Dead of Knight (The Gryphonpike Chronicles Book 4)
Dead of Knight
     
    The road leading from Ghost Lake toward Fallbarrow was more of a dirt track slicing through the curving grassy hills than a true road. I moved ahead of my companions, taking the opportunity to stretch my legs after the boat ride across the lake from Clearbarrow. We were moving with speed as the daylight faded to dark gold on the blue horizon, hoping to reach the village of Fallbarrow before night closed over us.
    Tiny yellow and green birds flitted among the long summer grasses, and the air carried the scent of cattle and ripening grain. I had seen a few distant farmhouses with their tall pyramid barns from the road, the land boundaries marked by rough-hewn stones stacked into precarious pillars. My companions had debated not pushing through to the village and instead trying to seek shelter and purchase a hot meal at one of the farms, but both Rahiel, our pixie-goblin sorceress, and Drake, our roguish human swordsman, didn’t fancy sharing bedding with farm animals. It was probably the first thing they had agreed on in months. So they got their way and we now covered the miles at a brisk march, our breathing and the creaking of armor and fastenings keeping time to our footfalls on the packed dirt track.
    The birds warned me first. I had been jogging along, Thorn, my bow, in one hand, my eyes lazily scanning the monotonous golden hills for trouble, when the grass went silent. No birds danced away from the roadside and no yellow and green flickers showed in the grass anymore. The drone of insects dropped away, leaving the world around us filled with unnatural quiet.
    Fade, my mist-lynx companion, materialized at my side, coalescing from a cloud of vapor. I stopped moving, glancing back at my companions who had slowed as they, too seemed to notice the sudden stillness. Fade dropped low to the ground, his black-tipped silver ears flat against his head and a low, unhappy growl rumbling in his throat.
    “What doofankle pissdip is it now?” Makha asked as she moved up near me. The big human had her shield unslung and her hand on her sword, her dark blue scale mail gleaming in the dying sunlight. The hood on her mail was off her head, leaving her red braids hanging down her back and her blue eyes searching for whatever threatened.
    She didn’t expect me to answer, as my curse would never allow even a shrug of speculation, so I assumed the question was directed at the others, or perhaps just to her gods. No one else had a chance to answer her, however.
    The ground started to shake, the hills now actually rolling as earth buckled and grasses trembled and broke. Scores of birds and insects took off from the grasses, blotting the sky like low clouds. I dropped to my knees, trying to stay aware of the roiling landscape in case this was some magical precedent of an attack. The very ground seemed to boil like a pot of water left too long on a fire.
    Makha dropped down as well, leaning heavily on her shield with a grunted string of curses. Behind us, I heard Azyrin, our half-winter-orc cleric, grunting as he, I assumed, also got low to the shivering ground. Drake cursed far more loudly than any as he crouched beside the cleric. Overhead I saw Rahiel and her mini-unicorn take to the sky, a wand clutched in each of her tiny green fists.
    The world roiled and boiled and shivered and shook. I swallowed bile, annoyed with myself for just kneeling here and wishing it would stop instead of taking some action. If something attacked, we were down and sickened with the motion. I could only hope anything else would be similarly disabled.
    Then the shaking ceased. For a long breath I stayed low, my muscles still vibrating a little, waiting for the shaking to resume, not yet trusting the cracked earth beneath my feet.
    Screaming broke us from our hushed shock. Multiple voices raised in terrified screams and wails, drowned out for a moment by a deep groaning crack like breaking wood. I rose and took off over the hill to my right,

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