Shield and Crocus (Excerpt)

Check out an excerpt from Michael R. Underwood’s Shield and Crocus, available June 10th from 47North! You can also read more about Stephan Martinière’s cover art here on

The city of Audec-Hal sits among the bones of a Titan. For decades it has suffered under the dominance of five tyrants, all with their own agendas. Their infighting is nothing, though, compared to the mysterious “Spark-storms” that alternate between razing the land and bestowing the citizens with wild, unpredictable abilities.

It was one of these storms that gave First Sentinel, leader of the revolutionaries known as the Shields of Audec-Hal, power to control the emotional connections between people—a power that cost him the love of his life.

Now, with nothing left to lose, First Sentinel and the Shields are the only resistance against the city’s overlords as they strive to free themselves from the clutches of evil. The only thing they have going for them is that the crime lords are fighting each other as well—that is, until the tyrants agree to a summit that will permanently divide the city and cement their rule of Audec-Hal.



Chapter One
First Sentinel


Wonlar’s apartment was a carefully constructed ruse. The floor was spotted with yard-high stacks of books and carpeted by papers, schematics, and yet more papers. Delicate arrangements of spare parts and sealed bottles of reagents formed mounds outside lanes of traffic. Bookshelves filled the walls from floor to ceiling along three sides of the apartment, broken only by a closet, the hall to the bedrooms, and the opening to the kitchen.

Over the last twenty years, the apartment had settled into Wonlar’s image: scholarly, brilliant, and scattered. That was the intent.

His neighbors wouldn’t expect that Wonlar Gonyu Pacsa, absent-minded artificer and handyman, could also be First Sentinel, leader of the Shields of Audec-Hal, the only major force standing against the rule of the oligarchs. If they thought he was barely organized enough to keep track of whose oven he had to fix by Monday and mumbled incoherently when pressed with small talk, then they wouldn’t ask questions about why he was up at all hours and never seemed to be around for parties.

Wonlar stood above a table, squinting to focus on the job at hand. He was approaching his seventy-first birthday, but he looked no older than any other Ikanollo. He had the same square jaw, the same high forehead, sun-yellow skin, and dark brown hair. For other races, speech patterns, clothes, and personality were most of what set Ikanollo apart, since each man looked like every other, each woman a perfect copy of one another in features and build. Living side-by-side with the other races, Ikanollo had learned to differentiate themselves intentionally. For Wonlar, it became just another part of his cover.

Favoring his left leg, Wonlar stepped over a short pile of books about rare reagents. He’d cracked his hip a year ago in a skirmish with the Smiling King, and it still took three cups of dounmo tea to push back the pain. Wonlar sipped from his third cup of the day, taking a break from mixing the unguent that would refresh the enchantment on the Shields’ pendants.

The oligarchs had stepped up their patrols in preparation for the upcoming summit, especially in COBALT-3’s territory, and Sapphire had nearly been caught in Bluetown while on her way back home. So how do I make them last longer? Wonlar asked himself, holding the formula in his head. He’d been enchanting the pendants for fifty years, protecting the Shields from the Ikanollo birthright of reading threads.

Any Ikanollo could see the emotional threads that connected a person’s heart to the people and world around them; whether it was the stark yellow of fear, the brilliant emerald of compassion, or the blood-red of rage, each thread stood out to his people, thicker where the emotion was strong, thin where it was tenuous. Without the amulets to conceal their threads, any Ikanollo servant of the oligarchs could identify his or any Shield’s threads and bring the tyrant’s wrath. And Wonlar had no desire to see the oligarchs’ servants knocking down his door or setting his building ablaze. His amulets gave them all false threads, ready-made identities that would lead Ikanollo anywhere but to the truth.

The alarm bracer on his left arm whooped. He looked down at the six gems to see the ruby was pulsing with light. That’s Blurred Fists’. Must be something on his patrol, Wonlar thought. He looked at the amulets, then to the window, and sighed. He gulped down the rest of his tea and stomped over to his bedroom, crumpling papers as he went. Where the living room was shabby, his bedroom was spotless, everything in its place. Wonlar threw open the closet and pulled down his longcoat, one of the raiment suits, a pair of boots, and his belt.

As fast as he could, Wonlar donned the raiment that marked him as First Sentinel, leader of the Shields of Audec-Hal. He pulled on a black shirt emblazoned with a watchful yellow eye and a turret on the chest, the symbol he’d chosen not long after the tyrants had claimed his city. He slipped into his black linen pants, and then snapped on his belt. The product of decades of work, his belt contained smoke bombs, enspelled wands, throwing knives, and a handful of specialized artifacts for their most powerful foes.

He wasn’t as young as he used to be, but as the saying goes, old age and trickery beat out youth and speed every time. At least, so far. Wonlar threw on the longcoat, then opened his window and jumped up onto the railing. He produced his grapple gun and dove off of the balcony, firing. The hook caught on a worn gargoyle across the street and First Sentinel began swinging his way across the city.

Even taking the high road over roofs and towers, swinging whenever possible, it would take almost a half-hour to reach the district of Audec’s Bowels in the south-center of the city, where Blurred Fists was scheduled to patrol that morning.

We can’t be everywhere, not with so few of us and the city so large. The Shields lived spread out between the five domains to minimize the delay in their response, but when a Spark-storm erupted, they were often too late. When the storms came and went before a Shield could respond, all they could do was clear the rubble and prevent the terrified citizens from lashing out at the new Spark-touched.

First Sentinel followed the red light in Blurred Fists’ gem, which glowed the brightest in the direction of Wonlar’s friend, like a magical compass leading First Sentinel to his fellow Shield’s location. As he swung down the refuse-filled alley between two ruined buildings to avoid a group of sentries, Wonlar heard Sarii’s voice in his mind, rehashing an old argument.

“Why do we even bother, Wonlar? We’ll never win, we’re always too late. How many people do we really help? More than you’ve gotten killed in your crusade?”

The memory of her words stung as he hurried through alleyways and streets, ran over buildings, dodged laundry lines, and avoided COBALT-3’s patrols.

The ribs rose above the horizon as he swung north, cross-hatching the sky to form a net of shadows. I’ve been fighting for fifty years, Sarii; I’m not going to change my mind now. Getting old means I’ve earned the right to commit to my bad decisions.

Without Selweh, he might have lost hope. The boy was First Sentinel’s compass. In the cold of night, when his joints ached and the guilt from fifty years of failure snuck into his mind, his son’s optimism was more valuable than a legion of soldiers. While he’s alive, while the Aegis continues to return to us, I have hope.

Soaring over the outskirts of The Corner, the district to the south of Audec’s Bowels, he approached the boundary between COBALT-3’s domain and that of the Smiling King. Two blocks from the border, he swung down from a high office building toward a clock tower. COBALT-3 had posted two guards at a landing just below the clock, looking west and east, with two more level with the massive clock face, watching north and south.

The sentries were her basic model: no taller than First Sentinel and about as sturdy as a jury-rigged bicycle. They were piles of brass and copper riveted together and run on an electric battery, but they were skilled enough to hold a crossbow and hit people that don’t know how to dodge.

But First Sentinel had been dodging crossbow bolts since before COBALT-3 was built. He swung wide as the south-facing automaton opened fire. Then he hauled on the grapple line, pulling himself out of the way of the bolt. Using the boost in speed, he swung into the automata and kicked it through the clock face.

The sound of shattering glass echoed throughout the neighborhood, drawing the attention of every automaton for several blocks. Alarms rang out as metallic voices blared COBALT-3’s standard warning:

“Alert: Dangerous insurrectionist activity reported. Please return to your homes and allow security forces to protect you. Reassurance: COBALT-3 is watching.”

She hasn’t bothered updating that recording in years. COBALT-3 had more of a personal touch than her creator, but only just.

The alarm was all part of First Sentinel’s plan. Make a scene at the tower and draw attention there, maybe let some people sneak through the crowd.

First Sentinel gave the guards more to focus on as he dove back out of the tower. He fell a hundred feet before he caught his grapple line on a roof just inside the Smiling King’s territory. Several crossbow bolts cut through the sky in his wake, but none of them came close. First Sentinel smiled as he swung onward. One hurdle crossed, now for the real threat.

This method of travel was dangerous, but with it came freedom of movement. Most of the populace of Audec-Hal couldn’t swing over the district walls or fight their way through the bone pathways. They had to present their papers, pay the toll, and pray that they weren’t selected randomly for additional inspection.

For fifty years, the people of Audec-Hal had been searched, detained, and taken as “volunteers” for the tyrants’ experiments. Everyone in Audec-Hal has lost someone in the tyrant’s reign.

The Shields had staged dozens of raids on the gates between the domains, trying to stop the abductions as they happened.

Even if all six of us did nothing but hassle the guards at the gates between the districts, it wouldn’t be enough, he thought as he swung up toward the ribs.

First Sentinel swung up to a greystone apartment building, a tall warehouse, and finally an ostentatious gargoyle atop an office building. City Mother be praised for roof gargoyles.

At the apex of his swing, he kicked out and released the grapple, sailing just barely into range of one of the ribs.

He shot out his grapple line, which embedded into the bleached bone of a huge rib. First Sentinel pressed the switch to scale up to the ribs. Audec’s skeleton was massive, fifty miles long from head to toes. From this spot, walking along the ribcage, he could walk nearly a third of the way across the city as long as he kept his footing and avoided the aerial patrols.

Beneath him, the city of Audec-Hal stretched out in every direction. Today only Audec’s bones remained, but when he first fell to the earth, the titan’s body had carved out a deep valley in his shape. First Sentinel’s ancestors built their city in and around the titan’s remains, towers with bone foundations, the streets like his long-atrophied veins, and thousands of homes standing in the shadow of the titan’s immense skeleton.

Back toward Hook’s Hole and the south of the city, Audec’s hips crested high, pointing down to the legs, where countless thousands huddled in honeycombed tenements. Directly below First Sentinel, the districts in Audec’s trunk were home to trade and industry, keeping the money flowing, materials and food coming in, weapons, textiles, and machines going out through the river that flowed into the left shoulder, wound through the city, and then flowed underground from Audec’s foot.

Past the ribs stood Heartstown, a bustling city-in-a-city that was the home to the city’s upper class—people who’d made their bed working with the tyrants but weren’t yet rich enough to live in the Head. Only the wealthiest collaborators could afford the mansions and villas inside and atop Audec’s skull.

First Sentinel saw millions of faint threads connecting the people of the city, his Ikanollo birthright revealing the emotional ties that bound heart to heart. Burgundy domination and yellow fear were the most common, arcing out from the tower of the City Mother. She used to protect the people, bring them together. Now she was the tyrants’ greatest weapon against the people.

Amid the threads, First Sentinel saw the source of Blurred Fists’ alarm: a Spark-storm in full fury, warping the edge of the neighborhood. Impossible colors stood out from the drab greys and browns of the streets and buildings. The storm didn’t seem to be moving, but regardless, the streets at the edge were filled with waves of thousands, desperate to escape. This was the seventh storm this year by First Sentinel’s count, and it wasn’t even the middle of spring. They used to strike just two to four times a year. Why so many, and why now?

Scanning the buildings and feeling the wind, First Sentinel plotted out a path back down into the city toward the storm. He could head directly into the storm, try to start pulling people out of danger. But the crowd was on the verge of breaking into a stampede.

Sometimes, on long nights when sleep refused to come, he didn’t see the city as home anymore, just an unending series of fires to fight. First things first. If he couldn’t clear the crowd at the edge, there’d be nowhere to send people trapped in the middle.

The wind tore at his face as he dropped, and the shock of his line going taut set his shoulder on fire, igniting another old injury. First Sentinel grit his teeth as he landed on a low roof.

He cupped his hands, calling to the volatile crowd.

“Please be calm! You are already outside the storm’s range. Keep moving and you will be fine.”

His words broke on the crowd and dissolved in the sea of yellow threads. And yet, dozens turned to face him, scrambling for any chance of help. If he just left them, someone would likely get trampled to death. But hundreds could be dying inside the storm.

Some days First Sentinel longed for the time when his idea of a hard decision was which artificer’s academy to attend or what flowers to buy his beloved Aria for the equinox. The privileges of youth, he thought, a wave of nostalgia breaking over the beach of his worry.

“First Sentinel, save me!” called a Pronai woman, her red form a blur as she rushed over to the base of the building where First Sentinel stood. With her birthright of speed, she could run out of the neighborhood—dodge around the crowd without trouble—if she’d just calm down.

An Ikanollo woman raised a screaming toddler, “Take my daughter!” If I took the child, then I’d have to spend another half-hour finding the mother again to return her safely.

“Don’t let me become a monster!” cried a man, another Ikanollo. First Sentinel pursed his lips, torn between the people’s needs. Keep yourself together, old man. They need you to be strong, patient, kind.

On another day, these people might have thrown rocks at him or tipped off one of the Smiling King’s guards to get an extra loaf of bread. He didn’t blame them. The City Mother’s power—twisted by the tyrants—kept them cowed, so only the most passionate could tame the fear and rebel. Afraid and desperate, they did what they had to do to survive. And today, I’m their best hope.

But these people aren’t the ones in real danger, Wonlar. You have to keep your head on, can’t stop for every scared mother. If you stop now, how many will die in the storm?

These people on the edge—they were already safe, but didn’t know it. The ones that really needed help were the ones in the storm, unaware inside their homes, those who didn’t know they were in danger or were too infirm to get out, or too stubborn.

First Sentinel tried to direct traffic, shouting over the crowd, calling for order. After a minute of failed attempts to calm the crowd, Wonlar cursed under his breath and raised his grapple gun. He was needed elsewhere.

“Keep moving, and keep your neighbors safe.” He swung away ashamed, watching the shuffling crowd covered by the long shadow of a rib. He hoped he’d done enough for them.

As he got closer to the storm, First Sentinel saw the reality of the damage. Buildings had been stretched thin like taffy, then toppled under their own weight. Several attenuated greystones had fallen already, rubble warped like candy left out in the sun, melted and re-formed.

The air around was filled with brief, ungrounded sounds—chirping birds, buzzing saws, and ecstatic screams. The phantom noises mixed with the real shouts for help, tearful prayers to the gods, and the cracking, shifting, organ-twisting sounds of the Spark wreaking havoc on reality.

First Sentinel had seen hundreds of Spark-storms, but each time they froze him for a moment as a needle of fear stabbed into the back of his neck. The Spark-storms tore away the city bit by bit, replacing his home and neighbors with strangers and unfamiliar landmarks.

The street was lined with dozens of new Spark-touched. The recently-transformed lay sprawled or run spasmodic in the streets, still in the throes of metamorphosis. An Ikanollo man banged his head against a wall, screaming in pain. With each blow, his head bloated and hardened, shifting into an armored shell with lacerated spikes. He slammed his head through the wall, still screaming. His voice dropped an octave, then another, until it was too low to be heard.

First Sentinel had seen countless transformations, each stranger than the last, but they never got easier to watch. Each one reminded him of his first Spark-storm, the one that had changed his life and set him on the path of losing Aria. But without the Spark, could I have saved her at all, or would I be widowed that much sooner, with no son to keep me from despair?

The peoples’ threads raged like another storm, colored ties between brothers, lovers, and friends. Each person’s threads stretched from their heart to the emotion’s source. The street was filled with yellow threads of fear connecting citizens and their freshly-changed neighbors.

He couldn’t see Blurred Fists’ telltale red haze of speed moving amidst the storm.

The cobblestones of the street had become volcanic rock, uneven mounds of jagged stone with striations in red, grey, and brown.

First Sentinel landed at the edge of the storm to start pulling people out. The Spark-touched man’s head had grown to three times its normal size, too heavy for First Sentinel to haul over his shoulder. Instead, the Shield held him around the middle and dragged his stone-crushing skull across the rough ground. First Sentinel winced in sympathetic pain as the man’s head skipped across the rocks, but the exoskeleton didn’t yield blood.

The storm stopped after he’d plucked another dozen victims from the center. First Sentinel didn’t fear the Spark’s effects. He’d been touched once, and the Spark did not touch those it had already twisted.

The Spark left a mangled neighborhood in its wake, lying dormant until the next storm. It could be that night, the following week, or a year later. Given the recent pattern, it’d be within a month.

The district of Audec’s Bowels was under the control of the Smiling King, a madman who had appeared after the Senate fire and carved out a kingdom with his Spark-touched thralls.

There would be no municipal assistance for this disaster or its victims. Instead, the Smiling King would send in his Spark-touched servants to claim their new comrades, cart them off and lock them in dank cages that they would soon call home. Once the Smiling King had his new pets, he let the horror of their change boil over into madness, until only he could soothe their pain, using his power over the Spark. Eventually, they all joined his “family.”

First Sentinel had seen friends taken by the Spark and then found them across a battlefield, their faces familiar but distant, crazed.

Once inducted into the Spark-touched family, they could not be deprogrammed. He’d tried everything, even had Ghost Hands bring him into their minds to talk through the pain. He’d spent a year visiting Red Vixen like that, until Ghost Hands forced him to step away and leave the former Shield with her madness.

But this time, there would be no recruits. He’ll have tocome through me to claim them. But he couldn’t shield them all, not from the Smiling King, and not from their neighbors.

Always too many to save, and too few Shields for the task.

A red shape settled into focus beside First Sentinel. Blurred Fists was thin, but heavily muscled, a life-long athlete. Beneath his mask, his hair was receding, or would be if he hadn’t taken to shaving his head the year before.

To any but another of the red-skinned Pronai, Blurred Fists’ movements would be twitchy, spastic. Their race’s metabolism put all others to shame. They matured faster, moved and reacted more quickly, and died sooner. But despite his incredible speed, Wenlizerachi was one of the most reserved men First Sentinel knew. The Pronai had learned at a young age to slow down for the other races, talk at their pace so he could be understood, and even more, so he would be taken seriously.

Blurred Fists’ raiment was a tight, red running suit with a painted pattern of a black fist on a red background on his chest. A red mask hid his identity, his features distinct unlike First Sentinel’s.

The Pronai nodded to his old friend. “You made it.”

“Where are we needed most?” First Sentinel asked.

Blurred Fists shifted through five poses in an instant, pondering. “The school. It’s alive, the doors are mouths. It’s already digesting them.”

Children. City Mother, spare them. The City Mother was hidden away in the tower on The Crown, her ears and eyes shut to the voices of the people. For decades, she’d heard and obeyed only the oligarchs. Once, she’d spread compassion and maternal love. Under their power, the City Mother kept people afraid, placated. First Sentinel doubted that she heard him since the tyrants bound her, but still he prayed.

“Take me there.” Blurred Fists dashed to the corner and waited for First Sentinel, who followed in a run, aching as he went. The dounmo was wearing off. He’d left in too much of a rush to make the elixir he drank before missions, so his collection of injuries were making their presence known, old companions he couldn’t be rid of and never liked.

Some of the unchanged were helping the new Spark-touched; others took up clubs and knives to drive them out. First Sentinel learned long ago that he couldn’t help everyone, but it didn’t stop the guilt. These days, guilt was all that was left to him. And rage. Without Selweh to put it to good use, I’d burn out in a year, and take the Shields with me.

When they reached the school, it was chewing on something that First Sentinel prayed was a chair. Pointed teeth burst from a crimson mouth, its lips as long as a full-grown Ikanollo was tall. The building itself had turned a sickly shade of green, square walls replaced with a bulbous mass of mottled skin, oozing sores, and random scales.

The school walls sported more mouths down the street, similarly arrayed with leg-length teeth. The walls of the school rose and fell as it breathed through wheezy nostrils where the windows had been. Youthful cries for help echoed from inside, along with the sound of mastication.

First Sentinel turned to Blurred Fists. “Get inside and start pulling the students out. I’ll try to break some of these mouths open to provide exits.”

“Good luck.” By the time First Sentinel felt the slap on the shoulder, Blurred Fists had disappeared into the maw of the school.

I should be used to that by now. First Sentinel had fought alongside four generations of Shields from Blurred Fists’ family, ever since he met Blurred Fists’ great-grandmother during a food riot.

First Sentinel drew his fighting staves from his belt and stepped forward to study the door. It spat out a pile of bones and licked its lips as he approached. First Sentinel took a step back, recoiling at the stench.

The teeth were large, the enamel thick and tough. The sticks wouldn’t do anything, shock gloves barely more. The maw opened to reveal three rows of teeth, ingrown on one another, covered in grime despite being less than an hour old.

The mouth distended out from the fleshy wall and took a bite at him. First Sentinel jumped back, the teeth tearing off one corner of his longcoat as it billowed under him. Dammit. I just mended that last month.

First Sentinel reached into belt and grabbed two stone spheres, each the size of a small lime. He pressed a small button on each stone and then tossed the bombs into the mouth. He shuffled back as fast as he could, favoring his hip.

The teeth closed on the enchanted stones. A second later, they detonated with a muffled boom, sending shards of bone and teeth flying across the street. First Sentinel ducked under his longcoat, feeling blunted cuts as the shreds clattered on the street and bit into doors and walls opposite the school. When he looked up, the mouth laid slack and open, teeth shattered and mouth bloodied. A quick glance around the street told him that no one else had been caught in the explosion.

Much better.


The stench of the school’s interior sagged in the air, worse than the breath of a dog who feasted in the sewers. First Sentinel wore a re-breather usually saved for poison gas as he walked down the hall. The youthful wails continued from down the hall and to the left. The school was nearly empty, tiled floors now mottled soft tissue. With each step, First Sentinel’s boots sank nearly to the ankle.

A red streak settled into the form of Blurred Fists at the corner. “Up here. They’re stuck in the teeth.”

First Sentinel pushed down the hall, pulling his feet out of the suction of the floor. Blurred Fists waited for him at the door to the classroom, no marks on the floor from his footfalls. First Sentinel huffed to himself, wishing for not the first time he’d been born a Pronai. Their gift of speed he’d take, but the power was not worth the short lifespan. As a Pronai, he’d have died barely after the tyrant’s rise, might’ve never had a chance to serve as a Shield.

As the two Shields stepped inside, the stench hit First Sentinel like a wet slap to the face. It was nearly unbearable, even with a re-breather.

The classroom was a dentist’s nightmare. The chairs were rows of jagged teeth that topped a yard tall. A spotted red carpet stretched the length of the room, rolled over on one end. Several folded over clusters of ingrown molars trapped the dozen children left moving.

First Sentinel’s mind raced, trying to sort out how to save the children without hurting them, and fast. They’d need to crack the enamel, delicate work with them squirming and crying. It would take time, but it shouldn’t be too dangerous. A boy of no more than seven cried out for his mother, and sympathetic pain arced down his spine. He sounds just like Selweh did at that age.

First Sentinel dashed forward to the children, but two steps in the floor rolled underneath him. What First Sentinel had taken for carpet licked up at the two men from the far wall, lashing out like a thick tentacle.

Fantastic. First Sentinel rolled off to the side, glanced off a stand of teeth, and rose to his knees. He stuffed the staves back into his belt and pulled out two alchemically-sharpened knives. He held one in reverse grip high by his face for defense and the other out in front to slash and stab. He stepped between the children and the tongue, trying to read its movement.

The tongue lolled at First Sentinel. He dodged back and buried his forward blade in the thing as it crashed down on him. Ignoring its wound, the tongue slammed First Sentinel into a cluster of teeth, the cuts glancing off of his magically-hardened longcoat.

A wave of lighter red flashed in front of First Sentinel as Blurred Fists pushed the abomination back with a barrage of punches. The Pronai raced around to the other side of the tongue. First Sentinel pressed forward, spinning his knives in an advancing figure-eight. He cut gashes out of the frenulum at the tongue’s base while behind the tongue, Blurred Fists’ gloves made the sound of a boxer pounding frozen carcasses.

Dodging the spastic swings of the tongue, First Sentinel landed several more blows, the tongue seeping bright red blood. After the last slash, the tongue twitched, dropping to the floor.

First Sentinel sighed.

Now to put this thing out for good and get back to the children.

Instead, the tongue twisted end-over-end and lashed out at First Sentinel as he stepped forward. Reacting with decades of experience, First Sentinel leapt into a forward flip, digging the knives into the tip of the tongue, riding the cut down the other side. He removed one knife and stabbed again, fresh blood seeping down his arms as the tongue slammed into the ceiling.

The impact squeezed the air out of his lungs like a bellows. First Sentinel rolled to the floor, gasping. Blurred Fists appeared in above him, hammering away at their foe. After a few moments, the tongue twitched again, started to raise toward the ceiling, and then dropped to the floor, lifeless.

First Sentinel wheezed for a few seconds as Blurred Fists pummeled the tongue a few more times for good measure.

Sitting up, First Sentinel caught his breath, looking to the children. Several had massive bruises where the pressure of the teeth had started to crush their arms, legs and sides, and a few more had cuts from the edges of the teeth. Please be all right. City Mother protect them, keep them safe.

Pulling out a hammer and chisel, First Sentinel took his time, searching for a place to start.

“You’re going to be fine,” he said to the children. “I’m First Sentinel, and this is Blurred Fists. We’re going to get you out now, but I need you to be brave.”

The Ikanollo boy whose cries sounded like Selweh’s nodded. The child sighed, relaxing his trapped arm. The others winced and made small whimpers, but they did their best.

“Good. Just relax, and think of home. We’ll have you back there soon.” Whatever home was left to them after the storm.

He worked with care as Blurred Fists tended to their wounds. With luck, the only scars the children would have from the day would be psychological, for all the comfort that was worth.

Small blessings, Wonlar thought.


Shield and Crocus © Michael R Underwood, 2014


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