The Gate of Fang and Thorn
Excerpt from The Gate of Fang and Thorn
A chorus of coughs and howls replied in unison, the cacophony disconcertedly close. Everyone’s attention was affixed to the pathway through the thorns.
The calls increased in volume.
They knew their prey was close at hand. From what he knew of shrulk behavior, they would be tearing at the branches that barred their path, ripping through other members of their pack if need be.
“Sounds like a great many,” Bryan said. With a shrug he readied his shield, swinging it off his shoulder. “Who’s in the lead again?”
“Alis,” McAlister said. Logan looked his question at him, and in an unusual display, McAlister
grinned back at him. “She has you beat by one. We had ourselves an adventure while you were away.”
Logan looked back at her. He forgot to keep count. The tallies granted them bragging rights back home. Good for her. She grinned, her head held high.
“Well done, sister,” Logan said with a wink. “Think you can hold your lead?”
Alis drew her sword. “Watch me.”
An explosion ripped through the rose bushes, making the ground tremble beneath them.
“How long till apogee?” Bryan said, referring to the opening of the gate.
Sionid consulted the display. “Maybe half of an hour, if I'm reading this right.” Logan glanced at their position, and nodded his agreement.
“Why?” Senet said. "You have plans?"
“Well,” Bryan said, “there is this Elc’atar I fancied to ask for a drink.”
“Deidra doesn’t have two words for you,” Vadin said.
“She didn’t have two words for me when I was a Yearling,” Bryan said. “Things are different now.”
The banter was good, Logan knew. It kept their minds from dwelling on what was to come. They were well aware of what awaited them, and chose instead to focus their attention on more pleasant thoughts.
“Our lives before Sionid’s,” Logan said, reminding them of their objective. They had to keep her alive. She had to escape the Sur.
Another explosion tore through.
“You’ve outdone yourself McAlister,” Senet said. “I take it you're responsible for the anti-personnel tactics? Well done.”
“Thank you. What can I say? It’s a gift.”
No one replied. Death was approaching. From the shadows of the branches a shrulk raced, the wind of its passage ruffling its feathers. Alis was closest, and dispatched it with a quick lunge to its breast.
Shrulks exploded from every direction before the corpse hit the ground.
Logan charged ahead, swinging his sword to meet his foe. A spray of dark blood filled the air where his blade passed. He pivoted, redirected his sword and danced between the attackers. His movements were slow, dulled by the weight of the poison in his system.
He was still fast enough to hold the line.
Cormac fought to his left, with Bryan and Alis further out. McAlister stood to his right, Vadin and Senet further down the line on his side. Their positon was fluid, their movements timed to that of the others through harsh experience.
Normally, he would have ventured out into the heart of the enemy, trusting his life to the skill of his
arms and wrists. Now, however, he held position with his comrades and his attacks blended with theirs.
The jaws of a shrulk clamped down on his left wrist while he backhanded another. Its alternating rows of teeth bit deep, acting like a saw against his flesh. He pulled his arm closer, and skewered the beast through the throat. Cormac’s blade flashed, severing the creature’s head from its body before it drew him down. Logan thrust his arm behind him, with the head still attached. The pressure of the teeth disappeared when Sionid pried the lifeless jaws open. Focusing his sin’del, Logan did what he could to staunch the bleeding.
The onslaught did not stop. They did not pause. There was no respite, no time to draw a breath and regroup. Each member of the Pride fought to keep the line solid and protect Sionid.
The courtyard filled with a pearlescent light, and the shrulks paused their advance, stunned by the brightness. Their astonishment did not last for long; those at the rear pushed their way forward and the assault renewed.
Logan chanced a glance behind him to confirm his suspicions.
The gate was open.
It appeared within the carved outline, the yellow limestone giving way to a swirling arch of blue light.
“Sionid! Go!” Logan commanded.
She looked at him, her sin'del revealing her hesitation. She did not want to leave them.
"Return the display, soldier!" He commanded, his tone brooking no disobedience.
Sionid saluted, and charged through the opening. She was swallowed by the light.
The display was returned.
His mission was complete.
Logan wanted to turn, to run through the crack
between the worlds. His companions, however, held the line and bought time for the next to escape.
“Fall back!” he ordered. “Through the gate. All of you, go! Now!”
He had to make sure the others passed through. He would hold the line for as long as he could. He was heir to House Fel’Mekrin, and there was no less he could do.
This was what he wanted all along, a death to be proud of.
Vadin and Senet broke away and dove through the portal. The gate dimmed by the slightest degree. Bryan hesitated before he joined them. Alis followed behind him.
“We trying to see who can hold the longest?” McAlister yelled to be heard over the din.
“I gave you an order, soldier,” Logan replied. “We’ll be right behind you.”
The light from the gate lessened yet again. McAlister saluted with his hand to his chest and made for the gate. A shrulk leapt in front of him, and without breaking his stride, he lopped its head off. It bounced through the opening seconds before he charged into the light.
Cormac inched backward, hard pressed by the shrulks before him. Logan dispatched his opponent and moved to assist.
“Just go!” Cormac yelled. “Go home, brother! Lead our House to glory!”
Logan shifted toward the gate without thinking. He took a pair of steps before Cormac’s shout brought him back around.
The opening dimmed further, and cast waves of illumination across the horde like sunlight reflected off water.
A shrulk came up behind Cormac, through the gap Logan left exposed. It latched its jaws onto his shoulder and yanked him to the side.
The gate forgotten, Logan charged forward and swung his sword.
He severed the head from the beast and pushed Cormac behind him toward the exit.
Logan positioned himself between his friend and the horde, his ears laid back against the sides of his head.
The glow of the gate disappeared.