The Price

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day!

However, you celebrate today I hope you make it a great one. This 4th of July I am celebrating with an extra, longer flash fiction for the week.

Sometimes freedom has to be worked for and there’s always a cost.

Kira stumbled. Her knees sunk into the snow as the cold bite at her unprotected hands. “Get up,” Shayne said. Kira looked at him, her eyes aching with exhaustion. He stared at her jaw set against the exhaustion he must have felt as well. His pendant caught the sunlight, silver twining around a crystal of pure crystal. Jerking his head forward, Shayne plodding forward.

Bracing against a knee, Kira shoved herself up. Brushing off the snow she caught the furtive looks from the column as they watched her. Woman, children, and a scattering of men beyond those in the shield trudged through the cold winding their way over the peaks of the Ibelad range. Most limped anymore but there was no respite from the march. The carts had been abandoned days ago and stopping meant the legion would gain ground.

They watched her. Looking for signs that the shield was going to break. Kira rolled her shoulders releasing the strain of her pack before pushing forward to rejoin Shayne ignoring the looks. Shayne glanced at her as she approached and nodded.

They moved in silence. Kira licked her lips burning from pain. “Will we make it?” she asked.

Shayne glanced at her. Catching his own stumble and kept going. “There’s not a choice. We have to go.”

“I know,” Kira muttered. “I meant will we make it before the. . . they catch up.”

Shayne glanced back. “We’ll make it.” The words were determined. Too determined. Kira nodded and veered away from him dropping further back into the column. The refugees moved forward blind to her presence now that she was moving, except when she paused to help. Murmurs of gratitude would be offered before they’d set back into motion, eyes on the ground.

Shield she passed would nod as they wove around each other, but none stopped to talk. None ever did except Shayne and he had stayed forward. She’d reached the back of the line when a cry erupted from the front. Looking up she saw the head of the column at mountain’s ridge, another looming close beyond. Shayne stood waving an arm.

They had made it. Pushing her way forward, Kira touched arms and shoulders of refugees she passed and joined the other shield at the front of the column. Shayne and the others waited at the ridge.

Pushing herself up the last steep slope, she huffed looking at the view beyond. The valley was small sloping into a bowl. The next mountain’s walls rose sharply from the other side. At the bottom of the bowl was the dragon’s arch, with only a scrape of ground between it and the mountain.

“It exists.” Kira panted. Shayne grinned at her and began the descent, the rest of the shield spreading out around him.

Stars freckled the sky above growing in number as Shayne and the other shield, those awake, clustered about the arch. The ridge behind them was still empty, but how much longer would it stay that way? She shoulders itched with the need to move. Kira had been sent to sleep but was unable. Instead she paced the edge of the camp watching.

The edge of the ridge waivered in her vision. Raising her hands, Kira rubbed her eyes wearily, but the distortion didn’t end. Squinting she stared. That was not a distortion. “Legion,” she bellowed over the calm. Fisting her hands, she raced away from the camp and toward the approaching line as screams erupted behind him.

She winced sparing a moment for the abrupt awaking she’d caused, but then the moment to worry was gone. Green light surged along the line of the legion, a dozen, two dozen rotten stars gleaming on the earth.

Slamming her fists together her eyes widened as there was no accompanying burst of light. Dropping she slide over the snow as the first legion reached her, swinging his blight blade over her head. Rolling she came up on the far side of him, his comrades far too close. She banged her fists together but still nothing. Lights, she should have slept. Kira retreated sideways and screamed as the first’s blade rushed through the air at her.

White light flared in the darkness and Shayne’s bright blade shunted the blight to the side. He moved in front of her, glancing briefly at her hands. “Get back to camp.” He turned his back to her and moved into the foe, more points of light blooming around them. The shield had arrived.

And she’d been useless.

She fell back several paces watching the battle. They were holding. The legion hadn’t arrived in the numbers and those few who’d advanced were falling quickly to the shield. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the refugees pushing back toward the dragon arch, none quite breaking the warning and entering it. She watched as eyes grew wide on faces suddenly clearly visible in the night. Visible and bathed in green light.

Spinning, Kira looked up at the ridge, lined with green points of light. The body hadn’t been far behind the scouts then.

Shayne turned sideways looking at the shield to either side. The legion held the ridge and the arch was silent. They’d failed.

“Shield.” Shayne raised his bright blade above his head, the sword flaring for a moment and driving back the green light. He surged forward the rest following. “No.” Kira stumbled forward following her comrades into the headlong dive, the legion angling down to meet them.

“No.” Kira cried again. Shayne met the point of the legion and she saw the blades, swirl about him and into him. “No.” Clenching white light erupted blinding her as she felt the familiar grip in her hands. The surge of light around her grew a bubble around her. As Kira reached the edge of the legion’s line. She felt their bodies impact her bubble and bounce away.

The shield nearest her raised his arm, shielding his eyes as she approached. Reaching Shayne, she dropped to her knees as screams erupted behind them. Had the legion circled them? She shoved the thought away. Shayne’s armor was sliced, and black lines showed where the blight blade had cut, green rivulets spreading from the lines and disappearing within.

“Shayne,” she whispered. Releasing a bright blade, Kira took his hand. He gasped at her touched, his eyes snapping open. He looked at her mouth gapping as he struggled for breath. She leaned forward pressing her forehead against his.

“The gate’s open!” The cries finally broke through. Twisting, Kira looked behind and saw the ball of light beyond the arch. The first of the refugees were shoving their way through.

“How?” Kira whispered.

A hand touched her shoulder and she turned to look at Shayne. “Can’t you see it?” He asked sitting up. He touched her other hand, the one still holding her second bright blade. Kira looked down at her blade and the light seeping from it, to the bubble still surrounding them and stream of light running from it and back to the arch behind.

Kira glanced at his and gasped. The black lines were leeching from his skin and the rivulets were gone. Shayne stood, tearing the pendant from his shoulder. Placing it in her hands he closed her fingers around them. “Lead them to freedom,” Shayne said.

“Shayne?” she asked looking at her closed hand. The commanders pendant, but why? Why would he give that to her? She looked back up to ask her question and screamed instead. Shayne charged toward the ridge, bright blades trailing behind and two shields on either side. They reached the edge of her bubble and surged toward the legion. “Shayne!” Hands grabbed Kira as she screamed dragging her away.

Kira twisted in their grip but was unable to break it. Her boots scrapped against the ground as she tried to slow and go to his aid. The ignored her attempts speeding instead toward the dragon arch. Blight blades surrounded the three bright blades. Kira screamed again as she was pulled backward through the arch and into the blinding white light.

The world resettled around them into a green field. The refugees littered the grass like wilting flowers as she looked around. There was no dragon arch here and no way back. Shield surrounded her, the last ones through.

Kira pulled her arms free finally and dropped to the ground crying. “We made it,” a voice ventured hesitantly nearby. Kira looked up scowling. They’d made it, but not all had.

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