“How could he know? I haven’t told anyone,” Vrendel mumbled. “HOW DO YOU KNOW?” he shouted at the figure, collapsing to his knees. “Please,” he said softly, pleading. “Please.”
He began rubbing the cobblestones with the metal-sun of his mace, and Bow realized he was trying to drown something out. The scraping was loud; it made Bow’s teeth feel numb and half-broken. She’d never known Vrendel to behave like this, even in the harshest situations. They’d stared down trolls on bridges, the skies above them choked with bats, like charred chunks of dye caught in a cyclone. They’d fought giants on cliffsides with eagles pecking at the empty spaces behind their armored backs. Once, wraiths had trapped them in a maze of rocks that turned a periwinkle blue when the sun set and Vrendel had to bash through every wall with his mace till they were in the open. In all those moments, Vrendel had never dropped to his knee. He’d never begged a cloaked figured to spare him from the sounds of children.
“Vren, Vrendel, are you okay? What are you hearing? I don’t hear anything. Talk to me, Vrendel. Talk to me.” She threw another arrow on her string. The figure and his living cloak were neither moving nor standing. It was almost like a concentrated sun inside the street, only it stood like a man, and had three eyes. Bow still couldn’t make out its details in the night, even with the phantom light. She fired another arrow, but it vanished like a lost thread in some sewn together nightfall.
Vrendel suddenly struck himself in the face, shattering his nose and tearing the flesh above his right eye. He knew he was spellbound, and had to use an influx of pain to break the hex.
“Vren!” she cried, grabbing him by the shoulder and holding his arm back. “Vren, stop it! Let him go,” she cried, turning back to the hooded figure. “We aren’t here to kill you, we’re just looking for whatever was locked in the Iron Citadel!” She tried to restrain Vrendel, but he shook her off like a wet cloak.
The figure didn’t move. The streets settled slightly, like the wave of fluid concrete was finally breaking. A roar bent the air behind the hunters. It wouldn’t be long before the feral giant’s long and wandering shadow would cast over them in the winter moonlight. The wolves might come next like a tide of red eyes and fangs. Without the city of Frigga bending like mortar torchlight, all evils could converge on the wayward hunters.
“Children,” the figure said from the distant darkness. The voice was absent any real tone. It sounded more like a trapped echo than anything else. It sounded unsure. It sounded childlike. The moment the word died against the darkness of the city streets, Vrendel broke from his spell and tried standing up, but he was spitting too much blood. “He wants children,” the voice continued, aiming its rasp at Bow. “I can see his thoughts. They’re bloody, but wholesome.”
“What do you know? Who are you? Don’t talk about what we want or know,” Bow said. She fitted another arrow to her bowstring.
“Don’t waste your ammo, there are wolves everywhere. There is also a giant behind you,” the voice said. The ground trembled like a pebble had just broken a pond.
“Don’t tell me what to do! Who hired you? What are you doing here in Frigga? What happened to everyone?” Bow said. She aimed the arrow a little steadier against the gloom. Vrendel could see the ghostly orange light flickering against the sheen of the arrowhead.
“He took them away. He didn’t want them here or to know me. A father needs to be with his son, and he couldn’t let me out to see them,” the hood said.
The figure started to pull away into the darkness. The glimmers of reality around him had started to return to normal. The city stopped fluctuating like a bent mirror. Soon the figure was nothing but a pinprick of red vanishing into the streets. “He’ll be coming soon to move me. I can see his motives before they’re his,” the voice said. It vanished like a broken melody, like an organ gone stale for thirty years. The lights that had been lit by invisible hands along the rooftops and roads suddenly died. The city yawned black and empty without the phantasms. The city seemed to move past the two hunters like two walls of smoke. The vibrations born from the feral giant’s feet stopped ringing in their ears. Then, as if the world were attached to a rubber string gone wild, reality surged forward like an unsettled memory.
Vrendel and Bow were back in front of the blank metal face of the Iron Citadel. Both hunters were awestruck by the motion. They’d been pulled half a city away by the red figure. They’d been saved by it too. Vrendel could barely stand after hitting himself to break the spell. Bow was simply stunned by the red figure’s power, and was staring at the carved doors they’d already studied earlier in the evening.
“Read the walls, they’ll tell you why I was there,” a voice drifted down to them. Bow’s sharp eyes followed the citadel upwards and spied a distant cloud of red.
“How’d he get up there?” Vrendel panted from the steps.
There was a hint of laughter falling down to them.
“No idea. He’s not human or giant, that much is for sure,” Bow said. She shook her head, helping Vrendel up the stairs towards the Iron Citadel. “Let’s just get inside,” she said, looking over her shoulder as they stepped out of the darkness. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”
In the distance a wolf howled, as if in agreement.
If you haven’t read Chains yet, you can find it here. Also, if you are looking for a specific part: Chains: Part One – The Black Ends. Chains: Part Two – Ugaba. Chains: Part Three – Frigga. Chains: Part Four – The Red Figure. Chains: Part Five – The Iron Citadel. Chains: Part Six – Fraka. Chains: Part Seven – The Feral. Chains: Part Eight – Lantern Light. Chains: Part Nine – Between Nightmares. Chains: Part 10 – Leap. Chains: Part 11 – Arrows in the Dark.
That is it for Chains for the foreseeable future. I love this story, but I don’t have the time to give it the attention it deserves. I’ll revisit it someday. My original plan for the story was never for it to leave the city walls. The entire tale would happen one night inside Frigga. Also, to give you some information about the red figure, it was meant to be the imprisoned child of a giant and god, the two races who were about to engage in the celestial war of Ragnarok. Since he is a cross between the two warring factions, he is left chained in the Iron Citadel, hidden away from the world. The red figure’s origin was meant to thematically echo off the character dynamic between Vrendel and Bow having children. Overall, this story was meant to represent the millennial dynamic about reproduction, and having kids because you want to, not because you feel it is your place in society. I’ll leave the story up for a few months, so enjoy. Thank you for reading.