Fallen Flight

Thayrin felt the ground beneath his feet again. He swayed, fighting to keep his balance. The red haze that had surround the Shroud for weeks beforehand was gone. But the Forest they once knew had changed. It was silent. Deathly so. The stream that he had been fishing at was dry, dust covered the now overturned tackle box, spears, shafts and iron heads lay strewn everywhere. Boulders were upended, and large cracks ran though the earthen underbrush that were not there before. And the trees... were all dry, singed looking; leaves fluttered down as branches curled upwards. He could not even feel the elementals' presence that had been once so numerous.

"Oh no," he said his eyes wide as he glanced over the area. "Rylea?" She tugged at his arm-sleeve.

"Do you think Mommie and your Father are okay?" she asked.

"I don't know." He replied as he started to move towards home, still clutching the aethreal lance. Rylea was right on his heels. Finally the wilted forest gave way to the commune's clearing.

But it was gone.

All gone.

The workshops, the waterwheel, the kilns and anvils. What little wreckage remained hung oddly from the giant corrupted crystals that skewered the once flat common-ground. Yet, were were no bodies. Clothes were scattered everywhere, piled as if they once were wrapped around their owners, yet flat on the ground. Rings, ear-cuffs and bracelets were strewn not far, seemingly discarded. Out of the corners of the clearing danced a couple of bloated boggies; wobbly spheres with tiny, winglike flaps and a tail; the spirits of those who refused to move on. They clung to the shadows and seemed to not be a current threat to the children.

"Mommie?" Rylea called, one her tiny hands cupped about her mouth to make an impromptu megaphone, while the other still clung to the aethereal bow. "Mommie!"

Thayrin wandered to where the woodshop had been and where most of the empty clothes where piled. It was there he found his father's favorite shirt... and a pair of wedding rings laying on top of each other next to it. His heart hurt. His stomach buried itself deep inside his ribcage. He trembled.

He felt Rylea come along side him.

"Where did Mommie go," she asked.

"I think..." Thayrin started, then stopped, fighting the blockage in his throat. He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. "They were swept into the Aetheral Sea, just like we almost were."

Rylea started to shake as well. She turned and buried herself into his arm.

Thayrin placed his free hand on her head. A moment later, he pushed her away, as he clutched his aethreal lance tighter.

"We're not alone," he muttered under his breath. He felt Rylea's back against his, heard the pull of her bowstring.

Into view an Ixal stepped from the forest edge, followed by another and another until 10 or so faced the children. Their blue-green feathers ruffled, toothy beaks clacked at the stagnate air. They looked bruised and battered, with feathers missing in patches, sporting hastily bound wounds and tired, bloodshot eyes.

"This all your fault," one clacked, his voice throaty yet shrill. "Fault of feather-less ones."

Thayrin shook his head.

"We don't know what happened." He said.

"SQuwaAK!" another of the bird-men screeched. "Red moon fall, all world change! We care not if you hatchling - you pay for destroying home!"

"Please, we don't want to hurt you," Thayrin pleaded. The Ixal charged. But the first one to move was the first one to fall, an aethreal arrow piercing his breast.

Thayrin could feel his body move on it's own, his legs taught with the sudden spring of energy propelling himself forward. He could just make out arrows zipping past his head, yet no fear did they induce. Something deep inside trusted their aim.

The battle was a blur, and clearly the desperate Ixal were no match for the two kids baring Hydalen's blessings. Thayrin and Rylea watched as the birdmen scattered, hissing and pulling their unconscious friends with away.

He relaxed his shoulder, his knees felt weak, and he became aware of his entire body all at once, complaining about being pushed far beyond the limits of what it was use to. But it was Rylea who sunk down until she sat on the forest floor, gasping for air.

"Are you all right?" he asked. The aethreal lance in his hand dissipated, it's aether danced in a sparkling cloud before it vanished from sight, then left behind a broken shaft, the unheld parts tumbled to the ground. A moment later, the purple, dragon-runed soulstone fell from his hand, disappearing before it ever hit the dirt of the common-yard.

"Nya!" She looked up at him, beaming a bright smile of relief. Her own toy-bow, lay at her feet in shatters. Her joy shifted as the kitten held back the tears in her eyes.

"What do we do nyow?" She mewed.

Thayrin knelt down and wrapped his arms around Rylea. He held her for a long time, until the tears stopped following.

"We..." he started as he loosened his grip, "we head to Camp Tranquil. Maybe the Wailers there have survived."

Rylea looked up at him with giant, watery, purple eyes.

"But Mommie?"

Thayrin stood and took her hand into his.

"We're on our own now," he said. "But that doesn't mean they aren't watching over us."

She nodded, her ears bobbling behind.

"Come along, little sister," he said.

"We'll be okay, brother," she replied, forcing a smile on her chubby, tear-streaked face.