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The way forward

Brenzel dipped her hand in the river flowing northwards. It was cold, clear. Cupping her hand, lifting some water to her mouth, she swallowed. It felt so good on her throat, which was parched from sun and dust. She pushed the water skin into the flow, pressing the air out, allowing it to fill quickly from the force of the current. Flipping the strap over her shoulder, she wrung her bandana out, then put it around her neck. The cold felt good.

“Those mountains look mighty high,” Fallon said, looking up at them from the valley floor, wiping the grime off her face and tying her hair back out of the way – again.

“I don’t like it,” Brenzel said, standing and turning to look back toward their group, busy preparing for the day’s trek.

“I know what you mean,” Fallon gestured toward the way they came, “something’s following us. I’ve felt it since yesterday.”

It’s true, Brenzel thought, their guts felt like they were being watched, shadowed, but just out of sight. Whatever it was, it moved when they moved, stopped when they stopped. . .so patient. The hair on the back of her neck had stood up several times as they moved along, only to have that sense of dread disappear shortly thereafter. It felt evil.

Grouchers above

Then those awful, ugly birds, the ones Damian called grouchers, began circling overhead late yesterday, watching, waiting…for what?

“Which way are we going today?” Damian asked as he neared the two women at the river.

Brenzel searched her feelings, then said, “I think we should keep to the river as long as we can.”

“I agree,” the Hadite said, but added, “we’ll need to find a pass over those mountains. Meha thinks there’s a village up ahead, but she isn’t sure. If she’s right, they might be able to show us a way over.’

Nodding in Damian’s direction, Brenzel added, “Have you felt it?”


“Who do you think it is?”

“Hopefully, just curious locals, but that blast makes me think it could have something to do with the Tech Wizard. It won’t take him long to realize he didn’t get us. Derek noticed it, too. Good call the other day, by the way,” Damian added, looking at her with appreciation.

“Thanks,” Brenzel said, smiling a little and looking away.


Walking along the trail, in her mind, Brenzel continued to speak with Komae about many things. Most of the time, people didn’t know they were communicating, because the Halan was either at the head, with Damian, or bringing up the rear with Derek. But they were enjoying each other’s private thoughts immensely.

It always keeps far enough away that I can’t know exactly what it is, but it’s not human, the Forest Warden confided.

What do you mean, ‘not human?’ Brenzel thought back.

Dark Tech, not human, like a dragon. . . but not exactly.

Great, Brenzel thought, as she looked behind them.

Did you see the eyes last night? Komae asked.

No, but I felt like I was being watched, I couldn’t sleep much.

I saw it. Two red, glowing eyes in the distance up on the hill.

Brenzel thought back to the Hellion she saw outside the window at Charlie’s house, then remembered Von Roar in the war. She asked Komae, Do you think it is one of those things I saw?

Experiencing her memory of the red eyes looking up at Brenzel through the window, then the demon with four horns, Komae nodded in her mind, pulling back, repelled by the sight.

A shiver went down the small of Brenzel’s back, knowing that the last time she saw one of those, Dove had taken her away rather than letting her face it.


Brenzel led her pony as they walked, paying attention to the rocky trail in front of her. Her braided rope suddenly pulled stiff, and as she looked behind, the pony’s head lifted up. “Come on,” she said, pulling harder.

The animal shook his head back and forth, refusing to budge. Remembering Thunder, the horse she rode in Elysia, she moved near the pony, stroking his mane, “I’m sorry you have to come with us, but we need your help. Please.”

The pony seemed to relax a bit. Brenzel dug through the saddle bag and found his oats, offering him some with the palm of her hand held flat. His lips deftly ate all but a few grains, chomping happily in a grinding motion. “There,” she scratched his ears, “is that better?”


Damian and Derek came into view as Brenzel caught up with the group. Derek was looking intently through his spy glass at the mountains, then he lowered it, talking with the commander. Damian raised and looked through the glass where Derek pointed.

Brenzel looked up to the peak they seemed to be watching but couldn’t make out anything but snow and rock.

“What is it?” Brenzel asked as she came near.

“A marauder airship. They’re behind that peak up there on the right,” Damian said, pointing in that direction.

Marauders? You mean bandits?

Yest, Damian replied, sky pirates, an unsavory lot and dangerous if you nothing to trade, but in these parts, their the best way over the mountains and across the salt flats.

Derek collapsed his spy glass and tucked it securely in its bag. “I don’t likes it. We’re too exposed heres on the flats. If theys attack, we’s got no cover.”

“Meha thinks there’s a village up in the valley,” Damian said, pointing down the path in front of them. “If we can make it there by nightfall, we’ll be protected enough. Marauders won’t attack that many people at once.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Brenzel said, looking at the V in the hills up ahead. Her feet felt sore as she stared at the long path in front of them.


Stopping for a rest that afternoon, Brenzel excused herself from the company, venturing off for a long call a fair distance into the scrub underbrush. Fallon offered to come with her, but she said she would be fine. Though she really did have to go, it was more of an excuse to be alone with her thoughts. She counted off the steps, getting out at least 500 hundred paces just to make sure.

Afterward, raising her pants, redoing her belt, she sat down on a convenient rock, removing her boots and socks so she could rub her feet. The sandy ground felt good between her toes as she wiggled them in it. Sighing, she tipped her hat visible, then on the side, making her trunk appear. Opening it carefully, she reached for the letter drawer, heart beating faster. She’d been disappointed so many times lately, she almost dared not…A letter!

Her feet left the ground as she jumped for joy and snatched it from where it lay. She could feel that it was thick with paper. He wrote at a lot!

“Awe,” she said out loud, spying wrapped pieces of candy laying in the drawer, too. Picking one up, she unwrapped it, tasting it, slowly feeling the fine chocolate melt in her mouth.


“Dear Brenzel,

I apologize for my lack of writing, I hope you are well. I think about you often, and I have been meaning to write for days, but I’ve had so many things come up, I couldn’t find the time. However, today, I promised myself that, no matter what, I would make time for you one way or another.”

That is so sweet, Brenzel thought, smiling and feeling the texture of the fine parchment with her fingers, seeing his flowing script on it.

No matter how long or short, oddly enough, Joshua never told her much about his work, but mostly related personal stories, often funny, or news about different Seraphs, or people he met. Today, however, he said,

“I visited my home by the Seven Sisters and spent some time with my horse, Perion. We rode at sunset and looked over the ocean, almost at the very place where you and I first talked. I told him all about you and some of your adventures. He, of course, never says anything, but I think he understands, anyway.

Brenzel chuckled out loud.

“Later that evening, as I sat in front of the fireplace writing this letter to you, I remembered you sharing your heart about Iris. I cannot begin to fathom how difficult it is to be separated from her, but I want you to know that eventually everything will work out. I admire you for believing that I haven’t forgotten my promise. As you can imagine, by now, there is a lot going on around us and it’s important that we allow events to unfold as they are meant to be.

“If you would be open to it, I would very much like to go on a coffee date with you at your favorite shop and try some of that Yemeni mocha you mentioned. I am hoping to make time to be with you soon.

Brenzel, I am proud of you,



Date? Brenzel fixated. Like – like a ‘boy and girl date’? From her time spent riding around on Route 66 and experiencing American culture, she new that “date” was like courting in Old England.

She paused, looked around, then read that last part again, trying to catch his meaning for sure…it sounded like he wanted to spend time with her personally, get to know her, like…

No, he couldn’t have meant that…he’s just being friendly. But he talked to Perion about me, she thought re-reading that portion twice. He’s thinking about me – definitely. He remembers where we first talked, too…

“You fool, he’s out of your league,” she said out loud. “Don’t let yourself imagine things that aren’t there.”

But the chocolate! That was confirmation wasn’t it? A man doesn’t give sweets to a friend…he must…


Just then a big blast, like a huge gun, rang out overhead. Looking up, she saw the hull of a flying ship pass over, another blast issuing from it’s side.

Shit! Brenzel thought, quickly folding the letter and tipping her luggage away.

She heard smaller fire come from the ground in return, then it stopped.

Brenzel crept back toward her friends as fast as she could, putting her socks and boots back on as she hopped. She was careful to keep covered by the underbrush, circling around to the side until she saw what was happening.

The marauder ship had come to rest mere feet above the scrub brush, with engines whirling slowly on the four points of the trusses.

Damian stood before an enormously fat man, obviously the pirate leader, with a white flag in his hand. A couple dozen men stood behind their large commander in front of the ship.

Something’s wrong, Brenzel felt.

She reached out for Komae, who said in her mind, It’s here.

Brenzel instantly understood what her Halan friend referred to.

It was behind the ship, she sensed it moving there. It had a foul presence, full of malevolence and malice.

Brenzel circled more, coming up behind her friends, asking Komae in her mind, Will your arrows have any effect on it? My friend shot the one I saw many times and it just got up like nothing happened!

Komae acknowledged that her arrows would only slow it down. They’d have to get on the ship and lift away if they hoped to avoid it.


It attacked like lightning. A hideous, four horned monster in human form, skull on fire, issued a unearthly scream. It raced up to the pirates, attacking a crew member, ripping the helpless man apart, throwing half his mutilated body against the ship, the other into the bushes. Blood flew everywhere.

The fat man, frozen in horror, simply watched, backing up a few feet, as another of his comrades met his grizzly fate.

The Hellion stood for a moment as it’s red eyes looked around at the remaining people. It’s burning feet set the grass on fire. As if coming to a decision, it advanced toward Derek, who held Fallon behind him.

Baring its fangs, it began to spring upon them both.

Gun out of her holster, Brenzel wasted no time. She fired true, and a bolt of white light shot directly into the flaming creature, exploding it in slow motion, parts of it flying in every direction. Then it froze in mid-air, gore everywhere, it’s skull still lit with those malevolent red, glowing eyes. Then, every piece of the monster rushed back together, imploding into nothing, with a whip like crack and a small smoke ring fanning out flat and disappearing too.

Stunned, everyone stood looking at what just happened, then turned to stare at Brenzel, holstering her gun, standing in full Seraph Hunter uniform.

Staring at the fat pirate commander, she said, “So, do we have a ride or not?”

Steam Ship Pirate – Abney Park