Aesara couldn’t get comfortable. The cell, of course, wasn’t built for comfort, but still the bed she’d remembered as a child had been more comfortable than this lumpy mess. Maybe she was just getting old.
Or maybe it was the boot on her stomach, the hands at her throat.
She’d been dozing when the Drakhan entered her room, no time to prepare, to defend herself. There were four of them, foul breath and body odour washed over her. Two held her down, the other two stood by the door, watching, smiling. One smiling out of the anticipation of imminent fun. The other smiling out of the anticipation of imminent revenge.
“Fancy meeting you here” said he seeking revenge, one hand gripping an ornately carved staff. The other in a sling.
“I just fancy you” said the Drakhan seeking something all the more unsavoury. Aesara’s suitor from the camp, lecherous grin, saliva tipped tongue flicking the corners of his mouth.
“And I fancy knocking your heads together. How about you call off your lap dogs and we see who has their way” Aesara snarled from her position on the ground, other two Drakhan holding her there.
“What, and have you blind side me again?” the one in the sling stepped forward, but his eyes were on the staff rather than Aesara. “You know what, this is a well crafted weapon. Signs of wear and tear, but still some use left in it” he swung it one handed, metal tipped end striking her across the nose. Aesara yelped in pain, blood gushed down her face.
“Hey! Save some for me, Braun” said the Drakhan remaining at the doorway. “ I ain’t no freak, not like that overlord, she still gotta be breathin’ on my turn”
“Shut up Marston” the slinged Drakhan, Braun, commanded, angry glance flashed across the room.
“Hey Marston…you gonna…stand for him…talking to you…like that” Aesara had to gasp between words, blood spilling into her mouth
This time the staff came stamping down on her hand. Bone crunched. Aesara cried out in pain.
“Your mouth keeps getting you into trouble Sara” Braun loomed over her “You just don’t know when to shut up. When to take your punishment like a woman”
“It was…always said that…my bark…was worse than…. my bite….My mouth…it often…gallops away…from me” she smiled, blood outlined her bared teeth.
The staff smashed against her knee, ligaments pinged, Aesara yelled in agony.
Silence fell on the cell, Braun paced a little, waiting for any more provocation from his captive. Aesara spat up more blood, but said nothing. There was a faint gurgling noise. Braun frowned, looked down, but it wasn’t Aesara, she just whimpered in pain. Nor was it the two Drakhan holding her there. Braun looked up, towards the door where Marston stood. Marston stared back, vacant eyed.
Blood gurgled from the slit in his throat.
“I would ask if you wanted to take on someone your own size” said a voice, not from Marston, rather just behind him. “But how about instead someone half your size, but twice as angry?” Marston’s body collapsed onto the floor.
Braun instinctively held up the staff in an attempt at defence, but Pyrrho’s momentum barrelled through it, slamming into the taller man, dagger slashing franticly. The two Drakhan on Aesara jumped up, their own weapons quickly unholstered, charging down Pyrrho. Aesara rose, Aesara picked up her staff.
Aesara did what Aesara does best.
Bodies hit the floor.
Pyrrho was breathing heavily, dagger hand and arm drenched red. Next to him his sister was realigning her nose, a meaty crunch made him wince.
“Well…” he panted “That was fun”
“Would have been more fun….if you’d got her five minutes…sooner” Aesara spat a greasy red globule onto Braun’s body, shocked look etched on his death face.
“And let these guys miss you razor whit?” Pyrrho smirked between hurried breathes.
“We need to get back to father, surprise him before he knows we’re free” Aesara limped towards the door, staff once again used as a crutch rather than weapon.
“I’ve got a better plan”
Aesara raised a questioning eyebrow at him
“Follow me” he said “I’ll explain on the way”
It took them much longer to get back to the store than it had taken Pyrrho to make his way to the cell initially. Aesara was struggling. Blood still leaked from her ruined nose, one hand almost completely out of action, one knee sending flashes of pain every step. Pure adrenalin had enabled her to take down the remaining Drakhan in the cell, but the come down from that was excruciating.
They had to pause every so often for Aesara to steel herself for the next section. Pyrrho using the respite to explain a bit more of the plan, or scout ahead. While the Drakhan presence in this part of the underground complex was less than usual given demands elsewhere, soldiers still lurked. They just needed to get back to the store, finish setting up there, then attempt to make a getaway. Hopefully link up with Volk and his crew, assuming they still held out against the Drakhan reinforcements. If everything went smoothly.
The bodies strewn about the entrance to the store immediately told Pyrrho that everything was not going to go smoothly. A small Drakhan unit, elite guard by the look of the uniform lay dead or dying. Vicious wounds to their torsos and faces, blood splattered the walls and ceiling. It had been a brutal battle. But between who? The double doors had been smashed off their hinges, big wooden splinters littered the floor.
Pyrrho hurried into the stores to check on Marcia and Niv. Aesara made her way more slowly passed the bodies, picking up a couple of axes on her way. On the far side of the store Pyrrho caught sight of Marcia. Her back was to him as she continued to lug barrels about, arranging a trail of black powder between them. Pyrrho called out a relieved greeting, Marcia held a hand above her in recognition, but did not turn round. Absorbed in her task assumed Pyrrho. Just as he should be in trying to find Niv.
Or Niv’s body.
Pyrrho froze. Slumped over by the wall facing the doorway lay his former accomplice, head slumped forward, a short sword still gripped tight in her left hand. She was covered in blood, whether her own or the Drakhan’s Pyrrho could not tell. He managed to unlock his joints and step over to her, almost slipping in a trail of blood that led there. Kneeling down, blood quickly soaking through his thin trousers, he put a hand on her head. Moving his hand down to her chin he planned to lift her head up, get a final memory to exert revenge in the name of.
He felt breath on his wrist.
“Niv?” he almost whispered then louder “Niv?” he gently tilted her head up. A deep gash above her right eye socket meant her face was as bloody as the rest of her. He tried to wipe away blood from her eyes, but it was a hopeless cause.
“Pyrrho? That you?” came a weak voice
“I’m here Niv”
“Good, good. Never did it….the easy way, did we?” a slight smile crept on the edges of her mouth.
“Be boring otherwise” he replied, still cradling her head
“Never wanted…to be…the bloody hero though”
“We don’t get to choose our destinies. Can you move? We’ll need to get out soon”
“Nah Pyrrho, I’m …done here. Took out seven of the bastards…with me though”
“Eight by my count” Aesara came to stand next to them
“Eight on one. Fancy…that” Niv’s smile grew a little wider, but faded as even that weak exertion tired her further. “Hey Pyrrho…you gotta promise me…to tell this story… round the camp fires. The legend o’Niv” a gasping chuckle “Got a ring… to it”
“Bards will sing of you for eons more” Pyrrho spoke gently
“Ha, good. But one thing”
“You know in the old…the old folk tales, when the wounded hero…says their final words?” she tried to look up at him, but her eye sockets quickly pooled blood and her head slumped forward a little again.
“Y, yes” Pyrrho replied, unsure.
“Well they always…have something clever…to say. That weren’t never…my thing….clever words. Could you make somet’ witty up….for me? Make the legend o’Niv…that bit fancier?”
“And with the final fight complete, I bathed in the blood of my conquered foes” it was Aesara that spoke, almost absentmindedly.
“Yeah! Like that” Niv sounded happy “No idea why…you said your sis…was so bad…Pyrrho?!”
“We misjudge people. But we can also admit our mistakes” Pyrrho was looking up at Aesara as he said this. Their eyes locked for a few seconds. Aesara slowly nodded.
The breath on Pyrrho’s wrist stopped.
“I am sorry” Aesara said, resting a hand on the back of Pyrrho’s now slumped head. “She was a brave warrior”
Pyrrho chuckled. “No she wasn’t. She was a bloody nightmare, but she was also my friend. My saviour. Her name shall live on”
“The Drakhan will certainly curse her for years to come. But first we have another issue” Aesara’s gaze shifted to the doorway littered with corpses.
“What is it?”
“Drakhan elite units, they come in tens. Niv took down eight, two got away. I don’t think they will stay away”
“Father will calculate our intention”
“He will. He will also be desperate, that he let elite guards leave his side to what, seek new supplies here, must mean the situation is finely balanced above us”
“Then we need to hold them off long enough to set off our last hurrah”
“Come” instructed Pyrrho, “let us see how Marcia progresses” he got up, carefully resting Niv back against the wall as he did so. One last glance at his fallen ally, his fallen friend. He turned to head over to the other side of the store.
Marcia was still busy among the barrels as they emerged from the high looming racks of supplies. Pyrrho was first to arrive, Aesara struggling along behind him. He was about to call another greeting, but was distracted.
The legs and an arm poked out from underneath a smashed barrel, pile of black powder spilled around the limbs. A small trickle of blood flowed from the scene.
“The ninth elite guard. So only one got away” Aesara stated, recognising the uniform sleeve cuffs on the lone arm that could be seen.
“So we nearly made it undetected” Pyrrho replied “Unless Marcia has another guard tucked away in here somewhere? Hey Marica, how about it?”
Fortunestone’s spymaster did not reply, she was still busy a few metres away from them, back turned.
Pyrrho frowned “Marcia? You ok?” he strode over to her, reached up a hand to tap her shoulder. His hand squelched, came back sticky. Came back red. “Marcia? No!” he stepped round and in front of her.
She hadn’t spoken to him as her jaw was now only partially connected to the rest of her skull. A lose flap of skin that had been a cheek dripped blood down her front. “No no no no noooo” Pyrho whimpered.
“Sword thrust” Aesara joined them “That she’s still standing is a miracle” as if to prove the point, Marcia slumped into Pyrrho’s arms. “ We gotta get her treatment” Aesara’s words flowed fast, soldiers instinct back in control. “Carry her out” although in her head she couldn’t work out how. Aesara certainly couldn’t carry the load in her current state, and Pyrrho would struggle, feats of strength not his forté.
Marcia shook her head, drops of blood were flung off. She turned to the barrel she was next to, started tracing a line with her finger. In blood she formed two letters, GO. Marcia pointed at the door with one shaky hand, with the other she took out a piece of flint and a small knife.
Aesara’s eyes widened, Pyrrho’s face hardened.
“No” he said, helping Marcia to sit down as he did so.
“We stay then” agreed Aesara “We finish this here”
“No” Pyrrho repeated. “You will go, Aesara, you are no use here. You are unable to fight on, and it needs not three of us to light a simple flame. It would be a pointless sacrifice in a cursed institution” he stared up at his taller sister.
“But your sacrifice would not be pointless?” Aesara demanded of him.
“I will hold off Drakhan reinforcements while you get away. Only one of us can leave here, that one will be you.”
“I have never tolerated you giving me orders, little brother”
“Then listen to reason for once in your life. My life is littered with bad decisions, but two stand out. All those years ago I hid when I should have helped you. Years later I left town when I should have stayed for Marcia. One of these mistakes I feel I have atoned for this day coming for you. The other I can make good on now. But you, you still have your own demons to face I feel, demons that will not be tamed down here. Farewell, big sister.”
The two maintained a shared gaze, for once Pyrrho felt empowered enough not to wilt from his sister’s intense stare. It was Aesara that broke off first. Broke their gaze in order to slowly nod.
“Take these” she proffered the axes taken from the fallen Drakhan.
“You mistake me for a warrior dear sister” he pushed the axes back towards her “The shadows have always been my domain” he looked over to the long, tall, racks of Elder supplies. Filed not only with ample provisions, but also ample hiding places “The Drakhan will not tread easily on their approach to our fireworks”
Aesara smiled “They will not know what hit them”
“They will, for I shall scream our names to my last breath”
Aesara, normally so disdainful of warriors yelling as they entered battle threw back her head and laughed.
“Fare well, honoured brother” she grasped him to her, the hug unfamiliar, uncomfortable, but not unwelcome.
Aesara limped away.
Pyrrho turned to Marcia, sat down against the barrel she had written atop of. A small trail of black powder led from her to the arrangement of barrels all around them. He smiled broadly at her.
“To go out with a bang, quite literally. This will be fun” and he, like his sister had, laughed.