Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 33

“Okay, where do I have to run again?”

Sikthand kept his lips sealed.

Sophia huffed out an annoyed sound. “We talked about this. I’ll be fine. You said Roldroth is the best shot in two centuries.”

She glanced over to the commander, who looked as if someone was holding a pair of hedge clippers to his ballsack. Sikthand glared at the man.

“I’d rather not show off my skills in this way, sire,” Roldroth grated through clenched teeth.

“Yeah, better leave the wounded, dying boy in a tunnel,” Sophia said, with a heaping scoop of deadpan sarcasm.

Roldroth grumbled something under his breath.

Sikthand hauled her away from the commander. He stared at the man with an intensity that would have her cowering. “Do not be modest. Do not be boastful. Can you do this?”

Roldroth’s jaw moved as he ground his teeth together. His gaze drifted to Sophia, then down to the crowded square once again. They were crammed into a cubby high above the square in midcity.

Sophia had thought this was merely an overly decorated bit of wall, but as it turned out it was another covert hiding spot. The dotted metal latticework gave Roldroth just enough room to fire a bolt from his odd crossbow-style weapon. “If she doesn’t move…I can. But I want confirmation that I will not be held responsible if this goes wrong,” he rushed to add.

“You won’t,” Sophia agreed.

“If something goes wrong and she is injured, I will—”

“You will do nothing.” She stepped in front of Sikthand, glaring at him. Then she clicked her tongue at his unmoving scowl and spun to Roldroth. “If I don’t move and you end up killing me because you aren’t as good of a shot as you thought you were, I give Sikthand permission to push you out of a launch bay. Sound fair?”

Both men grunted at each other, and Sophia pulled Sikthand back to scan the square below. “Where do I go again? There?” She pointed to an alleyway that disappeared around a sharp corner.

“Yes,” he grumbled miserably. “Alno and Difila have already dressed the boy.”

“Okay, then, we’re all good. Let’s go.”

Before Sikthand could haul her back, she sped out of their concealed spot with a whispered “Aim good” toward Roldroth, who groaned.

Sophia clanged a little more loudly in her armor than normal, drawing the attention of the evening shoppers. She kept her helmet tucked under her arm and gripped it for courage. They reached the area near the alleyway and spotted Difila and Alno canoodling nearby.

She grinned around at passersby, pretending she was having a great time being escorted through midcity by the king.

“I don’t understand why I can’t be shot at.”

Sophia glanced at Sikthand and frowned. He was standing directly where he shouldn’t be, blocking Roldroth’s line of sight.

“Because you are not the size of a sixteen-year-old boy. Now, move.” He didn’t, and Sophia sighed. “I’ll be okay, I promise. I’m good at pretending to be injured. I’ve been killed during almost every LARP event I’ve gone to, and I make it look good every time.” She kept her fist closed around the leftover blood pellets from the umbercree festival costumes, hoping they were still there since she couldn’t feel much through her thick gloves. “Besides, Roldroth is only going to shoot close enough to make it believable that I was hit. No big deal.”

“I don’t like this,” he growled.

Sophia did a double take and noticed the deep panic in his eyes. She reached for his hand, wishing they both weren’t wearing so much armor. “I don’t like that there is someone out there who wants to kill you. I want that boy to survive not just because it’s the right thing, but also because I want to kill whoever he tells us tried to get you electrocuted. Okay?”

As though he were dragging himself back through gale-force winds, Sikthand moved to her side. She pointed her body in the agreed-upon direction, pretending to peer through a Flesh Forge window and worked up the nerve to give the signal.

Khes appeared in the window, catching sight of her. His expression was as grumpy as ever, but his eyes had narrowed on her even more than usual, like he noticed something was wrong. Well, this was the perfect excuse to signal to Roldroth.

Fingers trembling under her glove, she lifted her hand toward Khes and waved.

Stay still. Stay still. Stay still.

She heard the sound of the zooming bolt whiz by her ear and her heart stuttered out. She’d almost been shot. That had been a real bolt. A few inches to the right and…

The moment’s shock wore off, and she crumpled to the ground, slapping her palm to her temple and wailing fiercely.

A scream rang out nearby, and she felt Sikthand hauling her up while bellowing. As they’d planned, Sikthand began theatrically dragging her away, making sure that everyone got a good look at the blood oozing down her face from her skull. She made a show of nearly passing out as he hauled her into the safety of the alley, ordering their guards to block the entrance until they could find the shooter.

Alno and Difila sprang into action. Difila helped block the alley with the soldiers while secretly ensuring they didn’t go to check on Sophia, and Alno ran through the square, searching for the imaginary assassin.

Sophia leaned against the wall of the alley as Sikthand opened the secret passage where an armor-covered filthy boy was slumped. Her stomach hollowed at his splotchy steel-blue skin. He looked much younger than sixteen.

Dizziness plagued her vision. Though she wasn’t injured at all, a deadly projectile zooming past her head had had more of an effect on her than she wanted to admit. Her adrenaline was spiked, the fake blood dribbling down into her eye, confusing her body even more.

She breathed deeply, trying like hell not to pass out. If she passed out, Sikthand would never run off with the apprentice clutched in his arms like he was supposed to.

“Is he alive?” Her voice trembled furiously from the adrenaline. Her hands shook as she tried to wipe the fake blood out of her left eye but only managed to scratch herself and smear the blood over her metal gloves.

Sikthand’s eyes were wide and filled with something akin to fury. “That was far too close.”

“I’m okay, I promise. Not a single scratch. Just a ton of fake blood. We had to make it look bad, right?” Her gaze trailed back down to the apprentice, and something foul rose to her nose. He already smelled like death. “You need to help him.”

Sikthand breathed through his nose, the muscles of his jaw bulging, and checked the boy’s pulse. “Alive,” he grunted, as though he couldn’t access more words than that. He snatched her helmet from her loose fingers and plopped it over the boy’s head, then hauled him out of the passage.

Sophia stumbled inside in his place. Sikthand crouched down to her level when she collapsed against the wall, disguising her dizziness as a mere trip over her armor. “Go, go. I’ll come out as soon as the coast is clear. Sikthand…” She gripped his hand. “Stay with him and make sure he’s safe. I promise I’ll be in my room by the time you get back.”

Bellowing from the square hit her ears, and her chest constricted. It was Khes’ voice, and he sounded livid. “Stay out of sight. You won’t have any guards or a helmet. You wait for Alno—”

“I made the plan. I know the plan.” Sophia nodded, tugging the passage door closed before any onlookers could break through Difila’s barricade.

She met Sikthand’s gaze one more time before the door slid closed, and blinked through the blood dribbling into her vision.

Were the corners of his eyes black?


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