We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Iceblade: Chapter 3


I STOOP QUICKLY TO put the lion out of its misery, and then head straight for the nearest group of Rapathian generals. Their over-excited yelling reveals their position all too clearly and the swish of drawn crysteel sings like music in my ears. Then I’m on them, slashing bodies and limbs out of my path with both blades, knowing that for a few wild moments at least, nothing and no one will be able to stop me.

It feels like the fight in the city over again, except that in spite of the blurring movement all around me and the red mist in front of my eyes, I can sense that now I am far stronger, faster, more deadly than I was then. And to make my progress even easier, it seems that only the Emperor goes hunting in heavy plate and mail. I suppose such precautions are hardly deemed necessary for these over-protected aristocrats if the lions are already crippled by the time they reach the arena. If I can just keep going until I reach Akadian and the gaudily-dressed Ashur Purmut himself…

I can see them ahead of me, but Akadian must have prime responsibility for the Emperor’s safety because I can hear him yelling orders to those around him as he pushes the Usurper and his oversized horse to the main gap in the rocks and the way to escape.

Too many Rapathians between him and me!

No matter how furiously I cut down this living barricade my quarry is moving further away. Suddenly I hear Marin’s curt orders barked out behind me, but I can’t hear what he is saying above the screams of my victims. The power surges through my body, wild and out of control and all I want to do with it is destroy these arrogant invaders who have killed my people and ruined my country. I see bodies going down in an orgy of bloodletting, losing myself in time until it gradually dawns on me that there is no one left to fight.

I look around the clearing. Hacked and bloody corpses lie in tangled heaps, but to my disappointment the count is barely half the number we estimated at the start of the hunt––and there is no sign of the Emperor. Akadian and the bodyguards must have done an efficient job of getting him clear. I struggle to contain my anger and frustration, the jagged edges of raw power still tearing through my veins.

Marin strides out of the shadows, his face set in grim determination, a bloodied crysteel sword gripped in each hand. He stops a few paces away.

“Ariel. You in a fit state to have a conversation?”

I either have to kill him or do something drastic to take the edge off the wildness and bloodlust still raging through me. I focus all my willpower on my fingers, forcing them open until I hear the clash of both blades hitting the rocky ground.

I look down. I’m covered in blood. Awful though I look on the outside, what I have done to myself inside is indescribably worse. I stare into Marin’s eyes in desperation.

“Marin, it feels horrible. Wrong sort of power and some of it is still in there.”

He hesitates for a brief moment, then cleans and sheaths his weapons. He steps forward to lay his hands either side of my face as he did before, back in Maratic. I close my eyes and focus on letting the pent-up clawing sensations melt away. Slowly, the grating, restless energy begins to fade and I can breathe normally again.

“Thanks, Marin. It was driving me into insanity.”

I open my eyes and wish I hadn’t. His expression of pain and a kind of desperate sadness tells me he can sense exactly the sort of toxic power I have drawn into myself.

“Ariel? Why did you do that? I thought you were getting control of this.” He steps back, looking at the piled corpses. “And while we’re on the subject, how did you do it? I have never sensed that kind of dark savagery inside you before.”

“I got angry. Watching Akadian torturing that lion. So slowly and cruelly and not even for food. And I started thinking about him with my sister… and then everything else those bastards did to us piled into my head and…”

I hesitate, not wanting to admit what I did next. It feels so… predatory, barbaric…

Marin stands watching me, waiting for the answer. I point to the dead Rapathian lying in the grass, his sightless eyes gazing at the sky with the look of horror on his face from his last few moments of life.

His skin is pale, as if he has frozen to death. In a way I suppose he has. There is not a mark on him apart from the small stab-wound on his hand and I watch Marin slowly working out what I must have done. This is something I really, really wish he didn’t know about me.

“Clean your blades.” He turns and walks back into the trees. I follow, wondering what happens now. Do I get another reprieve or has Marin seen the final evidence proving I’ll never get control of this thing? Never be any use to the Eldrin or my country?

I obey his last order and sheath the crysteel before following him back to the horses. Nem is sitting on a rock nearby, dousing a collection of cuts from a tiny flask of brandy, her face tight against the burn. Marin gives the damage a cursory glance.

“Nothing serious?”

“No.” She shoves the flask back into her pack.

“Good. Identify the Rapathian dead and cross-reference with the list Brac made at the start of the hunt. There may still be something useful we can do with this… new set of information.”

Nem avoids my eyes, signals acceptance to Marin and heads back to the battlefield without a word. She seems subdued, as if trying to keep her usual sharp comments in check. Marin waves me to sit.

I can feel something is horribly wrong.

“Marin, I’m sorry. I know it sounds feeble seeing as I’m supposed to have this thing under control by now but…” I give a helpless shrug. I can’t bear the way he is looking at me. Just as things had finally started going right with everyone.

He holds up a hand to stop me. “When we get back to Maratic Jantian will decide whether you continue training with us, or what the alternative will be. I knew you hadn’t had enough training when I included you in this operation. I took a risk that it might work out. What went down here is my responsibility.”

Now I know for sure that something is not right, beyond the obvious outcome that many of our live identified aristocrats and officers have to be reclassified as dead ones and a lot less use for intelligence purposes. They will immediately be replaced by commanders we don’t know.

“Marin, what exactly happened after I attacked the hunters? It all turned into a bit of a blur.”

He doesn’t want to look at me. Just keeps staring at his hands.

“I had to make a decision, whether to hold back and let you do your worst until they killed you, or whether to order the others to follow me in there and create a distraction, give you some backup.”

Silence. Nem’s injuries make it fairly clear which choice he made. Now I can sense that what is coming next is going to be bad.

“Go on. Tell me the worst.”

“I waited a few moments, trying to tell myself that I had to let you get on with it. I couldn’t. You were surrounded by more than twenty furious, battle-hardened warriors just itching to get their blades into something a bit more exciting than a few half-dead lions. So we went in after you. And I still don’t know whether it was because I was following orders to train you as a weapon that could save our country––or because I wanted to save you. Because of the way I feel about you.”

My heart leaps. I can’t believe he can be saying this after what he has just seen.

“Do you have to beat yourself up so much about the reasons? We both know it’s uncertain whether I will ever get to the point where I can be any real use to Samaran in this war. I know I have just killed off rather a lot of potential intelligence sources, but there is still half the original number left.”

Another long silence.

“Ariel, Lania’s dead.” He takes a deep breath. “People get killed in wars. It happens. But if they get killed because I made a wrong decision, because I let personal feelings interfere with my judgement, then, yes. I do have to beat myself up over it. Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Hells gates! Why couldn’t I stop and think through the consequences before I went on a revenge mission? The world seems to freeze around me, the darkness inside me weaving images of who I might hurt next, all those who will despise me for it, even as Jantian passes the inevitable death sentence…

Only one way to escape. I heave myself to my feet and step hurriedly away from Marin. The sharp, restless power is still there, lurking beneath the surface. I know I have the strength to make a good job of it, one swift stab through my neck and it will all be over. The soft tremor of crysteel runs through my arm as I draw the blade and turn the point to my throat––

And my wrist is in Marin’s iron grip for the split second before he presses on exactly the right spot on my neck, forcing the sword from my nerveless hand.

“Don’t ever try that again.” His voice is tight with quiet fury. “To desecrate crysteel with such a cowardly act…” He pushes me to my knees and sits facing me. “You owe your life to Lania’s sacrifice. You owe all of us. Until that debt is paid you fight. With everything you have, to get control of the darkness inside you, use your gift to save your country. Only Jantian gets to decide if you have failed so utterly you have to die.”

He releases the paralysis but keeps a grip on my wrist, watching carefully in case I try again. I shake my head in defeat.

“You have my word. I won’t run out on a debt.”

His voice softens and he envelopes my hand in both of his. “Ariel, I know how hard you’re finding all this. But I can feel the inner strength in you. I believe you can make it in the end. When everything starts to feel hopeless, think about Lania. Maybe that will help get you through.”

Right now all I want is the comfort of his arms around me, the reassurance of his size and strength, the confidence of his experience and judgement. I know that isn’t going to happen, not while his responsibility is to support the others while they go through the loss of a long-time friend. Maybe not ever.

“Where is Lania? Can I see her?”

“Brac is with her.” There is an edge of warning in his words.

“You mean he might want to kill me for what I did?”

“I told you. What happened was because of my decision. More likely he’ll want to kill me. Lania was his cousin.”

It gets worse. I wonder how other Blade adepts felt when confronting the aftermath of their actions. Maybe they moved on so fast they didn’t even stop to see or consider the consequences––except to themselves I suppose.

“Tell me where and I’ll go and see him alone. I will have to face him at some point.”

Marin waves a hand in the direction of downhill. I follow the slope for a few minutes until I see Brac sitting in the grass, leaning against a rock, Lania lying cold and still in his arms. I stop, suddenly feeling unsure if this was the best thing to do after all.

“Brac, I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do to make it right.”

He turns to me, not caring if I see the tears.

“There is. Get control of this thing inside you and use it t’ save our country instead of going off on stupid personal vendettas all the time. You owe Lania that much, if not the rest of us.”

I can feel the bitter self-discipline behind his words. If this is what it takes to break him out of his usual taciturn habits, it must have cut deep. At least he isn’t trying to kill me. Even so, it would be a bit inconsiderate to hang around any longer.

I make my way back up the hill to find Marin.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset