Golden Tide (Song of the Aura, Book Four)

BOOK: Golden Tide (Song of the Aura, Book Four)
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Golden Tide

Golden Tide

 

Song of the Aura: Book Four

 
 
 
 
A Novel by Gregory J. Downs
 
Copyright 2011
 
 
To my parents.
 
Is there any more one can say?
 
 

 
 

 
 

 
Prologue: The Tramp of Doom
 
 

Vail Kammerdan, Wind Strider of Vastion, had always dreamed of giving his life for his kingdom... he had just never supposed the chance would come like it did.

 

A storm was brewing on the horizon, darker and fiercer than any Vail had ever seen. It seemed as if the thunderheads were slowly eating away at the sky, consuming it mile by mile, ready to devour the heavens. Below him, the world crawled by at the mesmerizing rate he had come to know so well when flying.

 

For days the land of Vastion had been a carpet of rolling, forested foothills beneath him. As Vail kept watch, though, the foothills grew taller, higher, and stronger, until they were bastions of sharp-edged, flat-faced, blue-tinted stone: Stormness, the Rain Mountains. It was a sight to see, dark and forbidding under the gathering storm, but majestic enough to steal one's breath away.

 

Skreeeeeeeeeeee!
The call of Windwing, the far-eagle that bore Vail and his companion, rent the air with its harsh beauty. The gigantic bird swooped almost low enough to brush the tops of the mountains, which had begun to be dappled by snow. The crisp, cold air at the roof of the world nearly ripped Vail's breath from his lungs, but he had long since grown used to the high altitudes.

 

“Silence, Windwing,” urged Vail's companion, “We know not what awaits us.” The far-eagle twitched its head as it felt the command with both hearing and mind, as well as through a gentle but firm tug on the steering lines. It ended the call and flew on in silence.

 

By now the far-eagle's flight was taking them between cliffs and peaks as both Vail and his companion scanned the landscape below them with practiced eyes. After several minutes had gone by, however, there seemed to be no sign of their destination.

 

“I see nothing, Windmaster,” Vail murmured without stopping his search to glance at his companion. Windmaster Karanel Winter had been his friend for years, and his master for even more, but she would spare him nothing if he let his attention stray, even now... especially now.

 

“How many times must I tell you, Vail?” his master sighed, shifting her position at his side, “You need more than your eyes to see...” Windmaster Karanel was scarce fifteen years older than he, and the youngest Windmaster in Vastion, but she never ceased to have something undeniably
wise
to say. As familiar as he was with her, Vail never lost the sense of awe he felt when in her presence.

 

“I'm not sure I understand, Ka- Windmaster,” Vail shivered in the chilly, rushing air, and tried to mumble his way past the slip in her title.

 

“Nor did you the last three times I told you,” Karanel said with mock ferocity. Then, to Vail's surprise, she turned from keeping watch and nudged him to look at her. With an awkward twist Vail brought himself into a rough kneeling position facing her, unsure of what would come next.

 

The Windmaster's pale braid whipped back and forth behind her as she pursed her lips, staring hard at her student while still keeping a ready hand on Windwing's steering lines.

 

“Wind Striding is more than just jumping higher and leaping farther than anyone else, Vail. It's more than just controlling the wind... it's
listening
to it as well. The sky has a voice... it has currents just like the sea- we can all feel them. It has colors, too, only most people can't see them. Listen to the wind, and then maybe you will finally see the sky for what it is.”

 

“I... I'll try,” Vail stammered, knowing he'd missed an important point and now had to have it explained to him.

 

“No, you'll
do
it,” Karanel told him, patting his shoulder with a free hand. “I know you can, Vail. Just keep trying- you have a fine future ahead of you.”

 

“But what if we've missed it talking just now?”

 

“We haven't,” was all she said before turning to scan the mountains again. Vail wondered how she could have sensed that- could she really be that powerful? He didn't doubt it.

 

Bowing his head, he moved back into his former position and let his eyes graze the swiftly moving landscape beneath them. The wind and floating snow seemed to rush at him from all angles, every solitary flake visible and vital in his heightened state of awareness.

 

The first snowflake brushed his cheek, carried by a winter breeze. Vail started violently, almost upsetting his place on Windwing, and causing the far-eagle to emit a high-pitched moan of distress.

 

“Vail! What's wrong?” Windmaster Karanel was instantly responsive, but he could not answer her.

 

The frost... the wind... it felt like
fear
. It smelled of blood and iron, and it... it was menacing him. It was darkening... the sky was darkening... On the edge of his hearing, he thought he could hear screaming... What was happening?

 

“The
wind
...” he whispered hoarsely. “It's... it's...”

 

“Blast!” Karanel swore, and Vail winced at the Northland curse. “I can feel it! By Halla...”

 

“Wait, wait... I... I can see the wind! I can see it!” Vail could barely contain himself at the surge of mixed pride and fear. Whatever horrible thing had happened, the wind was bringing him news of it! He could see the currents like living things, flows of color and sound with individual meanings, instead of formless, howling bursts of air.

 

“Wind of the gods!” Karanel shouted, sending Windwing into a steep, right-turning dive. “There must be a battle raging in Amestone!”

 

Vail's face felt hot despite the cold that seared his body as the far-eagle shot towards a nearby mountain at a nearly vertical angle. The leather straps holding him and his master to their winged mount snapped taut but showed no signs of breaking, and he thanked the Creator in silence for it.

 

The stream of livid, horror-tainted wind should have been visible only to a master of Wind Striding, and somehow Vail knew there was something very wrong here... but Karanel was bent on completing their task, and he would obey her to the end.

 

He tried to speak, but the wind ripped his voice from his lungs and he gave up. The blue stone of the mountain began to darken the farther down they flew, until in the next moment it suddenly opened up in a phalanx of massive cavities that seemed to have been literally scooped out of the close-knit rocks. It looked like an enormous beehive, riddled with huge holes, open to the sky. Vail knew it to be the work of long-forgotten Stone Striders, a monument to a more powerful age, but he was too nervous now to care. What had happened to Amestone?

 

The churning, screaming wind carried a new voice, now. A new scent, too.

 

“Karanel!” Vail shouted over the noise, ignoring formality, “I smell smoke!”

 

“I don’t,” she hissed, leaning forward over Windwing so far he thought she might fall. “But I see it… look!”

 

Vail saw it now, and cursed his own inattentiveness. A thick spiral of sooty blackness was being carried on the wind, up from a cavity in one of the mountains nearest to them. Windmaster Karanel clicked her tongue and tugged on the lines, sending Windwing swooping towards it.

 

YOU ARE TOO LATE, SKY-CHILDREN.
The thunderous voice broke through Vail’s mind like a mattock through ice, and he screamed involuntarily, arching his back and clutching at his skull as if he thought he could rip the alien presence out of his head. Dimly he heard Karanel whimpering- and that more than anything broke him down.

 

TOO LATE TO SAVE THEM.

BOOK: Golden Tide (Song of the Aura, Book Four)
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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