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A Path of Swords and Feathers
A Short Story from “The Wishing Blade” Universe

by Stephanie Flint

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental.

Copyright 2019 by Stephanie Flint
Formatting and cover design by Stephanie Flint

All rights reserved. Published by Infinitas Publishing.
Smashwords Edition

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The family’s wagon ambled up the steep road of the mountain pass, the wagon’s iron-rimmed wheels bumping over every pothole in the worn road. Large draft horses plodded along, paying no mind to the jarring bumps or the pebbles the wheels spit to either side. A chill wind whistled overhead, but kept clear of the wagon and its guard, not low enough to trouble the family with the cold melt-water breeze of early summer.

Nihestan kept to the side of the wagon, well out of the way of the sharp pebbles and the horses’ hooves. He kept his eyes trained on the tall pines looming over the pass. According to the locals, this was the most dangerous stretch of the journey to Savarne, the southern city on the outermost edge of Cirena’s Reveratch region. A mountain lion might decide to ambush an unsuspecting traveler—though unlikely to target a full party—or rogue bandits might camp on the cliffs and attack a wagon for ransom or treasure.

Or other beings—immortals with a taste for human flesh—might wait for their chance to strike.

He tightened his fingers around the hilt of his sword, a simple arming sword with a leather-wrapped hilt. Nothing too fancy to draw attention to himself. While traveling, the family would know him only as a hired guard, nothing more. Certainly not as some acolyte on a quest for the goddess of the dead. His only true specialty was that he had ribbons of weapon magic.

He walked along at the pace of the wagon, listening for danger, for any hint of metal swords unsheathing, whispers of plotting, or rocks scrabbling underfoot of a larger beast.

Or the whoomph of giant wings.

The immortals roaming the area weren’t friendly to mortal-kind. He flexed his fingers, loosening them around the leather hilt. Wouldn’t do the family any good if something attacked their wagon and he was too tense to properly fight.

A shadow of movement caught the corner of his eye, but it was only the family’s daughter hopping from the back of the wagon. He sighed. So much for the quiet.

“Have you seen anything yet?” She linked her fingers behind her back as she jogged up beside him. “The bard at the tavern said there are gerarmansee out here, and that they have crooked beaks, sharp talons, and eyes like an angry owl.” She nudged him in the ribs and cast him a knowing grin. “But we don’t have to worry about an armansee sneaking up on us with you around, do we?”

Nihestan slowly let out his breath. “They might if I don’t hear them,” he noted, though he couldn’t blame her for wanting to talk. Her brother had stayed behind to work at Lake Garchon, and she had seemed lonely since it was just her, her parents, and Nihestan on the journey.

The biggest problem was that she might be a distraction if something did try to sneak up on them. That, and he was almost certain she was trying to flirt with him. From his best guess, Elivany was only two or three years younger than he was. She wore a tunic—loosely tied at her collarbone—and fitted leggings, and a long velvet cloak to keep out the icy wind of Reveratch’s early summer. Her black hair was pinned up in surprisingly elegantly bun for travel on the road… especially considering she’d had it down when they first met.

Now she grinned at him, her blue eyes bright, and she batted her eyelashes before nudging his arm with her shoulder. “Well, we don’t have anything to worry about, do we? You would sense an armansee long before they reached us.”

Nihestan worked his jaw, trying to decide the best way to respond. Despite his attempts to ignore her throughout the trip, she had continued making small chat or trying to find out what his favorite instrument might be—she preferred the mandolin, but couldn’t drums be so exciting?—or prodding him for stories of his travels.

Apparently, he seemed like the kind of man who would be well-traveled.

That part, at least, was somewhat accurate, though he couldn’t tell her the related tales. Those he had to keep quiet for fear of them being heard by an enemy. And he couldn’t tell her about the other times he’d been hired to guard a caravan because this was his first time doing so.

He’d needed the siteh.

“Technically, I’m a weapon mage, so I wouldn’t sense them coming,” he said finally, hoping to dispel whatever mysterious fantasies she might have been conjuring up for his magic. “I could fight an armansee, sure, but I wouldn’t sense their claws. I can’t sense them unless they’re carrying metal that’s been used as weapon.”

“But that’s what your ears are for,” she noted slyly. “And your eyes. I bet you could spot an armansee coming from a mile away.” She winked, but he pretended not to notice.

“I’m a mage… not magical. I don’t have any special vision.”

Well, aside from magic’s sight. He could see magic, which he supposed might let him spot an immortal’s ribbons.

Elivany snorted, walking alongside of him and keeping in step. “You’re too modest.”

He grunted. When dealing with a goddess, particularly the goddess of death, one learned that modesty was less of a choice and more of a fact of life. He was mortal, and that was that. Nothing compared to speaking with Madiya, of feeling the fog of her realm pulling at him and chilling his breath… threatening to steal him away from the mortal realm before his time.

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