Zero Snow

Winter: 16 years at the Monastery, five months after first flight; patrolling the coronation of a new Emperor.

Sunar stood watch behind the crowd. The field at the base of the slopes was full of people who had come to see Emporer’s coronation on the huge holo-display. The festive atmosphere of the day remained, but it was somewhat muted now that things had gotten under way. Most of his fellow monks stood in a large semi-circle which surrounded the crowd, but the few short enough that they didn’t block anyone’s view slowly made their way through the crowd looking for pickpockets, mischievous youngsters, or others trying to take advantage of the general distraction. He saw Gorel, one of the Halflings, approach the edge of the gathered throng with a woman at least three times her size in a nose-bender walking-submission hold.

She cleared the last rows of crowd and he stepped forward to assist, but she warned him away with a look. He started to go and help anyway, but she shook her head irritably and he turned his attention back to keeping an eye on the crowd. Well, keeping one eye on them, anyway, and the other eye on the huge holoprojection which riveted everyone else’s attention.

He had little to do, but he also knew this was the calm before the storm. In a few hours the ceremonies would end, and then the real work would begin. For now, though, he could spend most of his attention on the pageantry being displayed from the Royal Throne Room.

Most people had paid little attention as the ceremony got going, and he’d paid even less. Now, however, everyone in the crowd stood with the whole of their attention focused on the holo-display. The Emperor, still encased in his throne, had been moved from the cradle which kept him suspended-but-conscious for his reign, and had begun his last official address to the Empire.

The Emperor spoke at length; praising the people, the Empire, his various officials, talking of the challenges of his reign, and more. The mask which covered his face lit as he spoke: brighter when he spoke with force, softer as he grew quiet, different colors to convey different moods. Sunar found it interesting, if a bit distracting.

Snippets of whispered conversation floated on the wind, easy enough for him to hear when he turned his attention from the display. Most of it was speculation on the identities of both the old and new Emperors. “…cousin’s aunt said it is that elf, Duke Thorlin. He hasn’t been seen in long enough…” “…some dwarven Lord from the Outer Rim. Yes, I know how long it has been, but…”

The speech finally ended, and a white sheet bisected the throne room. It separated the throne from everyone else in the room, and the cameras were all positioned not to see over it. A bright light shone behind, and it cast the shadow of a person in wide robes which obscured his, or her, shadow, moving to the shadow cast by the throne. He could tell that the person was shorter than most humanoids, and broad at the shoulder. Probably a Dwarf, then.

Movement on the ground caught Sunar’s eye, and he looked down just in time to see a snowball headed right for his nose. He tilted his head just enough to let it pass, and scanned the crowd in an attempt to find the culprit.

Sunar scanned the crowd while the shadow in the display stood patiently. At length, someone moved from the position of the throne, and no more snowballs came, so he turned his attention back to the projection. The new figure moved with a certain stiffness, but was encased in robes similar to the first. The new person emerged facing away from the throne, then turned to see his replacement.

Then something odd happened on the screen. It came and went quick, and Sunar wondered if he imagined it, but he played the scene over in his mind. There had been a hesitation there, possibly even a look of surprise, pronounced enough for him to see it despite the robes. He studied the crowd, both with his eyes and his ears, to see if anyone else had noticed.

The moment passed fast, however, and the two shadowed figures bowed to each other. The one then turned and walked toward the light, the other moved to the throne. Just as the old Emperor passed the light which threw his shadow on the sheet, another snowball came toward Sunar with outstanding accuracy. He decided not to dodge this time, but shifted his staff slightly to catch the incoming fire.

He expected the dull thud of snow, but got instead the soft clink of something solid, and a mixture of ice and snow fell upon his head. This time another ball came almost immediately, and he saw the launch of a third.

He moved out of the way of both this time, and the third hit the ground with a heavy thud. He pushed the ball with his foot, and found a fairly heavy chunk of metal had been packed with snow. He instinctively moved again, and another ball passed through the place he had been standing. He suppressed a snarl. He had a good idea who was responsible, and did not intend to allow this to stand.

They probably thought he would not move on them during the ceremony, particularly now, at the most important part. They thought wrong. He checked his body camera’s operation, then leapt into the air. He cleared the top of the crowd just in time to see, and capture on video, another projectile leaving the hand of the same dark elf he had tangled with earlier that day. Judging by the shock on the young man’s face, he’d never seen a half-dragon fly.

Sunar dove for his antagonist. He had seen this guy tailing him several times during the day and had paid him no mind. He’d expected the idiot to lose interest or get too drunk to stand, but it seemed this guy would be nothing but trouble if he wasn’t dealt with. He came in as if he intended to perform a flying tackle, and his quarry took the bait. At the last moment he adjusted his dive and went over the other guy’s head, then did a mid-air flip which allowed him to grab the guy by the shoulders and lift.

His wings clawed for air; he’d lost most of his momentum picking up his target. It took a great effort, but he finally got high enough for a few proper wing-beats despite the struggling weight on his back. He made a sweeping turn, and his prisoner must have seen the ground, for he became very, very still.

It only took a few more moments to set down outside the crowd. He stumbled a bit due to the extra load, but managed to set him down gently. Well, not too roughly, anyway. The dark elf was pale, and shaking, as Sunar put cuffs on him and began to march him to the stockade. He heard someone whisper something about the dark elf being as pale as a high elf, and the man started to struggle again, then to curse and threaten.

Sunar just shook his head. Some people didn’t know when to leave things alone, nor when they’d been beat.



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