Voidwalker: Chapter Three, p12

Bor’s nose was itchy and that’s just his latest gripe. This was a waste of time, no matter how you looked at it. He was curled up under a camouflage of branches and leaves that felt like an oven with the sun bearing down the hillside. His legs were stiff from crouching, his clothes were sweaty, and his nose was still itching. All this for what? One stupid nephaim what probably didn’t even have much coin.

They’d made a pretty good ambush, with archers on the sides and a few spearmen dressed like militia below, with Mel and Rich further down the road. They’d come at him from behind after the group in front got his attention. Good plan; bit complex for Bor’s taste, but pretty solid trap. All this waiting was getting to him, though.

That’s when he heard one of the guys on the road yelling. Ydawu, had to be. Only an Aernuan would use “Razh!” for a warcry. Stupid islanders and their devotion to a dead man. Bor waited a few heartbeats before rising, wanting to be sure that their victim was caught in the melee, drawing back his bow as he stood.

He paused, taking in the scene and looking for a shot. The nephaim was smoldering from Jual’s magic, the flames still burning on one flank. Bor had to give it to the brute for sidestepping to hide behind the pyre so the archers on that side weren’t sure what they were shooting at. Too bad Bor was on this side.

He took aim and loosed the arrow, drawing another and nocking it as he watched the first follow the half-giant into the fiery wall. Bor barely had his bow up again before the man emerged in a sudden charge that sent him headlong into the trio of spearmen below. His great axe swept aside the spears and his long arm reached out to grab Kirybo by the collar.

Bor was about to loose again but Ydawu stepped in his way, blocking the shot as she attempted to flank their victim. Kirybo, carried by the momentum of the nephaim’s rush, was sent crashing into Jual. With those two on the ground, the man turned to face Ydawu just as she attempted to stab him.

That was the moment when Bor realized they’d messed up. Bigger man, bigger weapon and longer arms. Their spears were too short. The axe bit into her collar and looked to go halfway down her chest before it stopped. Bor shot his arrow, figuring Yadwu was dead so it wouldn’t matter if he hit her instead. He watched, almost in a daze, as the arrow sailed over the poor woman and buried itself in the nephaim’s shoulder.

Kirybo’s scream was loud even at this distance as he charged the man responsible for killing his sister, only to suddenly find himself impaled on a spear. The nephaim tossed the dying man aside and turned to face Jual. The mage had drawn his sword, now wreathed in flames, and was standing in a defensive posture.

Bor took the chance to loose another arrow, and it was only as he watched the half-giant duck that he realized there were two more of them stuck in the brute’s back. How was he even still alive? Bor glanced down the road, wondering where Mel and Rich were. They should’ve been just round the bend, but there was no sign of them.

The nephaim hopped backward into the fire, just as Bor shot again, then burst out in a furious charge. He barreled into Jual before the draconian had a chance to dodge, and while the burning blade dug into the monster’s side, he did not seem to care. Jual, ever nimble, managed to keep his footing upon breaking free from the collision, backpedaling to get away from the enemy.

The half-giant responded by grabbing his sword arm and using it to pull the man back, punching him in the face and kicking him in the knee. His leg buckled unnaturally and Jual sank to the ground, hanging limply as though supported only by the arm still in the nephaim’s grip. Bor, unable to watch the brute execute his friend, looked across at the other archers to see them fleeing.

Bor looked down as the demon below, arrows protruding from his back and a line of red in his side, turned to look up the hill. There was something in his gaze, a calm rage that promised no mercy, which was unlike anything Bor had ever seen. He loosed another couple of arrows at the sprinting form as he began backing away. He tripped over his camouflage, dropping his bow. Scrambling to his feet, he drew his long dagger.

Bor wanted to flee, but hadn’t the time. The half-giant grabbed his hand, forcing it back against itself. Immediately after came an elbow to the face that sent an explosion of colours into his vision and the iron taste of blood into his mouth. Bor wasn’t sure if he imagined the sound of bone snapping or if he could really hear it, but he knew for sure his scream was the last sound he’d ever hear. The world around him turned black.

***

The tavern was dark, dank, dirty, and full of smoke. It stank of stale ale and vomit. But it was the happiest sight Bor had ever seen in his life. Never had he tasted a meal as delicious as the overcooked steak and watered down ale he was trying his best to eat.

His left arm was broken, along with his nose and a few fingers on his right hand. His ribs were bruised, his ankle sprained, and his right shoulder still hurt from having been twisted awkwardly when he fell.

The Cloak across the table was patiently watching him eat, occasionally taking a reluctant sip of what the wench had insisted was wine.

“‘e was possessed!” Bor waved his right arm for emphasis. “Nay, ‘e was a demon! Gaze o’ ‘ellfire, skin what turned away our blades, an’ a battle cry o’ th’ damned!”

The Cloak nodded quietly, but Bor suspected the man didn’t believe him.

“In the end, the Sollim spy is alive and well, while you are not.”

Bor nodded, eyes still wide with terror just thinking about the battle. It had started off well enough, but then… He shuddered, happy to be alive.

The Cloak rose to his feet and tossed a few gold on the table before moving toward the door. Far too much for the meal, not nearly enough to hire a healer for the arm. Bor turned to complain only to find himself unable to speak or even breathe as a sharp pain exploded in his chest. The last thing he saw before the world yet again went black was the cold, disdainful look of the Cloak watching him from the doorway.

***

Ared could feel his brow scrunched up in a frown as he descended the stairs from his personal suite and entered the corridor leading to the palace proper. He had barely risen and could already tell it was one of those days. It had started with his bathwater having grown cold because he slept much later than usual, and then the discovery that his clothes had been improperly pressed.

“He ever try anything with you?” came a hushed voice from up ahead.

“Why would ‘e? Ain’t no prince gonna care ‘bout us with all them fancy ladies about!”

“They say he seduced Jane,” the first voice sounded excited.

“Oh! So that’s why she got transferred,” the other replied.

“Well, can’t have any illegitimate heirs, can we?”

Both voices giggled.

“We don’t have hereditary rule. Now! Less talk, more work ladies!” a third voice cut in, abruptly ending the conversation just as Ared turned the corner. “Ah, good morning, Your Lordship!” The speaker, one of the senior maids, bowed politely and stepped aside to make room for Ared as he strode past.

He paused, scowling at the two young girls attempting to appear extremely busy with dusting the ornaments lining the hallway. It was their good fortune he was in no mood for people today. He turned to their superior, an elderly woman who had worked in the palace since she was a young girl. Ared had always appreciated her attention to detail. “The portraits are crooked and the carpet is askew.”

He did not wait for her to reply, but continued with a brisk stride. Up ahead he saw one of the Cloaks waiting, skulking in an alcove until she could fall in behind Ared.

“Reports from the city-”

“No.” He was in no mood for a complete briefing. Ared could feel the beginning of a headache already.

“Sire?”

Ared continued in silence for a time, his headache rapidly growing worse.

“Any word on the Sollim spy?” Given how things were going this morning he barely felt the need to ask.

“Reports from our agent at the Blazing Dryad indicate that he enlisted some local outlaws who attacked the spy. The attempt failed, with no loose ends. The last missive included a request to take direct action and word that the nephaim is posing as a magistrate.”

“Denied. Inform the agent to leave him alone for now. Prepare a list of agents stationed in the area. He is not posing. It is thus preferable that he arrive in Wyrm’s Edge over any action against him being traced to us.”

The Cloak stopped and bowed as Ared continued walking. By the time he pushed open the door to the kitchen five steps later she had quietly left to attend to her duties, and his request. Ared himself set about searching for a suitable breakfast.

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