Do you see anything?
Hush. It sounded like nothing more than a sigh, so distant was Cara’s admonition. Lisan felt a pain deep in her chest at the unfamiliar distance between them. She crouched low over Herun’s neck as the horse raced toward the forest.
Come back to me, Lisan thought. Cara was lost to sight now, so high had she circled into the clear blue skies. How long was it since Cara had been so distant?
Never, was the simple answer. The Hawkmasters had the chosen egg, as large as a newborn babe, placed in the crib with them; the warmth of the infant nurturing it until the cracks began to form and the child helped free the bird of its prison. From that moment, hawk and Hawkmaster were inseparable. Until now.
I see something, a house — an island in the sky. The thought was weak, desperate, more terrible than any arrow in Lisan’s heart.
There was a crashing in the undergrowth behind her and some foul, guttural cries.
There is a road beyond the forest. Head west, my love. So faint, barely heard over the whips of the branches and the rustle of the leaves and the eager snarls from behind.
With a sharp pull of the reins and a scattering of dirt, Lisan veered to the west; twigs and branches clawing at her face like greedy fingers.
But it wasn’t the sounds of savagery and death behind her that Lisan feared; it was the sound of that rapid, wheezing breath, that fluttering heart far above.
Faster, Lisan. They are gaining.
Herun screamed as Lisan sawed the reins, dirt and clumps of moss flying high into the air. A black, clawed hand reached for her. An image flashed before Lisan: her brother lying on the lawn of Kirue Castle, his belly slashed open by claws so like those that ripped through the air behind.
Not now, Lisan. There will be time enough for grieving once you are safe. A felled tree before you. Now!
Lisan kicked her heels and with a cry, she was over the fallen oak. And then they were free of the trees and onto a flat, grassy plain before a road lined by white stones. Roars of fevered excitement as the Yakin emerged from the forest, running on their six black legs; teeth sharp and yellow.
Don’t surrender, my love. Cara soared overhead, her flight oddly skewed. So graceful she had been in the tournaments of Kirue Castle. Cara had won them all and Lisan had basked in her glory as lords and ladies in yellows and reds and greens had touched the silver pins on her breast and smiled through their teeth.
A break in the road ahead. Take the left fork. Nearly there, Lisan. Can you hear the berragulls soaring over the sea?
Even now her world was at an end, Lisan still depended on Cara. The hawk was not flying nearly so high now. She could have escaped long before; she could be on this island in the sky.
Never think such things. Without you, there is no life.
Herun was tiring, the Yakin gaining with every step. Their claws tore the earth as they ran.
The island in the sky. A rock hovering above the crashing waves; wiry bushes and trees growing from every fissure. And on top of this great rock was a sprawling stone house shaped to the contours of the island, its roof bright and red.
A place of beauty. Cara should be there now, safe from the hunt of the Yakin. Instead she hovered and fretted like an outraged parent.
There was a bridge of red wood spanning the gap between the island and the cliff.
Ten, fifteen, twenty Yakin now chased Lisan. Some still had dark blood splashed across a horned helmet or snarling face. Cara turned and screamed at the pursuers. She grabbed a Yakin in her talons and dragged it over the edge of the cliff.
A spatter of blood and a scream of pain as black claws lashed through Herun’s flank. Lisan’s sword slid smoothly into her hand and she chopped the Yakin’s arm off at the elbow.
Herun sped toward the bridge. But it was no use. Three more Yakin fell under Lisan’s sword and another was bloodied under the talons of Cara. Still more emerged from the forest.
People were running out of the house on the island. Old men, women and children watching the horror approach. The Yakin had brought the world of the Hawkmasters to an end in one night. She couldn’t lead them to yet more prey.
Goodbye, my love. Fly free without me.
She held the sword high over her head. Two downward strokes and the bridge was sundered, Cara’s cry of anguish tearing the air as the bridge swung limply under the island in the sky. Lisan hauled Herun around to face the Yakin, their black shells glinting under the afternoon sun.
Herun stepped and paced in stark terror. Lisan hadn’t been the only one to see what the monsters had done to the Hawkmasters of Kirue Castle.
Cara circled overhead, her keening cries painful to hear. I can carry you. I’ll carry you to safety.
You are too weak, Cara. Fly free without me, my love. A tap of the flat of her blade against Herun, and the horse was away, running faster than ever before.
Three Yakin who came too close were torn to bloody shreds by Cara. And Lisan was free, Herun powering them from the cliff in one leap. The white foam of the waves far below and the blue sky overhead.
The sheer beauty of the freedom. For just a moment, it seemed like the very air held them aloft.
One final thought. A gentle brush of her mind:
Fly free, Lisan my love.
Martin Turton lives in East Yorkshire, England with his wife and three daughters. His work has appeared in The Rage of the Behemoth anthology, Flashing Swords, Reflections Edge, Abandoned Towers, Allegory, Ray Gun Revival and others.
This story was sponsored by
Rotten Little Animals — An unnatural novella by Kevin Shamel. Animals are people too! And that is messed up. It’s a crazy ride from the backyard to the Big Time. Zombie-cats, car chases, puppet shows, kidnapping! Fear your pets from this day forward…