The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 1 continues:
“Fear not, my dear, fear not at all.” It was the rounder man. He spoke in a soothing way. “All is alright. You are with friends. I am Morio and I shall keep you safe.”
But Jixy turned away and pointed back at the sky. “What is it? Where did Daddy go?”
The curious crowd, suddenly braver, filled the void around them, planting a ring of firestalks in the black soil.
“It’s a bird.”
“It’s a wing without a bird.”
“No, look, it is skin and meat.”
“But alive. A slab of flesh that flies.”
“What beast is sliced knuckle thick and lives?”
It flapped slowly to an entrancing rhythm, holding steady in the air. The other two figures, yet enshrouded, loomed ominously behind.
Morio whispered, “That, my dear, is an og, and a very fine one at that. But I’m afraid that I don’t know your daddy. Perhaps we can find him together.”
He stepped in closer and stroked her cheek with a stubby but gentle hand. “Why, look, you have eyes of tan like mine. What is your name, my little color cousin?”
“Jixy…” She paused for a moment, as if remembering. “Jixy Poxum Mox.”
“Well then, Lady Mox,” he said with a nod, “It is my most pleasurable honor to meet you.”
She couldn’t help but giggle at the sweet, fat face, so softly framed by a mop of curls long and richly brown that sat on his head like a fernage bush. Morio motioned for the young man to put Jixy down and he took her by the hand.
The first edge of moonrise cut the coming night, spilling from the heavens some of summer’s wealth. It washed over all in pale gold and shadow.
The young woman plunged the staff of her torch into the ground, then clapped her hands twice. At that the og took off and flew a wide loop back between the other two, disrobing them on its course. Then it glided to the old, gray Liar’s Tree where it wrapped around a twisted bough.
“What trick is this?!” yelled an elderwoman, shaking her toiling stick at the sky.
“Two more of these wing things?”
But these were bigger than the first, and hairy. Free of their disguise, they began to dart in all directions, one with a cackling shriek, the other a low growl. At each pass they took aim at each other, crashing violently over the heads of the folk. They slapped and nipped entangled, tumbling nearly to the ground.
Some boys pushed their way to the front of the crowd for a closer look. Three of them, the brothers Hurx, came with pummel stones and a mind to use them. Pyr was not the oldest, but he had the reddest hair of them all and knew what to do.
He raised his stone high and proclaimed the words he had learned so well. “Strangers die in Syland! Says the Semperor!” Then he fired. And then did his brothers.
The gourd-shaped stones traced a crude arc to their target, lurching head over handle at the nearest og. One fell short, another long, but Pyr’s was true and strong.
The pummel stone splintered, raining shards on the folk of the field. The og, unhurt, flapped furiously and turned back at the boys.
“What armor wears that warbird?” wondered Pyr’s elder brother Ayr.
“I think we’re soon to learn,” said Pyr, squinting at the sky. “It comes.”
The angry og dove and the crowd fell back in a great commotion. But the brothers, though defenseless, held their ground.
“Here lad!” called the elderwoman, hurling Pyr her irony wooden rod. He plucked it from the air and in the same sure motion swatted at the fierce flesh of prey.
Suddenly, Pyr was on his back looking starward. His ringing hands held half of the broken toiling stick. He shook his head, confused. “Brothers, did I slay it? Is it killed?”
“No Pyr, no,” answered Ayron, the youngest. “It wheels for more… its twin too.”
“Rise brother,” said Ayr, pulling Pyr to his feet. “Together we face these headless hunters, live or die!” Each took grip of the shattered stick and they held it up against their foe.
Someone screamed. “Please don’t harm them! Please!” It was Jixy. She bounded away from Morio and into the fray between the boys and beasts.
“Careful dear! Those are from the wild.” Morio turned quickly to the young man. “John Cap?”
But John Cap was not there. He had shadowed Jixy’s jump and now stood guard, towering over her and the sons of Hurx on the field of battle. There they watched him draw his mighty right forearm to his own lips and softly speak four words of a tongue they did not know. And then before their wide eyes, a blade-thin shield unfolded from that limb, springing into form as a curved oval shell that parried the ogs’ aerial blows just as they were landed to the sound of hard, heavy thuds.
“He is well armed,” said Ayron innocently.
“Who is this warrior?” questioned Ayr.
“No Sylander,” muttered Pyr under his breath.
The assault was over. John Cap’s armor rolled up and vanished just as quickly as it had appeared, and the two wild ogs came to land in the sweetgrass and half-light just behind the commanding young woman. They seemed even more imposing on the ground, quivering masses of muscle and flesh as wide as a plainsman’s reach.
She turned to them and spoke with the tone of a mother to her wayward boys. “You’ve had your sport. Now off with you,” and she pointed to the north. “Go.”
The pair took flight again, but this time whimpering away into the night sky. At last sight, before the far had swallowed them whole, they soared side by side, still poking and prodding one at the other, though maybe now more gently.
“Your help will not be forgotten,” said the young woman quietly.
“Goodbye friends!” called Jixy. “I’ll see you again.”
More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.