AVESTAR STEPPED BACKWARD around the tree and ran. Kami didn’t worry about losing him. She worried when the soldiers regained their courage. She leapt to a branch just as a spear sailed between her legs to stick in the tree trunk where she had been standing. She felt vulnerable as a monkey, so she passed through that form quickly, launching herself from the heights into a falcon and rising above the canopy.
She circled high as she followed Avestar’s progress tradeward. His guard followed some distance behind, but far demonward, nearer the coast, another knot of men huddled, and Kami dropped low trying to determine who they were. When she touched rage, she knew she had found Avestine and dove straight into the melee, where Darklaw soldiers were putting a wedge between Avestine and a company of her Black Tide.
Kami dropped from the sky so quickly that she didn’t think to summon help. She hit the forest floor in the body of a black bear, scattering the soldiers on both sides, but a spear lodged in her thigh, and when she swatted a blade away, it sliced through her paw. Enraged by the pain and terrified for Avestine, Kami charged the offensive soldier, trampling him. She crushed his head in her jaws and flung his body at his companions. She struck out at any man she saw, knocking away spears and swords but taking many hits, as well. She had a calm moment to gather her thoughts and look for Avestine. The melee had shifted, moving deeper into the forest, and the last of the soldiers disappeared into the darkness.
She followed as a monkey, springing through the trees and seeking Avestine in her thoughts as much as with her eyes. She found her leading her men into the thick of the forest; she had Darklaw on the run. Kami raced ahead, thinking to get ahead of the enemy and call her beasts to trap and hold them for Avestine.
She dropped naked from a branch and gathered a pack of wolves along with a panther hunting nearby. She watched the game trail for any sign of soldiers, and she heard them long before they broke from around a curve. They climbed the sloping, root-covered trail seeking steady footholds. A few men still led their horses through the dense forest, but the wiser ones had left them behind.
Before Kami made herself known, one of the men drew up short, somehow aware of her presence and her companions. The man flipped off his helmet and smiled at her. It was Avestar.
“Avatar! What a blessing to find you here.”
“Who are you?” demanded Kami.
“What a question,” said the man as he walked closer.
Kami looked him over, wondering if Avestar could have found a way back from the direction she had left him running. But this didn’t feel like him. This man wasn’t as empty. He didn’t seem like Raret, either. “I don’t know you,” said Kami.
“I do,” said a voice behind Kami.
Avestine stepped from the brush. Rook and Wald emerged behind her, and then all around the clearing, her soldiers stepped from the trees, swords and spears ready. The company of Darklaw soldiers retreated into a crowd. Kami released the wolves and great cat back to their hunting.
Avestine stepped closer to Avestar, her sword raised. She examined his face, walked around him, examining his body, and came to rest in front of him. She stared into his eyes for a time, and Kami thought she must be either testing her resolve or working on resisting his charm. “I have only one question, you shithole, and you better answer it well. Where’s my daughter?”
Avestar tried to step back, but Rook had circled around and blocked his way. Avestar turned with a start and smiled. “Essanti Rook. How long has it been? You look quite well for a man I was told had no head.”
Avestine pressed her blade to his neck. “Tell me she’s alive, or you’ll be a man with no head.”
“Adonja’s Temple,” he answered. “She was ill and sent there to heal.”
Avestine shoved him away and turned to Kami. “The temple on Adonja’s Peak is remote and hard to reach, but you can get there. You can bring her to me.”
Kami braced herself as the flash flood of Avestine’s desperation hit her. A hope Avestine had never admitted appeared mere days from its reward, and the intensity of desire was stronger than Kami had ever felt from her.
Kami stared hard at Avestine. “If I bring your daughter,” she said, “you will give him to me. This man is mine.”
Avestine’s eyes narrowed. “What will you do with him?”
“This is my price. Your daughter for him.” Kami knew how great a sacrifice it would be for Avestine to relinquish her brother. “Keep him alive until I return.”
Avestine glanced back-and-forth between Avestar and Kami, and then she nodded. Kami turned, ran, and flew up above the trees.
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |