The Curse of the Ebon Maw Chapter Eight by A.S. Raithe

“I said halt!” one of the infantrymen roared.

But the little refugee family pressed on.

Desperation etched their faces. Clean streaks carved the mother’s face from where her tears had washed away the road dirt covering her features. She held an infant tight. On the cart sat a little girl, no more than eight, holding a dolly in a mirror of her mother. Beside her was a boy barely out of diapers eating a mealy apple.

Her husband and oldest son— a boy not yet in his teens —struggled beneath the weight of their cart. The tightening of a bowstring drew Mira’s ear.


One archer loosed an arrow at them. Though they were far out of range, its meaning was clear. The father fell to a knee, spent where the warning shot fell.

“Please monsieur!” the woman wailed, her voice as full of the bayou as the air. “Please, you cannot keep us ‘ere! We will die if we stay!”

Sympathy tensed the infantry captain’s jaw. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said with genuine sincerity, “but we cannot allow the Hunger to spread.”

“No,” she shook her head. “No, sir. See for yourself.” She lifted up her oldest son’s shirt and had him turn in place, then, turning to her husband, he followed. “See? We are not infected. You can let us go!”

Guilt carried the soldiers’ eyes from them, sending a fresh wave of tears down the woman’s face. Trembling, her weak fingers fumbled at the ties of her bodice.

She couldn’t look at her husband. “D-Do what you must,” she wept, bracing to accept the unthinkable. “Just… let us through. The children at least.”

“Christine!” the man gasped.

The air caught in the captain’s chest.

“No!” Mira gasped as she leapt from the mule cart. “Th-That’ll be enough of that!”

The captain and his men nodded fervently. Warmth filled the knight’s heart at their nobility. Not one of them as much as glanced at the woman.

“What is going on here?!” Echo demanded. “Why isn’t anyone allowed through?”

“I’m sorry, miss, but I can only say our orders come from the capital,” said the captain.

Mira’s nostrils flared. Her hand flew to Charlotte’s broach. Twisting it and calling out “Bloom,” clanking metal and jingling chain filled the air. In the next moment, the soldiers’ eyes went wide.

“A zephyra Knight of Sitri?” the captain muttered in astonishment. “You’re Mira the Hurricane, aren’t you?”

Struggling to conceal the lump in her throat as she swallowed, Mira stood tall. “I am.”

There was a collective breath of relief among the soldiers. “The capital’s sent aid!?” “Sitri hasn’t abandoned us?” “Gods be praised!”

Taking Mira’s sword hand, the captain supplicated himself before her. “Thank the gods, dame knight. I was at my end. I… I can’t keep these people here. Not knowing what’s in there with them.”

“The goblins?” said Mira.

He shook his head. “The Hunger, the plague we were sent to contain.” He shook his head. “I have a wife and child. I’d do whatever it took to get them out. How am I supposed to hold these people here?”

“Then, let them out,” Mira replied simply.

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy, my friend,” said Brother Luke.

“The capital’s quarantined the swamp,” said Norm. “Sitri plans on waiting it out.”

Mira’s feathers fluffed. “But the people—?”

“Will either die or be cured,” Norm answered.

“Either way, the plague is contained.” Echo spat in disgust.

An agitated breath filled Mira’s lungs. To protect the kingdom, the capital had chosen to sacrifice the swamp. As awful as it sounded, it was the most logical choice. A few hundred was a small price to protect millions, but that didn’t mean they didn’t deserve a fighting chance.

“Well then, you’re in luck,” Mira began resolutely. “We’ve brought a priest of Korik to take care of this.”

“There are already ten at work, ma’am.”

The tiny smile of victory barely managed to twitch her cheek before the captain’s reply wiped it away.

“They’d arrived and set to work before us,” one of the soldiers explained. “Nobody knew they were coming.”

“His holiness guides us,” said Brother Luke. “If my brothers are here, then I must join them.”

“I’m sorry, friar,” the captain shook his head, “but our orders are clear: ‘no one’ means no one. We are to contain the Hunger at all costs.”

“Not unless you’ve been exposed, like this lot,” added one of the guards.

Mira opened her mouth to protest only for a gentle tug to draw her attention. She found Echo’s saddened eyes upon her. The little duchess shook her head. She was right. There was no reasoning with them. Even if Mira tried to pull rank, they wouldn’t budge. Their orders came from Sitri itself. Not even Captain Theris could countermand it.

“I don’t understand.” Brother Luke shook his head as they convened on the far side of the cart to discuss their options. “We have been exposed.”

“They’re probably assuming that if we haven’t caught it yet, then we won’t,” said Norm.

“Or believe the illness comes from the swamp itself,” Zhel added.

“Whatever the case,” Brother Luke sighed, “I need to get to them.”

“I suppose Mira and I could carry you and Zhel in, but,” Echo shook her head, “those guards will have us in irons if we try to come back for Norm.”

“What a shame,” Norm said flatly. “Guess I’ll just have to go home.”

Echo began admonishing him for his cowardice, but Mira didn’t hear her. A soft rustling caught her ear. Feathers bristling, her eyes narrowed. There was something familiar about the sound. Something not at all welcome.

Instinct pulled her eyes towards the marsh. Her hand drifted to the hilt of her sword. Wings spreading, her eyes narrowed.

Pained shouts called from two of the soldiers as a third fell where he stood. Crude arrows jutted from all three. Mira barely had a chance to blink before a torrent of goblins burst from the underbrush.

Howling and hooping for blood, they weren’t like those withered husks from the camp. They were small, not coming much higher than Echo’s ribs, but their dense muscle and sheer number made up for it. Clad in a mishmash of scavenged armors, not one of them was unarmed. A second volley of arrows cut down one of the wounded guards.

There wasn’t time to think. Mira’s sword was out in the same breath she’d taken to the air. A quarter second later, she sunk her blade in one of their hearts. Wrenching it free, she whipped around and took another’s head, but as she brought it down in a great slash to sever a third’s arm, her teeth rattled in their sockets.

Knee buckling, Mira fell to a kneeling position. She shook her head to dispel the stars. A mace, the very one that dropped her came at her face. Muscle memory narrowly parried it away with her pommel, but not without price.

The incredible weight of the goblin’s blow defied his small stature as he knocked the sword from her hand.

Mira’s breath caught. She scrambled to recover her weapon as the swarm closed on her. Goblin feet ground the blade into the marshy earth. Axes, maces, and every manner of blade rose to strike her down.

Panicked screams echoed from the horde. Light caught the zephyra’s eye. Chancing a glance, her heart stopped. A luminous dragon blazing like the sun bore down upon them. Its mouth already agape, all she could do was sit there, transfixed at the visage of death come for her.

A dark form streaked from the dragon’s mouth. Heavy thunks sounded around Mira as three goblins fell, daggers jutting from their throats. The figure slammed into the goblin pinning Mira’s sword, skewering it at the point of an arming sword.

“Are you alright!?” Zhel bellowed before whipping another dagger past her to fell another goblin.

Mira could barely nod. She’d heard about nu-duwar illusions before, but a dragon!? That was far more than she’d thought possible.

Shimmering light streaked around them. The concentrated bolts of magic homed in on individual targets. Exploding on impact, several more goblins were severely wounded or outright killed.

A yip sounded above as Echo struggled to dodge incoming arrows while repositioning herself to cast a jet of fire at another.

Flame leapt from the duchess’ palm, scattering the goblins around Mira and Zhel. The knight seized the distraction to go for her sword, but it was no use. Try as she might, the goblins had driven it too deep into the ground to be easily freed. Snarling to herself, she went for the dagger in her boot.

Parrying away an incoming hatchet, she drew the backup blade and drove it deep into his belly. Fear filled the creature’s eyes, adrenalin dulling him to pain. Her second stab snuffed the life from him as the point impaled his heart.

“Stop! Get back here!” the captain screamed.

Three infantrymen broke rank to join the fray. Horrible green flame streaked past them, immolating a goblin archer as they reached Mira and Zhel. Norm had climbed to the driver’s seat of the mule cart, the only vantage point he could, and unleashed his infernal magic.

Wrenching the hatchet from the dead goblin’s hand, Mira buried it into the back of one that leapt at Zhel. Blade binding in its ribs, she let it fall. The nu-duwar offered a nod of thanks before transforming into a storm of slashes and thrusts as more bore down on them.

“Dame knight!” one of the soldiers bellowed. “Here!”

Tossing her his halberd, he drew his sword. For a change, Mira had no issue catching the weapon. A sinister smirk pricked her lip as she got a feel for the weapon’s weight. In seconds, the vicious blade put down two more goblins, but their ferocity remained relentless.

“Something’s wrong!” Zhel growled. “Goblins don’t typically fight like this!”

“They must be desperate!” Mira replied.

Plunging his blade through ones throat, Zhel glanced to her. “The Hunger?”

Her jaw tensed.

“Mira!” Echo shrieked. “Breakaways!”

Mira wheeled. Ten of the goblins were charging for the helpless family. Her wings snapped open to carry her in pursuit, but the distraction cost her another blow. One much sharper than before.

Reflex brought the blade of the halberd down on the goblin spearman that had thrust through a gap in her mail coat beneath her arm. Splitting the arm from its body, Mira stepped in, grabbing it by the back of the head, and buried its face into the poleyns protecting her knees again and again, stopping only after it had gone limp.

Tearing the spear from her side, she growled to herself. It was deep. Adrenalin dulled the pain coursing through her. She felt the spear tip scrape her ribs as she pulled it out, but her breathing seemed okay. No more laborious than taking a hard body shot in the sandpit. Luck had favored the zephyra. Nothing vital was struck.

She fought through the pain, forcing her eyes to refocus on the goblins that had gotten past them. They were nearly on the family. The father grabbed a pitchfork and his son a sickle while the mother and younger children made a desperate dash for the infantrymen.

Bows were nocked and drawn before she could blink. The archers drew. Twang-Twang-Twang. Mira’s memories of volleys created the sound in her mind despite the distance. The mother’s feet went out from her. She slid another dozen feet across the soaked soil. The two children crumpled next to her.

The arrows had found their marks. Half the goblins lay dead beneath the volley.

A guttural roar filled the captain as he leapt over the reeling woman. His sword flew from its scabbard in one clean motion. Three of his men were at his heel, spears at the ready, and Brother Luke was close behind. The friar stooped to help the woman back to her feet as the captain reached the boy’s side.

An appreciative breath filled Mira’s lungs. With the captain and his men engaging, she could turn her attention back to the remaining goblins.




Warmth radiated throughout Mira’s body as Brother Luke tended to her. Light emanated from the monk’s hands as words of prayer flitted from his lips. Her face twitched at the strange feeling of her flesh mending. She may have been healed by magic dozens of times before, but that didn’t make the sensation of everything knitting back together any less bizarre.

The priest had his work cut out for him. Only the children and archers had escaped injury. Four infantrymen, including the one that had leant Mira his halberd, were dead, and the father had a horrible axe wound to the chest. And all about them lay slain goblins.

“Dame knight,” Zhel called over. “You should see this.”

With the worst of her injuries mended, Mira stopped Brother Luke. A general ache clung to her from the minor bruises and cuts left behind as she made her way to Zhel. Nothing worse than she’d had before.

He stooped over one of the fallen goblins. A grim look creased the nu-duwar’s face. She looked down on what he saw. In an instant, her expression changed to match his.

Flesh stretched tight across its ribs. Its belly, sunken and starved. Each rib could be counted at a glance.

“Exactly as we feared,” Zhel muttered.

There was a heavy clap on Mira’s shoulder. “Well would you look at that,” Norm boomed so everyone could hear. “Looks like we need to be making our way to the village after all.”

“W-What?” the captain sputtered. “Sir, I’m sorry, but the quarantine—.”

Exactly!” Norm interrupted. “Your orders are to contain the Hunger, aren’t they?” The captain nodded, but before he could speak, Norm continued. “Well, we’ve all been exposed now. So,” he clapped his hands and gestured down the road, “off to Larris sur L’eau, right?”

“I… but… the blockade… I?” The broken thoughts fell from the captain’s lip as revelation washed over him.

“Oh, you’re right Captain!” Echo called from above, perhaps the only one who had never gotten close enough to be exposed. “You should set up a refugee camp. That way anyone that isn’t showing signs of infection can be kept safe, and you’ll be able to keep anyone else from coming in.”

He turned blinkingly to Mira for guidance.

She shrugged. “Makes sense to me. The archers can maintain the blockade while you manage the camp.”

“Y-Yes, ma’am,” he nodded resolutely. “As you command, ma’am.”

Echo produced three small hand mirrors and her spell book. After a few minutes of flipping through the pages, she began casting. The mirrors glowed brightly, and when she was done, she passed one to the archers before landing next to Mira, risking exposure at last.

“Here.” She sighed as she passed one of the mirrors to the captain. “I’m not sure how well I did, but if I followed the formula right, you’ll be able to communicate with your men and us through it.”

Lifting the last mirror, she tapped the surface and said, “Sapphire.” The mirror he held began to flash and buzz. “Brilliant!” Echo cheered as she leapt high into the air, wings carrying her ten feet in a beat, with excitement. “It took!” She cleared her throat. “Pardon the outburst.

“They’re fairly simple to use. Just tap the mirror’s surface and say the name of the mirror you’re trying to contact. Yours is Sapphire, theirs is Ruby, and ours is Onyx. To answer, tap the surface twice and say, ‘Hello.’ When you’re done, tap it twice again and say, “Goodbye.’ Simple enough?”

He nodded. “I think so, ma’am.” And with that, he tapped the mirror and said, “Ruby.”

There was a momentary pause before the surface of the mirror rippled, and the face of one of his archers appeared in place of his own.

“Commander!?” the archer shouted so loudly Zhel rubbed his ears.

“I don’t think you need to be so loud,” said the captain.

“Apologies, sir,” said the archer. “So then, this is the plan?”

The captain looked to Mira and nodded. “Yes. Load provisions in the wagon and send the mules over. We’ll set up a refugee camp while you continue the blockade.” He ended the conversation and turned back to Mira. “You’ll not be swayed to wait with us, will you?”

She shook her head. “Whatever’s going on in there, they’ll need all the help they can get.”

“Good luck then, Dame Mira. May all the gods be with you.”


Continue to Chapter Nine on April 21, 2024.


About the Author

A. S. Raithe is a fantasy author living near Pittsburgh with his wife and children. Always the creative type, it wasn’t until high school and being introduced to a local bestselling author that he found his passion for writing. He took time away from writing to attend college before being convinced by his wife to pick it up again shortly after their wedding. Outside of writing he enjoys exercise, baking, gardening, folklore, music, and hiking.

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