Outside the narrow windows of the peel tower, lightning flashed between the clouds like cannon fire, and thunder rolled across the land like an avalanche. To earthly eyes, the conflict overhead appeared to be a savage storm, like the weather that comes at night after a hot summer’s day and booms thunder and the promise of violence in the air, but brings no rain.

Immense mountain ranges of clouds arched across the sky. Their valleys were illuminated by blazing flashes of lightning, and their peaks were silhouetted by more flashes in the distance. 

To earthly eyes, the roiling shapes in the storm clouds looked like huge warhorses rearing fiercely as they carried mighty warriors into combat, armed with fiery bolts of lightning.

The battle in Sky was now all parry, thrust, and butcher’s work. The swords of the combatants were thunderbolts, and the sound they made when they fell upon upraised shields was like the cracking of bones and the rumble of receding war-drums.

The ranks of both sides were nearly depleted. In their own way, the unevenly sized forces were evenly matched: The smaller Legion forces fought with skill, single-mindedness, and valor; while their more numerous but unwilling opponents fought with desperation.

The pattern of combat ebbed and flowed across the battlefield in the sky until Lt. Aaron Nimbus found himself standing in a quiet eddy with his back to a cloudbank. His wounded shoulder ached mightily, but he put it out of his mind.

Suddenly, three figures came rushing headlong around the cloudbank. The tall man at the front, and the stockier man at the rear, were on guard. They both looked like they had been in a fight. Meanwhile, the pristine, furtive figure in the middle looked anxiously ahead and back. 

The trio stopped abruptly when they realized Lt. Nimbus was blocking their way. The man in the middle was a nobleman who appraised Aaron Nimbus contemptuously, while his two bodyguards sized up the lieutenant and smiled like wolves. The three men were Duke Northstorm and his two chief henchmen, the brothers Illwind.

“Well, we meet again,” said Thom Illwind to Aaron Nimbus. Thom stood a full head taller than Aaron. Blood was on his sword and stained his hauberk. Thom looked at Aaron with mock hurt in his eyes and said, “What? Have you no fond recollections of our last encounter? We met in a lonely corridor of Castle Castellanus and fought over that old, foul-smelling shepherd.”

“Brother,” chided Dwyer Illwind, the shorter, stockier of the two, “how could he know it was us? We were masked.”

“You’re right,” Thom said apologetically to his brother, “I stand corrected.” Then Thom turned back to Aaron and snarled, “But now I think we’ll correct another wrong. Your interference that night obstructed our liege’s goals.” Thom gestured back to the nobleman keeping a safe distance from their confrontation. “And as if that wasn’t enough,” Thom added, “you earned my brother and me His Grace’s disfavor, too.”

“You’re success was pure luck!” Dwyer Illwind piped up, angrily. His lightning-sword shook in his hand as he shouted, “We would have settled the matter then and there if not for the interference of that accursed little mud-crawler from Land, Kevin Galwynn!”

“Well, Legionnaire,” said Thom Illwind, cooly, “he’s not here to help you now. This time, you will meet your fate as you should have that night. This time, you die!

Aaron Nimbus had stood his ground all the while the Illwind brothers blustered and blew. He had stood without moving even as he girded himself to ignore the pain in his wounded shoulder and the wetness trickling down his arm. He had stood unmoving as he noted the way Dwyer Illwind slowly drifted to the lieutenant’s right, just as Dwyer had done the night of the kidnap attempt. He had stood unmoving as he also noted the way Thom Illwind had begun to drift to the lieutenant’s left and shift his weight forward. And he had stood unmoving as he noted the way Duke Northstorm slowly advanced behind his men, with a gloating smile that cut across his face like a knife.

Then Aaron looked slightly to his left and said, “Aye, Thom, I remember that night; I remember it well.” As he spoke, a caul like a cold, gray, storm cloud began to spread across his face and Legionnaire uniform. “But know this, Thom Illwind: I don’t like you.” Then he looked to his right and said to Dwyer Illwind, “And I don’t like you either.” Then he looked straight ahead at Duke Northstorm as the caul across his face turned black and flashes of anger crackled around his eyes like distant lightning. Then finally, he said, “And I especially don’t like you!

All at once, a chill simultaneously ran down the spines of the Illwind brothers as they wondered whether they had, perhaps, made one taunt too many. Nimbus’s resolve was written on his face as ineradicably as chisel marks on stone.

“You wish to fight?” said Lt. Aaron Nimbus, as the righteous anger and battle lust burning in his blood made him forget all his hurts and pain. “Very well, then,” he agreed, oh so coldly, “we shall fight. So, prepare yourselves, brothers and duke, because I take you at your word. This will be…a fight to the death!”

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