The Sword and the Star
Jacque’s hand shook slightly in the stiff, cool breeze as he pulled out the piece of paper from his front jacket, but he convinced himself that it was more due to residual nerve damage from the shrapnel in his right shoulder than for any nervousness on his part. So many times had he unfolded this precious scrap and read the words he’d already memorized weeks ago, that it was beginning to disintegrete. It was the cheap, acid pulp stuff that the Dragons made, anyways. He shoved his hands back into his pockets and looked studiously at the ground as he walked through the main square. The copper statue of the great rebel hero White Hawk had been taken down after the city fell, but the replacement statue of Pierre wasn’t up yet. It made the square feel curiously empty, that something, anything, shold be there.
In any case, here be Dragons. The soldiers were milling about the square, harassing and/or flirting with the young women that were out and about at this late hour, since it was a Saturday night and this is what they did. Didn’t take long after the city fell for the nightlife to start back up again. These kids, they didn’t understand. He’d slap the sense into them if he thought they’d learn the lesson. But he kept his head down and pulled up the cowl—er, the hoodie so that it covered his face. People his age weren’t out this late, and it didn’t do to be an oddity around a bunch of bored conquering soldiers.
He quickly walked through the square, never once looking up from his feet, and managed to pass under the radar. He uttered a prayer of thanks to Mother Mary as he turned onto a side street, then a slightly sketchier side street, and finally, an unlit alleyway. He looked around, and then took out the paper out of his pocket for the last time.
Jacque looked up. Two hooded figures quickly walked down the alleyway towards him. On of them had shouted something at him. He dropped the paper, so startled he was, and didn’t notice as a gust of wind caught it. His hand went to the 8-inch forged bronze knife in his jacket that his father gave him, and his father gave to him, and so on and so forth. He had spent many hours caring for this knife, had reshafted it when the wooden handle rotted away 20 years ago in the swamps of Billerica, and had it been under sunlight, any would see that the edge carried that curious, deadly shimmer of a blade that had spent a great deal of time on the whetstone. He might get mugged tonight, but he wasn’t going to go easily.
“Oi!” she shouted again at Jacque.
Wait, “she”? This was a woman’s voice. This was…
“I’m so glad you could make it,” the woman said, pulling back her woven cowl. This was no stretchy product of polyester and plastics, that cloak was woven on a loom. Even in the dim light, Jacque could see. Her eyes had crow’s feet, her mouth framed in laugh lines, her reddish, dark hair shot with grey and silver. He almost knelt before her then, knelt to her regal visage, her high cheekbones, those dark green eyes of royalty, to the fact that she was the Griffin. Instead, she embraced him pulled his hood back and kissed him, once on each cheek.
“We have a great much to discuss, brother,” the Griffin said. Her eyes shone even in the distant steady glow of electric lamplight. “You asked about White Hawk when we last spoke. I have learned that he has fled to the highlands to avoid capture. We must carry on without him.”
Jacque nodded, slowly, reverently. Anything was possible.
“But we have unexpected allies, brother. At my left hand is a Wolf.”
“Wolf?” he asked, and then he realized as voice came out as a half-strangled croak, that it was the first thing he’d said all day. As uttered that single word, the Griffin’s companion took off his hood as well. His hair was dyed bright pink, he had piercing and tattoos across his face, he was wearing some sort of coloured contacts or his eyes were very strange. He looked like some caricature of the night life youths in the square waiting in lines outside of bars, and he found this man’s very appearance to be repugnant and offensive on some visceral level.
“Pardon my appearance, but such things are expected of those in my socioeconomic class,” the man said, in halting Germanolatin. Jacques realized his thoughts must have been written across his face, and flushed in embarassment, glancing away from the young man.
“The Wolf has come from the stars to help us, from the other vassal state subjugated by the Dragons. There are those, too, in that dark place of death and sex who would resist. And there are those in the den of the Dragons that defy the order. We are in communication with a Judge who calls himself a Seperatist.”
The Griffin and the Wolf. He looked between the two. Some distant part of him, the part that struck him in mute wonder and awe when he saw some great and terrible act of nature on the electric moving pictures—an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcano—realized, dimly, that he was about to become a part of something that was more than the sum of its parts.