Reorganization, re-visioning, and re-imaginging of the rough draft thus far. Still making good progress toward my next appointment!
Chapter 9 - Last of His Blood Excerpt
Kalb spoke into the brooding storm, his voice deafened by constant thunder and rain. “A thought occurred to me just now, little Magar. You’ve never mentioned your homeland to either me or the other Bloodsworn. Adofo and I have been remiss to tell you in earlier years, but it’s an ancient tradition among the palace guards of Heaven’s Gate.”
Standing beside the scarred brute of a man, Magar braced behind a round shield. Gaze locked forward alongside his brothers and sisters, their unit maintained a vigilant guard against the impregnable dark ahead.
“You’re wanting an answer to that right now?” He spared a glance up over his shoulder at the Bloodsworn’s infamous champion. “We’re about to be beset upon from the shadows. And I’ve a feeling our blood will be what stains the cobblestones for another several years.”
Kalb nodded. “A commendable reason to think of home and kindred from the lives we’ve sacrificed many moons ago. You know what, don’t tell me. I’d wager you’re a Sarunite, born amid the weeping realms of the Crescent Moon. It would explain why you never appear to mind the rain. Tell me I don’t have the truth of it.”
A pealing thunder quaked the Ardent Spire around him, but Magar took little notice through the torrential downpour. And lightning burst from morbid skies, unveiling half-flooded boulevards littered with both the ancient and recent dead.
A cautious smile graced his lips, despite the perilous situation they had become mired in. A team of ten courageous men and women, drawn from the ranks of the Zar’qin Guard’s most storied veterans.
“You’ve missed the mark a little,” he admitted. “You came near to the truth, though. I am born of Sarunite blood, the ancient kind known for retaining influential esteem enough to dictate a civilization’s uncertain path. Sarunthar kingdom has always been my pride and Sarune, the City of the Crescent Moon, my beating heart.”
A burning torch kept in hand, Magar warded off the black shroud ahead with an erratic firelight. The Bloodsworn fell in around their appointed commanders. A tight-knit formation of interlocked shields, brandishing spearheads and scimitar blades gleaming beneath the torchlight.
“I didn’t miss the mark by too wide a margin.” Kalb said. “You’re a survivor, like the myriad of peoples that inhabit the Khiosian heartland.”
Kalb just pointed up ahead with his chin, picking out insubstantial figures of human shape, creeping out of the darkness. At last, the foe appeared confident enough to assault them amid the ruins of the Ardent Spire’s abandoned sprawl.
A whistling hail of steel-tipped bolts came raining down around the Bloodsworn, punching through round shields and rattling armor with deceptive strength. A pair of their number fell, struck down in the hail.
An oncoming tide of apparitions, near to falling upon them in a matter of moments.
Kalb addressed the retired Zar’qin with an uplifting voice. “And know that you spill your blood and exhaust your lives beside true brothers and sisters. We are bound by our caste and the oath of blood we’ve sworn to one another. I won’t idle in the face of death, break through their ranks or die fighting, my kindred!”
A sound like thunder roaring into hills over yonder deafened the ears, the furious cries of the Bloodsworn upon their breaking of ranks. And the bludgeoning cacophony of sundered armor and steel hammered against steel had Magar’s heart singing inside the chest.
He swept his spear out in front of him with a scything motion. The wooden haft cracked upon making contact with a black apparition. It’s half-realized shape staggered, reeling back into the abyss.
Yet the black-robed warrior rebounded on a moment’s notice, lunging again for Magar’s throat. The spearhead punched home, rattling the foe’s spine. He had struck the assassin hard enough to lift the body out of the air for but a moment, before letting it slide back into the rainwater. Yet another misbegotten soul fallen inside the Ardent Spire.
Hastening to tear the weapon free, Magar pounded the cobblestone underfoot. Rainwater soaked the leather through, but he kept a guiding firelight in hand, bringing deliverance where he could to embattled comrades.
Another spearhead cleaved an assassin’s skull, sending the black robed warrior falling to the stone. A kindred not of blood emerged out of the night, falling in around the burning torchlight to fight beside him.
He spied other fires burning in the night, scattered amid the abandoned district at the Old Ruin’s entrance. War cries echoed about the darkness, the sound of death dogging their footsteps, meted out by the violence of the sword.
“My Second,” her warning betrayed an encroaching foe, sweeping to assault Magar from behind.
Leaping ahead, she caught the attacking glaive on a quick parry. Reactive, the female Bloodsworn feinted, stepping around the dead to keep her shield presented at all times. She lunged, quicker than her foe expected, punching her shield out toward the Ashen Blade.
Magar scrabbled around his kindred’s right flank. A feathered bolt hit the female Zar, kicking a leg out from underneath her stance, like a ragdoll, ruddy blood spraying from the wound.
And the quiet glaive, wielded between leather gloved fingers of midnight, sliced through storm and rain. Magar watched the Zar’qin that had saved him topple to the rain-soaked cobblestone, bleeding and dead.
A duck underneath an arced sweep, brought Magar behind the foe. A flurry of blows blunted the coming counters, rapid reverse strikes he blocked in quick succession. The midnight clad assassin stepped past, meeting his opponent again with a turn on his heel. Magar drew first-blood, slamming the narrow spike embossed on the round shield, through the Sukhanite’s chest.
Hunkered down, Magar smashed his shoulder into the defensive weapon, ramming the spike out of the assassin’s back. He jarred the shield free, stepping back, the spearhead clutched in the his other hand thrust clean through the Sukhanite’s neck on both flanks.
A pained cry echoed out of the dark. He turned, spying another Bloodsworn emerge into the torch’s flickering light. He staggered, an unerring feathered bolt embedded in the Zar’qin’s chest. His brethren’s remains spun away, out of reach, hitting the flooded cobblestone path with an audible impact.
A sound like footfalls pattering upon stone crept up behind him. Magar retreated, sweeping back on one foot, dodging a Sukhanite leaping to ambush her marked prey.
A furious limb, tucked behind a cream silk sleeve at the elbow, intercepted the female Sukhanite. Appearing out of the gloom, Kalb committed, breaking bone to splinter-fragments beneath his crushing fist. The scarred brute pounced again, splitting the skull in twain beneath the weighted blow of his scimitar.
Animated, Magar slid behind Kalb, warding off another pair of Ashen Blades from his rearguard. He deflected a stabbing blade on the broad turn of his shield. A rapid bite from the spearhead gouged another Ashen Blade’s left eye. Blood seeped from the wound, even as his compatriot parried another strike aimed in his direction.
The southern warrior staggered on the backfoot, a third strike through the throat bringing the assassin onto both knees. A thick tide of blood lashed Magar’s weapon arm upon the spear’s exit through the spinal cord.
Turned around on a heel, Kalb back-handed the remaining Ashen Blade with his round shield’s broad face. Its embossed spike breaking the sternum, the fading corpse snared upon the jutting steel. Kalb removed the remains with a dismissive flick of the wrist, letting the body plummet into ruddy rainwater.
A woman’s unfamiliar voice spoke commands above the heightened sounds of a furious skirmish. A quiet sound, an allure deepening every note, burrowing dark tendrils of temptation deeper inside the mind.
A female Ashen Blade garbed in the midnight black robes of her syndicate order. It did little to conceal the muscle compacted inside her slender frame. Her physical shape appeared at odds with the assassin’s lithe build. A physicality forged amid unforgiving climates, but packed into a frame that hadn’t naturally evolved quite enough to bear it.
A pair of wicked scars, born from twin blades, crossed either of her eyes. Neat diagonal cuts streaking from opposing directions, meeting at the bridge of her nose. It appeared to be the only blemish to mark her caramel skin. A simple braid of lustrous hair, black like a raven’s feathers, arched up and down the length of her back.
A midnight black wooden haft, the woman gripped between leather-gloved fingers. The spiked pommel rested at the polearm’s end, giving the weapon a height almost capable of rivaling its wielder. A curving blade head of Suhari steel seated upon the weaponhaft loomed above her like a reaper wielding a scythe.
A glaive forged in the image of a waning crescent moon, except a jagged teeth pattern ran along the blade's back-end. The weapon emanated that tarnished jade hue wielded by the Children of the Southern Wastes since time immemorial.
“Leave the pair of Zar men where they are, my kindred blades.” The woman spoke quietly, but Magar could’ve been deceived that her presence didn’t resound within the Ardent Spire’s depths. “See to the other warriors of the Zar and put an end to their misery…”
A pair of dark jade-green eyes looked up at them, taking a moment’s appraising of both Magar, then Kalb. Through the natural squint of her gaze from the pair of neat scars running over both eyelids, the Sukhanite female appeared a little impressed.
“Your blades make clean kills,” she admitted, “despite the little worth of the ‘indentured’ warriors wielding them. However, I can give credit where credit is due.”
Kalb shrugged, hawking a thick wade of saliva into the ruddy rain coming up to their boots. “I wouldn’t be that bold to play at arrogance, Sukhanite. You’ve maybe had more warriors die leaping out of the shadows than you would have by making a direct assault.”
Zagir shrugged, “the dead aren’t listening to our challenge. You Zar’qin bar our destined path. Stand aside and I’ll put an end to our contest of blades. Go ahead if not, pit your steel against mine if you think that fate will favor either of you. A duel of words won’t spare the lives of our kin battling each other even as we speak.”
Magar said, “humor me just once, assassin. Do you Ashen Blades keep names for yourselves? A simple Zar’qin would like to know.”
The woman tilted her head a fraction higher to meet his curious eyes. She studied him back, finding both Kalb and himself unbowed and unbroken. A mischievous smile played upon pursed lips, but an unbridled malice glinting in her gaze betrayed an anticipation for a contest of blades fought without honor and remorse.
“I am Zagir,” the Ashen Blade admitted. “A disciple of the Withered Fang and a champion of its notorious kabal.”
A moment passed between the three warriors, the tension heightening like a storm reaching a peak of destruction. A burden of anxiety made the heart quicken inside the chest. Scarred fingers tightened around the spear haft with a vice-grip.
And the endless rain continued pouring down into the Ardent Spire, buried deep inside Tushik’s bowels. It became difficult enough to look ahead that Zagir appeared to fade back into the light-less depths.
Zagir called out. “Honor my blade with your skill.”
With a cock of the head, Magar looked up at Kalb. A communication made through quiet, knowing expressions. He couldn’t guess at the abhorrent look worn on the bearish warrior’s marred features. An unwavering disgust, maybe? Or just a grim acceptance of their own demise?
Kalb approached their foe with an overbearing presence of strength. Magar readied the weapons in either hand and did likewise, warding away a potential assault on his brother’s left flank. A pair of battle-hardened eyes tracked Zagir of the Withered Fang’s casual retreat away from both opponents.
He counted internally against his own volition, battle instincts noting each step the Ashen Blade took for every several made by the Bloodsworn. And each footfall brought Zagir a little more into a threatening stance. Standing proudly in retreat, her physical frame curled and coiled like a wound-up tool until she prowled ahead of them like a feline.
An alpha predator prepared to end her hunt.