Thick As Thieves

FIGHTING CHANCE - Kunail Murai

From the journals of Kunail the Accursed.

War. I thought I’d left it behind me. But there’s no escape. From the horror. From the glory. These people, these humans of Trapis-town – they didn’t deserve the calamity that befell them. No one ever does.

We made our preparations as best we could. Lightning traps. Pits of spikes and electricity. Trained these country bumpkins, made our plans, until there was nothing left but the waiting.

We knew who was leading the army to come against us. The Heartless bastards, apparently fathered on an elven noblewoman. They were his favourite weapons, Aislinn and Aidan Rising. Who could say what horrors they’d have planned for us?

We drowned our fears in last minute planning and revels. A mail-carrier arrived, and only “Jerart Batler”’s quick thinking put the woman off the scent of us four escaped convicts. I got a message, far too late, from my old friend Constant. Animae surrounding, how can I tell him what has happened to me? And I intercepted a message intended for our old Warden, Share. Who I killed. And who is not dead, but no longer living. Like me, he has become uthiri [Elven word for vampire]. I made him, somehow. When I feed … I doom my victims to share my curse. When this business in Trapis is finished … I have a mess to clean up.

“Jerart” and Nakk both got letters as well … but if they cared to share the contents they’d have told me.

There was a feast. I understand the townsfolk had revels. That Nakk and his young protege, Buck, had a rematch, and that it didn’t go well for Buck. That “Jerart” sealed the deal with Mayor Franca. That drinks were had and toasts were made. I spent the whole event huddled in the belltower of the half-ruined church, feeling my guts clench and my fallow veins throb with need.

One of my squadron of Archers, Maggie Sureshot, even saw fit to bring me a meal. She had no way of knowing I couldn’t partake. That my deathly pallor and sunken eyes were something no mortal food could fix.

With the dawn, came the war.

The enemy force came down the hill, all sound and fury, screaming their war cries as they advanced. I was thrown back years, to the old War, and if my blood were not dead and rotten in my veins it would have begun to sing.

It all went well at first. Jin’s traps did their work well, and the first rank of enemy troops died in blue-white bursts of lightning. My archers targeted the troops who survived, and Nakk’s Knucklers were playing cleanup. The mad bastard tried to use that infernal lightning-pole – but it backfired. Quite literally. Not the first thing that would go wrong that day.

“Batler’s” runners – Jerart’s Lookouts –  did their work well – he co-ordinated our troop movements, keeping us one step ahead of the enemy. And he had a plan to get me back to fighting fit – sending one of our scouts to pull a wounded enemy off the battlefield so I could feed. Of all my… allies, he’s the one who seems to take the most practical interest in my condition. I can’t help but wonder if he’s working an angle. His type always is.

The first real casualty was Nakk’s hand. I could have told him that charging headlong into the mass of the enemy was a bad idea. But he probably wouldn’t have listened to a knife-ear. His troops rallied to his defense, and got him off the battlefield. But the enemy took advantage.

Their troops closed in. The lightning traps did not deter them. Our trap of boiling fat barely slowed them down. Batler’s man arrived with a grisly meal for me. Then came one of those moments in war … the kind that make you feel a wretch for having lived. I descended the bell-rope to feed. And my archers were defenseless when a flaming arrow struck the boiling fat – setting it alight in a massive explosion that brought the whole tower down on top of us.

Nakk, in the field hospital, did what had to be done to get himself back out on the battlefield, I heard this part from one who was there. Crazy round-ear poured that silverflame quicksilver on the stump of his severed hand – and grew a new one, of silver that responded to his very thoughts. Must have hurt like a bastard, but he went right back out there into the middle of the battlefield.

Jin saw his moment to strike at the enemy troops, flush with success. To hit them at their flank where they were weakest. He led in his raiders, armed with spears and lightning. What he did not expect, was a black-clad warrior whom he knew of old. They engaged in a heated duel on horseback. Words were said, and blows exchanged. No one was close enough to hear for sure.

Meanwhile, Heartless’ troops were pouring into town, and though Nakk rallied our forces, we were hard pressed. I don’t expect I made matters much better when I burst from the wreckage of the church, a shard of holy-wood in my side, unleashing the monster I’ve been shackling – a thing of talons and fangs and endless thirst, bestial and savage.

Then there came a whistling from above – the sound of a catapult ball, heading for our headquarters.

“Batler” did his best to evacuate the HQ, but the one person he couldn’t save was Annish Franca, who was doing her duty – making sure those under her charge were safe. The town hall was demolished in the explosion. And what emerged … was a quicksilver golem, 9 feet tall, shining chrome death. One of those things had nearly doomed us all in the mines – and we didn’t have Nakk’s lightning totem to help us now.

So I used the only weapon I had at my disposal – the Arrow of Time I found in the mines. It worked. After a fashion. My aim was true and I struck the construct in its metal chest. But as the qucksilver melted into un-time, what was left behind was Annish Franca. The quicksilver must have bonded to her. Franca herself began to melt away, losing five years, then ten, then twenty. The arrow did worse than kill her. It left her a babe.

Jin’s battle was going hard, and only his lieutenant’s timely intervention saved him. But we needed to take out that damned catapult before the whole town was rubble.

Nakk, Batler and I rallied the troops for a decisive push, throwing back the enemy.

And that’s when the cart in the enemy camp started to rumble and shake.

Nakk had learned to transform his new hand into any number of deadly shapes – knives and blades, dealing death all about him.

Jin’s cavalry leaped into the midst of the enemy, slaying left and right.

I dashed through the battlefield, picking off the enemy here and there, Athano swooping and diving.

Even Batler got a few digs in, disguising himself as an enemy soldier long enough to sneak into their midst and sow confusion and terror. He set of an explosion of lightining that decimated their front lines, allowing our troops to close in.

And then the cart exploded, and the dragon emerged. I’d thought their kind extinct this far south. I thought wrong. It was that conniving wizard Hartzell controlling it, with a glowing magical bridle.

Jin, the godsdamned fool, managed to knock Hartzell off the saddle. The dragon, free of her master, worked to free herself of her bonds as well – and Jin, crazy roundear that he is, leapt aboard her just as the beast shot skyward.

I don’t remember who killed Hartzell. I had bigger things to worry about. Like a hopping mad Dragon raining down fire from the sky.

Nakk managed to turn his limb into a shield to protect himself from the flames. I managed to use an enemy soldier for cover. Not everyone was so lucky. Friend and foe alike were consumed in conflagration. Among all the horrors of war I’d experienced, watching flesh melt off human bones was something new.

Batler might have seen his last sunrise if Nakk hadn’t tackled him out of the way in the nick of time.

I don’t know how that mad bastard Jin clung on as long as he did – or how he forced the beast to land. But he couldn’t keep control of it for long.

I saw an opportunity – Aiden, one of the two generals, open and undefended. So, singing the war-song of my people, I ran up the landed beast’s wings, vaulted off – and pinned the preening butcher to the ground with my blades. One general down

The wyrm struck at Nakk like a whipsnake from the Ollu Sandflats. But the mad bastard held it’s jaws open. You could see the strain it put on him – every muscle in him strained and flexed – until he shaped his metal hand into a blade, and cut through the roof of the dragon’s mouth into it’s brain. Damndest thing I’ve ever seen.

The enemy force was broken after that. Aislinn surrended shortly after – what could she do against they who’d just slain a dragon and pinned her brother to the ground?

But as the dust settled, who can say who really won? Trappis-town is half destroyed. We lost good people. Maggie Sureshot. Young Buck. “Awful” McKie. Poor Annish Franca. And though we have these two princelings to ransom – what price will Count Hartless accept? I, for one, think we should sell them to the Elvish Commonwealth. My urban kin have their own kind of justice to mete out to butchers and war criminals.  

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