Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
ON THEIR WAY to the cobbler’s the next day, they came upon the Darklaw commander and his cohorts. With horrified murmurs and uneasy shifting, a throng of townsfolk watched.
“You can’t let this go on,” Kami whispered to Avestine as they settled in with the crowd near a miller’s shop. “You can stop this.”
“How can I stop this?”
Townsfolk carried a dead man away. A horse had dragged him to his death, and the commander shouted that he would kill every man in such a way unless the murderer confessed. “No farmer will ever touch a soldier again!”
“They must have found the men in the alley,” guessed Rook.
Kami leaned close. “There are so many soldiers. Where did they all come from?” She pointed to the far side of the crowd where more soldiers were controlling the mass of people. “They’re cutting us off.”
After sharing a confirming nod, Avestine said, “Wait for a count of twenty.” She and Rook drifted through the crowd in opposite directions. Kami glanced after each of them. She stepped cautiously, trying to get her back against a wall, but the soldiers had formed a circle around the crowd and were expertly herding it together.
She wasn’t sure what to do, so she counted. When she reached twenty, a shout echoed from her left. Every head around her turned to the misdirection, but Kami raced to her right, feeling Avestine’s presence there.
A metallic shine threatened Kami, and she dove among people. The blade that chased her sunk into the dirt. A soldier stepped in front of her. Through helmet slits peered hateful eyes, slices of white that shifted back and forth. She wondered only briefly where Avestine was before she felt a cut. Someone had thrust a dagger into her arm. She pulled it out and stumbled forward.
The throbbing pain drifted away and she felt an urge to act. She had no plan, no real thought, only a vision. She saw the intrusion of the dagger into the throat of the soldier. She saw everything she would do, and then she did it. She saw the blood, felt the resistance of muscle after the point poked through skin. Her vision darkened, leaving only a smell: the iron scent of blood.
Several townsfolk stumbled into her, driven back by soldiers. She fell along with them, rubbed her eyes, and saw that two soldiers were dead, blood pooling in the wagon-ruts of the dirt road. Wrestling free from the weight of bodies, she lunged for a dropped sword, fumbled to get a grip, and made it to her feet in time to see Avestine cutting her way toward her.
When she saw Avestine, Kami’s resolve left her. The sword she had struggled for dropped to her side as she watched Avestine’s blade swing up and down. Avestine appeared and disappeared behind the crowd. Avestine’s control, her moment-by-moment decisions, precise in their pursuit, absorbed Kami’s attention until it was too late. When Avestine’s eyes met her own, Kami saw Avestine’s terror and saw her shout, but Kami lost the meaning in the commotion of voices just before she lost her breath.
Her knees gave way under her as the world went silent. Her vision swarmed with color and movement, but the weakness in her legs baffled her. She fell to her side and rolled, unable to will even her arms to brace her fall. When she came to rest on her back, she gazed up into the eyes of a soldier and felt her body jerk as he pulled his sword from her side.
Amazed by the silence and the tugging sensation of metal as it left her body, Kami stared up at her attacker. The leering smile faded behind a crimson shine as he drew back with his sword. Blood spilled from his silver blade onto her chest, and she thought it was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.