Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(4)

Written By: James Maxwell

‘And thank you,’ Chloe said.

Without a reply, Zachary left the terrace, darting down the steps.

Chloe fetched her bag of healing supplies and led her sister to the agora where she would be safe with the servants. She then rushed away to lend aid to anyone who needed her skills.

The rest of the night passed in a blur.

Much of the damage to the city followed the same pattern: dislodged tiles and collapsed roof beams with the occasional toppled wall. Everywhere she heard cries. Heading into the densely packed lower section of the city, Chloe set broken limbs, administered soma, and sewed gashes closed with needle and gut. She encountered too many cases where there was nothing she could do and left behind wailing wives and stunned children.

As she ran from house to house she saw eldren lending their unique abilities to help. A female giant worked tirelessly to clear the ruins of a broken house while a small boy watched from just a few paces away, too concerned for his family to be afraid of the monstrous silver-haired woman. Several times Chloe glanced up, hearing the sound of wings as furies wheeled overhead, scanning the city as the seven-foot-tall winged men searched the city for anyone needing assistance. Twice she even saw gray-scaled dragons, lithe creatures with wings the size of sails and muscles rippling under glossy silver scales. Her breath caught as one with a crescent scar on the side of its wedge-shaped head swooped close overhead; it could only be Zachary.

The great tremor was not followed by another but the consequences were plain to see. She passed a row of five bodies near the remains of two houses and blanched, muttering a swift prayer to Aldus, the god of justice, to grant them entrance to heaven.

Eventually Chloe was completely out of supplies and she realized it was now light enough to see. The sun climbed the mountains behind Phalesia to reveal a city that had been shaken but still stood. The night had passed. The worst was over.

Heading back to the upper city and climbing steps that felt as if they would never end, Chloe felt exhaustion in every limb.

But then as she approached the city’s central square and its rim of civic buildings she heard a new chorus of cries, unmistakably shouts of fear.

People with wide eyes and pale faces ran back the opposite way, calling for soldiers as they passed. Hoplites with shield and spear sprinted in the direction of the agora.

Chloe started to run.

She skirted the Temple of Charys and reached the agora, an expansive square with paving stones in alternating shades of rose and brown. Wooden market stalls clustered near one side, while the tiered steps on the left-hand side had been turned into a makeshift infirmary.

A giant, fifteen feet tall, with silver hair and a crescent scar on his left cheek stood hunched in the center of the agora. Thick skin of tan-colored hide covered a frame of powerful musculature. His chest heaved and his brown eyes lacked the spark of intelligence, instead darting from side to side. Every part of his stance communicated the impression of a cornered animal.

As the soldiers of the city’s guard arrived they moved to encircle the giant. The hoplites stood shoulder to shoulder, shield to shield, spears pointed at the heaving creature. Each man carried a sheathed sword at his side, ready to be drawn if his spear became unwieldy or was lost.

Chloe knew that eldren hated the sight of steel; the very presence of metal brought them pain. The giant roared at the prickly wall of iron-tipped spears.

As Chloe pushed her way forward she saw a man in leather armor and a blue cloak rush forward to stop her. Amos, the veteran captain of the city guard, cursed as she moved too quickly for him to catch her.

‘Chloe!’ Amos called.

‘Call your men back,’ Chloe said. ‘How many did he save this last night? And you come at him with spears.’

Soon she was approaching the eldran, her hands spread in front of her as she spoke in a soothing voice. Zachary had been changing too much, shifting between the shape of dragon and giant depending on how he was needed. She prayed she wasn’t too late for him to return to himself.

‘Your name is Zachary. You are an eldran. This is just a temporary form, not your true shape. You live in the Wilds. Your wife is Aella.’

Chloe came closer still until she was within the reach of the giant’s long arms. Despite the danger, she continued to speak softly, constantly reminding Zachary who he was. As she looked on, the wildness in his eyes began to clear.

Finally, gray smoke surrounded him. The cloud thickened and grew until the giant was completely enveloped by the mist. The vapor shimmered, wavering and flickering, like a mirage in the desert.

Then the mist cleared.

Once more Zachary was a tall, slim, pale-skinned man in deerskin. He straightened and put his hand to his forehead as he weaved on his feet.

‘Chloe . . .’ Zachary said. He shook his head slightly, fighting the wildness in his unfocused brown eyes. ‘Did I . . . Did I hurt anyone?’

Chloe glanced at Amos.

‘No.’ Amos shook his head, speaking to Chloe rather than Zachary. ‘He saved many. The rest of his people have left. No one was hurt.’

Zachary slumped and closed his eyes, before reopening them. The darting glance of an animal had left them completely. ‘For that I am glad. I changed for too long.’

‘Look,’ a man said, pointing.

Chloe lifted her gaze. She frowned, then gasped. The eternal flame at the Temple of Aldus was extinguished. The flame always burned brightly through even the strongest storm, and despite the night’s terror there had been no strong wind, with the thunder heralding a quake rather than a storm. Yet it had expired.

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