The Wolves of Rome

Wings over Sicily

April 11th,2023
Hildegard walked along the shore, shielding herself from the rays of the sun with her cape. People always told her that a cape was bad in a combat situation because it could result in her enemy grabbing it. Her answer was always the same. A Ranger was out in the hot sun and the pouring rain. During times like that, having a piece of cloth above your head, especially one reinforced to repel water, was useful.

She had awoken by herself, with only her sword and clothes in terms of gear. A quick assessment had told her that quite a lot had changed from the initial invasion plan. She was alone, without another soul in sight. Out at sea, she thought she could make out a ship of some shape, but it was too far away to say if it was one of theirs. More than likely, it was a pirate ship or a ship of the dead.

Hilde had smiled and rubbed her hands together. This might not have been the plan, but oh was she going to have a story to tell to the other Rangers when she got back. Doubt flickered in her mind for only a moment; the creeping concern that she was the only one to have made it from the boats, before she quickly dismissed it. If she had survived, than surely most of the others did as well. Cat had fallen off first and Hilde had dived after her. The other rangers were surely fine. Cat though…

As Hilde’s footsteps sank into the sea, her thoughts turned back to the younger girl. A small frown crossed her face. She had held onto Cat as the blue haired mage had slipped under the water, but the force of the waves had knocked her unconscious and her grip had slipped. If something had happened to Cat, Hilde wasn’t sure what she would do.

“No.” She told herself, with as much force as she could. “You won’t think like that. Cat is a tough girl, just like you are. She’ll be fine.” After a moment, Hilde gave herself a wry smile. “After all, Mother would kill her double if Cat died after all that begging to come!”

Hilde continued to walk on the beach until the sun reached its zenith. Wiping at her brow and letting her cape fall down, she let out a heavy breath. “Mm, need to find some water.” She said, looking at the rows of empty abandoned houses that had once been part of a seaside town. She had never been to Sicily before this. Even studying the maps didn’t help her when she had no landmarks with which to go by.

It was a small town, and Hilde could tell it had been abandoned for some time. There were still scenes of people’s final moments playing out behind the windows. It seems that most of the residents had fled from something in a hurry, most likely during the Days of Revelation.

While peeking through one of the windows into a home, seeing a bottle of water just lying on the kitchen table, Hildegard heard a sound. Wings flapping meant there was something approaching from the air. Her hand moved over the hilt of her sword. Pretending to keep staring through the window, Hilde waited until the creature was drawing in close. The flapping grew louder. She could feel the wind pushing against her. There was the thump of a landing.

She spun around, drawing her sword, and found herself looking up at…a flying horse?
It was hard to see against the light of the sun behind it. Hilde staggered back, squinting as a spear wielding figure in armor descended from the skies on the back of a shadowed horse. Hildegard dug her feet into the dirt, making sure her footing was steady.

The horse and rider landed on the road, creating a cloud of dirt and gravel. Hilde closed her eyes against the cloud of debris. When she opened them again, she let out a gasp.

The ranger found herself staring into the eyes of a Pegasus straight from ancient myth. Its pure white coat seemed to shine in the sunlight as the horse observed her with intelligent, aware eyes. The gentle flapping of its broad wings caused her hair to blow back as if it were a windy day.

Hildegard slowly took a step forward, cautiously, as her eyes travelled up to see the Pegasus’s rider.
It was a boy about her own age, clad in riding leathers with an ancient-looking breastplate over his chest. His sandy brown hair clung to his skin from the sweat and it was clear that if the Pegasus’s wings were causing her hair to blow every which way, the winds he was enduring were worse. He carried a spear which gave Hildegard cause for concern.

“You’re not one of the villagers from this region.” He said, looking down on her.

“I don’t even know where this region is!” Hilde said. She kept her weapon out, not dropping her guard for a moment.

“You’re in Messina. Nobody here has armor like that…or a magical sword. Are you from the south?”
Hildegard groaned at hearing that she was in Messina. That meant she was far north of the landing point. Her disappointment didn’t last long as she picked up on the rest of what he said. “Hey! You have armor and a flying horse! Even if my sword was magical, how can you say something like that?”

Dropping the reins, the boy started stroking Pegasus’s mane. “The Goddess granted me these gifts to help me protect the region from monsters. But trust me, they work just as well against more human threats!”

“Monsters?” Hilde said, with a frown. “Like Cacodaemons?”

The boy tilted his head. “Don’t know what those are. If we have them, we call them something different.”

“They’re just a general term for the monsters. Look, I got washed up on shore after a sea serpent attacked our ship. My sister fell in the water, so she’s probably somewhere nearby. My name is Hildegard, I’m from Rome. We came here because…” Hilde started to explain her reason for being there, before stopping. Revealing the location of a hidden cache of magical weapons to a stranger did not seem wise. “Because we wanted to find out if there were any other survivors.”

The boy didn’t seem to believe her, but he did lower his spear a little as Pegasus snorted. “Hmm, well, I don’t entirely believe your story…But Pegasus seems to think you’re not a bandit. My name is Salvatore Messana. People call me Turi though.”

“Well, tell your horse that I appreciate his vote of confidence.” While her words sounded ludicrous to her ears, Hildegard meant them sincerely. She was, after all, standing before an undeniable Pegasus. Was it so hard to believe that the creature was able to make a good judge of character?
“So how does someone just get a Pegasus?” Hildegard asked. Seeing him sitting on its back, she couldn’t help but get a little jealous. If there were more of them, she wanted one.

“It’s not A Pegasus, it’s just Pegasus.” Turi said. “As for why, you’d have to ask the Goddess. But I’ve trained and ridden horses all my life. When the mountain shook, the Goddess appeared to me at my Ranch and told me she had chosen me to be her champion.”

“Mmm…” Hilde did her best to hide her disappointment. I want a flying horse…

“I’ve been keeping monsters from attacking the villages in this region. With Pegasus, I can travel faster than just about anyone. It’s how I know you’re not from around here.” Turi said, leaning forward and resting his arms against Pegasus’s head. He seemed to relax fairly quickly. Hildegard smiled confidently. He was just a rancher pretending to be a monster hunter, not a trained professional like her!

“I can tell you’re not a soldier. So how do you manage to kill anything with that spear?” She asked, looking him over. He was decently built, but Hildegard knew enough about combat to know he was a trained rider, not a trained fighter.

Turi bristled at her words. “I may not be a soldier, but I can kill monsters just fine. The spear guides itself toward their hearts.”

Hildegard frowned. She wouldn’t say out loud it was cheating to have the spear do all the work, but the expression on her face made her feelings perfectly clear.

Turi could tell what she was thinking anyway, and he matched her frown. “It takes a lot of effort to direct Pegasus in the air already. The Goddess is just helping me do my job.”

“I suppose. I think it would be better to take someone who already knew how to fight with a spear and teach them how to ride a flying horse.”

Leaning back, Turi folded his arms. “Are you going to argue with the Goddess of Wisd—“

Before he could get her full title out, the entire ground shook. The birds took off from the trees, cawing in distress. Something was moving in the trees, causing the branches to shake. Turi quickly grabbed Pegasus’s reins, his guard back up. “A giant! Get out of its way!”

With a tug on the reins, Pegasus took off for the air, rising high above the trees. Looking up, Hildegard could see the head of the giant well above the tree line as it carved a path through the forest. It was larger than any cacodaemon she had seen in Rome. It was humanoid, but its body seemed to be made out of stone and dirt, its hair out of plants. Her head could barely reach its knee.

Drawing her sword, Hildegard just smiled as her eyes began to take in everything they could, anything that would give her an advantage. If she could bring down this giant, then there’d be no question that she was one of the greatest monster hunters that had ever lived! If she could get in the trees, she could in theory pull herself up his arm to his neck. With her sword’s fire and her magic, she could possibly set his hair alight.

She started to run towards the trees, her sword already burning brightly with magical fire. The giant didn’t seem to notice her. Instead, his eyes were trained on…Turi and Pegasus. Hildegard slid to a stop as she watched the two dive like a hawk from the sky. One hand on the reins, the other holding the spear, Turi seemed to be using the weapon like a compass, matching his course based on where it pointed.
The giant grabbed a tree and ripped it from the ground, swinging it as a club. Turi pulled back on the reins, causing Pegasus to go off course but avoid the giant’s swing. Hilde waved her arms to try to get his attention. If she could get in the air, she’d be able to kill this monster!

“Hey! Turi! Listen to me!” She screamed as he flew above. She chased after the horse, until finally, finally, she managed to get his attention. She pointed to the giant, then her sword, then made a slashing motion across her neck.

Turi quickly headed back down for the ground, letting go of Pegasus’s reins as he held out his arm, grabbing Hildegard around her waist and pulling her up, the momentum of his flight sweeping her off the ground. Hildegard made a face that she was happy he couldn’t see at the sudden and unfamiliar sensation of being off the ground as he pulled her onto the horse.

“Al-alright, now get me up…AAAH!” Hildegard started to scream for a moment as Pegasus began to climb through the air again. She quickly bit her tongue to get herself to stop, wrapping her arms around the horse’s neck and closing her eyes. Turi’s arm stayed around her to keep her from falling as Pegasus moved freely, his rider’s hand no longer holding the reins.

Pegasus rose rapidly into the air. As Hilde opened her eyes, she took a look below. She had been on planes, very rarely, but this was different. The only thing keeping her from falling was the arm of this rancher.

“Get ready to jump!” Turi said as they approached the giant’s head. Hilde gripped her blade. This was what she was trained to do. She felt Turi’s arm pull away as she willingly slipped off the horse, falling quickly towards the giant’s shoulder. She crashed into it with a thud, starting to bounce and slip until she dug her sword into the caked mud that made the creature’s body. “Haaa…” She let out a sigh of relief as she pulled herself to her feet. This wasn’t the most stable of ground, but she’d make it work.

The giant hadn’t even really noticed her, focused as it was on the flying horse with the pointy spear that seemed to always go for its chest. Hilde charged around the shoulder, her sword ablaze as she swung it up, catching the grassy hair. The magic flames eagerly lapped at the giant, and soon a bonfire had started on the monster’s head, helped along by Hildegard’s own spells. Chanting in German, the Ranger Knight used all the offensive spells she knew against the creature.

It howled in pain as it clawed at its own hair. Hildegard grabbed onto the rocky surface as best as she could. She could hear Turi screaming something as she saw Pegasus fly like a dart towards the giant’s now undefended heart. She could hear its death cry as it started to fall, the magical spear piercing through its skin, the divine enchantment breaking through its hard hide.

The giant began to tumble, with Hildegard still on it. If she held her grip and it landed the right way, perhaps she’d still be able to come out of this alright. Gripping on for dear life in the most literal sense, Hildegard grit her teeth as she focused on reinforcing her body. No matter what, this was going to hurt.

She heard the fluttering of wings and felt Turi’s hand grabbing her by the collar of her armor. She was lifted off the giant and pulled onto the back of the flying horse. Hilde hadn’t even realized she’d stopped breathing until she let out a big breath. The giant collapsed with a thud that shook the earth even more than its footsteps.

Turi was sweating, his breathing shallow. Hilde wasn’t faring much better as they both flew on the back of Pegasus, recovering their breaths. Neither had the energy to say anything, but it was Hilde who recovered first. With a big smile, she looked down at the dead monster.

“Can’t wait to tell Cat I took down a giant! The look on her face will be priceless.”

 

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The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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