Shadows of the Keepers: Chapter 39

Chaos in the Capital

  As his last act in life, Ediharitlan had ensured Eric would hit the water low and slow enough to survive. He struggled at his harness, lost his knife and finally worked the clasp free. He surfaced with a deep breath, sputtering as saltwater burned his eyes. A golden-brown slatted wing floated beside him, he turned and saw Ed’s body floating upside-down, eyes and beak open. Daring not to look at the wounds on his stomach, Eric reached out and put a hand on his head, hoping only then that his last bits of life faded, that he hadn’t died alone. He wept, splashing the water and unsure what to do.  
Rachel’s gryphon circled past overhead, emitting a low wail. Mourning. A wooden dock was nearby, he choked down a tear and paddled, stopping near it to look back at Ed. He couldn’t just leave him like that.
 
A brown-sleeved hand reached down from the dock. Eric saw the face of Brother Kasey, grabbed his hand, and was hauled up.
 
“I saw it all.” Kasey hugged him. “There was nothing you could have done.”
 
Eric wiped his eyes, looking around. A group of Franciscans were here, as were a half-dozen nuns in black habits, probably some of those who ran the orphanage for abandoned children outside the city. Two were helping Zandra bandage her hand.
 
“How is it?” Eric jogged over.
 
Zandra replied, “Doesn’t hurt the way it would for a human. Athena designed our pain perception differently.”
 
Still, she seemed at least unsettled. In the distance, Eric hear a roar—Tyrannosaur. A shadow passed overhead, Felden swung through a circle and landed on the dock with a thump, running over to check on Zandra.
 
“There’s dinosaurs running from the...big arena thing,” he said. “I think I saw a T. rex!”
 
Freed when the volor crashed into it, no doubt. Brilliant.
 
“I presume you have a plan,” Brother Kasey said. “What now?”
 
Eric looked up across the city, to Caesar’s Palace. “We go for the head.”
 
Felden tapped the display pad on his flight suit’s wrist. “Agent Selva. We’re going to the palace. How about we end this?”
 
“Agreed,” the reply came. Above the city, the prow-less Rogue’s Galley began to turn.
 
“We’ve got a cart,” Kasey said, then turned to one of the nuns. “Stay here, Sister. Let’s go.”
 
They started jogging down a path. From over two buildings a gryphon emerged, flared, and landed. Astride was the white-masked Savage Hunter. Zandra raised her launcher, either bluffing or because she really did have one shot left. Kasey held up a hand, stepped forward.
 
The Hunter raised his palms and dismounted. One held a sheathed dagger, he cast it aside. He removed his plague-doctor mask, revealing a round face with black pigment around his eyes. He said, “I have had enough of this. Our leader Tactacmolec is dead, from a battle fought at the order of a ruler distant from our homelands. Sacred blood spilled, to wage the war of foreigners!”
 
“Your point?” Eric asked, coldly.
 
“We will fight you no longer, starmen. You have proved your honor in combat, these skies are yours.”
 
Kasey said, “Then go in peace.”
 
The Hunter seemed taken aback but said nothing more, merely stepped aside and allowed them to pass. The Franciscans’ cart was up a set of stairs and behind a seawall, Eric heard another dinosaur roar and saw a triceratops gallop past further down the street.
 
“All right, get in.” Kasey hopped on the front bench and took the reins. A pair of horses fidgeted in front of the cart. Eric climbed in the back with Felden and Zandra. “Yah!
 
He urged the horses forward, around a corner and into a main street with people running willy-nilly for shelter from the stampeding herds of compies, pachycephalosauruses, and other beasts.
 
Ahead, people looked back in fear, splitting for alleyways or any open door. From behind, a roar rattled walls.
 
Eric looked back. “Oh no, not again!”
 
“Shit!” Felden turned and saw the huge Tyrannosaurus stomping after them, jaws open wide and three-toed feet crashing through market stands and hay bales.
 
Faster,” Zandra whispered, less confident in making an aerial escape as the street grew narrower. “FASTER.”
 
“Hang on!” Brother Kasey took a corner so fast the cart leaned over on two wheels. The T. rex pirouetted on one foot, stomped forward, and was halted by a low walkway connecting two buildings. It roared in frustration.
 
The open square at the base of the palace steps was deserted, save for a pack of red compies which eyed Eric and company before deciding to look elsewhere for an easy meal. Rachel, Ralbor, and Ezhiri landed their gryphons beside the cart.
 
“I’m so sorry.” Rachel put a hand on Eric’s shoulder.
 
He choked back another surge of tears. “Let’s just… get this over with.”
 
He drew his stunner and started up the steps, Ralbor stayed behind to watch the gryphons, and Felden leapt into the air. Eric hoped Dulane was in there—too often throughout history, powerful bastards like him got away scot-free. It’d be nice to have some justice for once, lock him up and make him feel the weight of his crimes.
 
The throneroom doors stood open, and the chamber itself was deserted.
 
“This way.” Zandra had her scanpad on backscatter mode. A hall lined with colonnades led to a large portico beside a courtyard, overlooking the city and countryside beyond it. On a dais with a chair, guards standing below, was Caesar Dulane.
 
“Remember me?” Eric called out as servants screamed and ran.
 
“The whimpering whelp I condemned to the Bellodrome.” Caesar descended one step, his guards raised their spears. “Your sentence has not been served!”
 
“It’s over,” Zandra said. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t stun your ass right now!”
 
Stars exploded in Eric’s vision and his senses went numb, he tumbled to the floor and saw the hem of a fancy toga as someone walked up from behind.
 
Norla’s voice said. “Because I have planned for this contingency.” Eric’s half-conscious brain told him she was now speaking to Dulane. “Kill them.”
 


Cover image: by Vertixico

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