Now Fen and Awrin have to use every skill and trick that posses to escape the Shan Kingdom capital as it burns all around them.
By Christopher Robin Negelein
The wharf was worse than the streets but also added bobbing, unmoored boats and panicked people pushing and shoving with the unlucky ones already swimming in the river. Each place is worse than the last. Fen thought. We go from the kitchen, to the pot, right into the fire tonight.
The soldiers were here too. They had shoved all foreigners onto slave barges, olive, ebony and chalk-skinned people shoulder to shoulder with imperial bureaucrats, merchants and mercenaries who were chained together. Then one of the caravan survivors, Lord Vita, already in leg irons, looked in their direction. Please don’t see us, Fen thought. The urge to step further back in the shadows was strong, but the sudden movement would be more a tip-off than standing still. There was a moment when his gaze went from resigned to hatred before a guard pushed him onto the boat, his leg irons rattling.
The stare was long enough. A leader pointed in their direction and young red rebels raced down the wharf. The siblings bolted, but they couldn’t outrun the cry and alarm. Despite her exhaustion, Fen drew her sword and her trick scabbard while putting Arwin behind her.
The plan was for that to get him out of harm’s way for as long as possible while he watched her back. That plan was the first casualty.
“We have company, Heron,” Arwin said.
Why must he always state the obvious? She grunted, but kept the thought to herself. Time was better spent weighing her options, trying to find — no make — an escape route. She had been reacting to the whole night, no plan and no strategy. No, they were backed in a literal corner with no way out.
She spun to face her pursuers. “Go look for a boat, have dad tell you how to say ‘we can protect your boat with magic’.”
Arwin raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. While you dance with your new suitors? I think not.”
Fen blew a ginger strand out of her face. “I don’t care how you get the boat, but get one. I’m holding them off.” She reached out with her long arms and toppled some crates in front of her. If they tried to climb over, she would skewer them. “Go. Now.” She heard his footfalls faded into the chaos all around them.
Two young rebels raced down the wharf to be the first to try her, smirking. While she weighed more than the shortest young assailant and had reach on them, all the boys could see was long hair and her chest. Sadly, they didn’t see what happened to their friends. She smirked and tilted her head down. But I never tire of teaching this lesson, and these boys I could teach all day.
The young men clumsily wiggled around the crates while the others hung back. The chargers’ grins faded as she bellowed like a true clan warrior and stomped up to them as loudly as she could.
She straight-armed her sword as she barreled forward. Metal scabbard at the ready. Her focus and fury narrowed her gaze into tunnel vision. So she saw the archers only at the last second.
With an, “Oh, shit,” she dove for a crate. This is what those boys were grinning about. I lost my perspective. Arwin screamed something unintelligible behind her. Like a deer putting trees between her and a predator, she zigzagged towards him while keeping the crates between her and the flying arrows.
She dodged left as she heard an arrow dive in at the right. It bounced off a crate and clattered onto the wharf. They never stick in the wood like they do in the stories.
Fen then slid around a corner and found Arwin already climbing onto a river boat. She never slowed down. Taking a running leap while keeping her blades high to avoid cutting any passengers, she hit the crowded deck hard. Fen tried to stop rolling forward and getting tangled with the rest of the refugees. Her left shoulder banged into something. In the dark she wasn’t sure what it was but it hurt. There was no time to wallow in the pain.
She stood straight up and strode up to the starboard side of the deck trying, to hide her hurt by letting her left arm limply hold the scabbard. “Arwin. Now would be a good time.”
“No need to say it.” He sighed.” But it will be tricky to aim it without the red ball.”
“Yes, I’m sorry.”
Arrows, lit by the burning rags wrapped around them, arced beautifully towards the boat. She raced along the edge duckling around those leaning away from the projectiles. Putting herself in the way of the largest grouping of projectiles. People yelled at her.
She had no doubt that some refugees were screaming how insane she was. One fellow tried to grab her but she danced out of his reach as he pleaded with her. Even if they spoke the same language, he couldn’t have changed her mind. But he snagged her bad arm
Which sent shooting pains into her shoulder. Fen didn’t have time to gasp while she fought back the tears and bellowed at him. The man’s sense of self-preservation kicked in and he’s backed into the others.
Arrows descended on her like a rain of spikes. I only get one chance at this. Fen breathed out and inhaled slowly as the arrows crossed the water. One graceful swing with a flourish and five arrows bounced off her blade. The vibrations sent tingles up her good arm. Three other arrows skidded across decks to quickly be stomped out. One fell short as another sailed past and landed in the river with a “pfft.”
“Duck!” Arwin yelled.
From behind her, a gleaming streak shot over her and across the water. Diving towards the archers, Arwin’s haw buzzed the whole archer line. In their rush to avoid the razor-tipped avian, men ducked and screamed with one dropping his bow into the water. They were joined by the wharf rope that had been cut loose from the boat.
Enchanted smoke trailing from every vent and joint, the clockwork bird made another pass.