Lady Ashley Davies thundered across a field under the twilight of a star. She groped for the satchel corded around her shoulders, clutching the scroll beneath the leather.
Ashley did not know how far they were from the Ruby Tower.The geography of the Hedgerow would never allow that. She felt the tower though. Saw it in her minds-eye. That feeling was the only compass she could trust here. She trusted her feelings, her horse, and the company with her. She trusted herself, trusted that she would deliver the scroll to the tower.
The Blue Company knew the danger from the outset. Still they accepted the mission. They’d found and stolen the scroll from the Rectory of Names within the Hedgerow. And so, the High Harvester, the monarch of the Autumn lands sent his force on a wind with commands of his own. Catch the Blue Company and tear them apart.
Demetri Volkov, Ashley’s bannerman, a bear of a man cried out. “We cannot outrun them!”
Lady Ashley did not look back at their pursuers. There was no need. She heard the roar of terrors growing louder and louder. Closer and closer.
An unkindness of ravens pierced the wind in pursuit. An army bent upon one purpose: reclaim the scroll.
Cresting a hill, Ashley saw the tree line. The forest would provide cover.
There was no need to shout over the tumult. Ashley, in the point of their charging ‘V’, spurred her horse for the forest. Her knights, the members of the Blue Company, followed.
Twilight glinting off their armor, the knights of the Blue Company rushed into a forest so old it no longer bore a name.
The field of flowers gave way to roots snaking out of soil and a carpet of pine needles littered with conifers. Ashley’s company was comprised of riders on the backs of mounts. Each of them barreled through the pines, slowed only when the terrain proved impassable. The cloud of ravens would be forced skyward, unable to traverse the foliage. Or so she hoped, despite one truth.
The Hedgerow was no place for hope.
“Ride,” Ashley bellowed. “Ride for the tower!”
The beating of the ravens’ wings did not cease. It grew closer, accompanied now by the whip-crack of tree limbs breaking. The ravens plunged into the forest behind them, their caws like the sound of laughter.
“Vanguard,” Ashley commanded. No other words were needed. They knew their oaths. Oaths demanding sacrifice.
Three members of the company, without questioning their captain’s command, halted. Their mounts came together, creating a barrier between pursuer and pursued. Revolvers were drawn from holsters.
Each of them ready to thunder.
The rearguard was comprised of Sir Harry, who came out of retirement after becoming a widower. Sir Maurice, a son of a fierce African bloodline.And Lady Gloria, the third knight, a remarkable woman of unremarkable feature.
Ashley drew upon her magic, concentrating. She closed her left eye. With a heart-quickening rush Ashley watched through Gloria’s eyes.
What she saw shriveled her heart. A cloud of talons and wings and of ravens bent on destruction.
A battery of gunfire ripped through the air. John, Harry,and Gloria stood together amid the gun smoke. Three pillars of light facing the darkness. Cylinder knights of the Blue Company pounded the cloud.
For a moment, there was the lilt of what might be victory as pistol shots beat back wings and talons. Lady Ashley allowed her hope to swell, letting it grow into belief. Then, the unkindness of ravens swirled together. Cawing in laughter, they rained down upon the three knights.
The last thing Gloria saw, what Ashley witnessed through her farsight, was a bronze beak punching through Gloria’s skull. The knight’slight darkened forever.
Then came the screams.
Lady Ashley commanded again.
The remaining members of the Blue Company scattered among the trees.
Ashley’s horse whinnied, begging for slack. She gave it none.
The raven army slashed through brambles and sagging limbs alike.
Ashley, the horse master among the company, rode fast. As deftly as a leaf on the wind.
Gunfire from the east. Five shots fired in succession, but not a sixth.
Ashley reached out again with her farsight. In a flash, she saw a claw slash across her vision.
Lady Clarissa Delavina, gone.
Ashley pulled on a string inside her mind, shifting her farsight to her bannerman Sir Demetri Volkov. He was scrambling away from his mount, gun in hand. His Schofield blistered the air with veins of lightning. The light streaked and snapped, lashing out in a chain of power whipping the cloud of ravens into panic. Demetri fired again and again, and again. The pillars of shadows between the trees flashed like a thundercloud.
Sir Demetri labored,sweat stinging his brow. The magic wellspring inside him strained to meet the demands of his hands.
The ravens swirled into a sphere.
Sir Demetri fired.
The sphere burst like a dandelion blown apart in the wind. The raven army came at him from all sides. They covered his flesh in scarlet ribbons.
Ashley snapped off her farsight, refusing to watch the end of such a life.
“Come on, girl,” she cried, spurring the horse..
“Run, girl. Sprint for the daylight!”
The horse and rider punched through the tree line. The jewellight, revealed the walls and battlements of the Ruby Tower. Knights stood watch among the lookouts.They would be able to provide cover to see Ashley through the gate. Salvation was less than a league, protection closer than that.
Lady Ashley spurred, gave her horse its full gait.
Suddenly, Ashley’s horse screamed, then bucked. She flew out of the saddle.
Flipping head over heels, Ashley hit the ground. She rolled to her feet, leaving her mount behind.
The wind of a wings at her back tousled her hair into her eyes. She shook it away and took up her revolver, sliding it from the holster. A holster her great grandfather tooled from the skin of Briarmouth. The revolver carried in its cylinders a war song of every man and woman of her bloodline who had come before.
Ashley, sprinting across the grass, fired a signal into the air.
“Here, damn it!” She roared, firing again. “I’m here!”
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