Not exactly how I imagine Hobb, but Isom Dart is close enough.
Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction prompt this week involved a randomly generated title and a 1500 word story, which led to what you can see above and below. I’m not sure exactly what caused that to make me think of what follows, but it felt about right. Ideas I passed over in favor of this one include: medical drama, massacre, way more murder… etc. I think I like this one better, as it’s an indirect sequel to my piece Trouble Close Behind from January 22nd. Enjoy.
Fourteen painful hours later, blood still oozed from his first razor-grass cuts. His skin was flayed and raw, his shirt and jeans scored, slit, and lacerated. Even his leathers had started to go to pieces. But the harness that held his iron to his chest still held together, and his badge dangled on a strap from his neck, twinkling in the dark of dusk. His moa had refused to enter the grass, and he’d heard its screams only half an hour after entering the bladed labyrinth. All he had now dangled from his body.
His flight had been long and hard, a desperate thing of sleepless nights and panicked watches, hours in the saddle broken only by those times when his riding bird had stumbled. His town had waited for him for too long, and now he didn’t know whether or not he’d be in time to protect them. It had been a mistake, Hobb decided, to try his luck at finding that rumored trove of badges. It had been a trap, he was sure.
Shepherd’s Brook, the new one settled when he was little and new to his duties, glittered quietly above him now, presiding over its hilltop with lamplight winking from its windows. It was much larger than it had been, and his power had grown along with it. Lina, his mentor, had passed several years earlier, but her town was still in good hands. Better hands, he scolded himself, than his own. Hands that hadn’t brought the shadows through the hellish razor-grass, hadn’t led them to his people, one step behind him. Hobb turned and passed the light of his badge across the edge of the tall grass, bright enough to sear the image in his retinas. He could hear the hiss of the shadows he’d caught, and stumbled into an exhausted run towards his town, knowing he had to reach it before they did.
For the first time in days, Hobb drew on the light of his badge, filling himself with its brilliance. The heat of it, its power, leaked from his skin in a sheen of glimmering sweat, ran down his bloodied cheeks in growing tears. It welled up from his wounds, his blood made brilliant and crimson in its radiance, and it stood out against his dark skin. Stripped and wounded as he was, his skin looked like the star-speckled night sky, constellations of power dripping down his limbs as he sprinted towards town. The power suffused him, and he finally felt able to smile. His people were here, they were well, alive, and they believed in him, their Protector. He prayed that enough of them slept, dreaming of hope and love, to fuel him now.
The night-darkened streets of his town opened before his approach, uncluttered and broad. He halted at the edge of town, turning to face his pursuers, hidden in the darkness. He’d run too fast for the husks they’d sent after him, but the shadows had nipped at his heels the whole way and now he could hear them flowing uphill towards those he’d sworn to save. Their hunger was palpable as they surged forward, and he knew in that moment that they had overextended themselves at least as much as he had in getting here. The difference was, he was waiting for them at the center of his power. For the first time, he felt that he might have a chance.
He pulled his iron from its holster more from habit than anything else, pulling up his badge in his other hand. Drained as he was, he didn’t think he’d felt anything like this since the night he’d first received his badge; the welling power surged through his badge, leaking into his fingertips until they too glowed, incandescent. The light of his badge flickered off in coruscating ripples of power, licking at the darkness around him, washing down the hillside towards the oncoming tide like a flood of sunlight. Nighttime dew sparkled on the gardens of Shepherd’s Brook, and the shadow fell back into razor-grass at the foot of the hill, briefly quiescent. The light lapped back into the badge, like a wave retreating from the beach.
Hobb stood still for a moment, wondering whether he dared to believe that he had solved things so quickly. A shimmering bead of sweat dripped from his brow, spattering brilliance on the ground like broken glass. Hobb’s breathing slowed, evened out, and then he heard the rustling of the razor-grass, saw it move without the wind. Something huge and jagged rose from it, blotting out the light of the stars as it strode towards him in the dark, only visible by what it occluded.
Hobb stepped forward to meet it, standing on the edge of his town. He could feel the people waking, drawn by the light show, coming out to see what had befallen their Protector. Somewhere, he could hear the beginning of a song. They were singing for him. He could feel the badge pulse in his hand, his heart pounding counterpoint in his chest. Now, even now, when he’d been gone for so long, when he’d shown up with the shadows on his heels, they still believed in him. His vision blurred with grateful tears, and he blinked them away as he stared down at the thing that strode towards him.
It stood, larger than a house, with massive limbs that trailed streamers of shadow and left darkness puddled on the ground. Where smaller shadows slicked the sides of buildings or hid behind other things, this stood free on its own, a void made form. Calmly, Hobb holstered his iron. It would do nothing against something like this. The song swelling behind him was more powerful than any gun now.
Hobb took another step forward, raising the badge in his hand as he faced the thing before him. It fed on the minds of the flock, suckling them away until it left only husks behind, but he did not fear it as he once had. Not on this night. He took a deep breath in, and felt the badge’s power suffuse him. He exhaled, and it was as though the stars of the night sky rode on his breath. The song behind him crested ever higher, and he strode forward again, a smile lingering on his lips. He’d worried for so many days that he would be late, but now he knew that everything would be okay.
The fight that night was something they sang of for years to come. Hobb, the Protector of Shepherd’s Brook, became a name to swear by, a name of praise. Those who watched that night spoke of the wonder of seeing him stride up off the hill, to step on light itself as though a man could walk on the top of razor-grass, gliding above the earth. Eltabet, the young girl whose family lived on the edge of town, swore that his skin shone like the stars above, like he’d wrapped himself in the light of the heavens and wore it into battle. Not everyone believed her, but no one disputed it.
The fight raged for hours, the bubbling radiance of his Protector’s badge pouring forth not just from the metal, but from him, as though he were their hope made manifest. And though the shadow struck him, cut at him, sought to swallow him whole, every time it was rebuffed, the mother-of-pearl luminance rising triumphant once again. And finally, as the gray light of dawn touched the horizon, the shadow fled. It was so diminished that it was barely the size of a dog, and as Hobb settled to the ground, he cut it down with one final beam. Then he fell to his knees, and did not move.
When they came to him in the light of dawn, he lay cold on the ground, life gone from his body but still not husked. His badge was clenched in his left hand, fingers still tight around it, and it was strangely warm to the touch, a living breathing thing. Every inch of his body had been torn, laid open by the grasping of the shadow, by his rush through the razor-grass. But even though he lay dead, and his wounds no longer bled, they still shimmered with the power that he had held within him, their belief and hope made manifest. The ground around him shimmered wetly with that same power, a shining bloody expanse that reached from the top of the hill to its foot, everywhere that he had fought for that whole long night, and where his blood had fallen the plants grew brighter, larger, healthier already.
They bore him up on their shoulders, silent and solemn, and so it was that Hobb passed from his duties to Shepherd’s Brook. And they say that, even to this day, Hobb’s tomb glows from within when the folk of Shepherd’s Brook sing.