped seeing Cassidy’s blood stained face every time I closed my eyes, but the nightmares still torture my subconscious. He played the flute while we painted our little house and when we put in the windows and lay down the cracked timber floor. Then, years later, he played it to my enormous belly and ran his fingers along the stretched skin that held back the newest member to our run-away family.
A chubby, satisfied face framed by his father’s ebony black curls leant on my lover’s bare shoulder and watched the morning light flutter and shift around the room in deep awe. Loki tapped Anthos on the back and, with a burp, a little red-orange flare escaped from his lips before vanishing into smoke.