Still chugging along with my Non-traditional NaNoWriMo… 🙂 973 words…
Seven – Part 3
© 2018 Patrick Hester – All Rights Reserved
“I think we need short hand,” Seven said, and then laughed so hard at the image of Julian with tiny little hands that her horse turned a huge eye in her direction.
Riding a mottled gray horse beside her, Julian said nothing while the laughing fit took her, though his hood did shift in her direction once or twice. Unlike in the caves, she could see the profile of his face now, the glittering of his eyes. But nothing more. Not the tattoos covering his skin, not the scarring just below his eyes. It wasn’t the first time she’d wondered about them, about what the Magi had done to her little brother while she clawed her way up through the blood and horror of the arena.
Guilt burned in her chest and she tamped it down. She couldn’t have known what would happen to him. With their parents dead, it had been up to her to take care of them and after a month on the streets, begging and stealing what little they could just to survive, she knew she couldn’t do it. The Magi or the arena were the only choices available to them. She’d been so sure leaving Julian at the Temple was the right choice, the easier path.
She’d been wrong. Neither path had been easy.
“Two snaps or claps for yes, one for no,” she finally said. “I can’t always stop to look at you and see what your fingers are saying.”
She grinned. “We can figure out some other things, too. Maybe something for duck or look out, danger, help, that sort of thing.” No answer to that and she was content to ride in silence for a time. The dirt road cut through the forest with meters of empty scrub grass on either side before the trees began. She struggled with accepting that as a good thing – open space meant no ambushes – or as a bad thing – ranged weapons could be used from the shadows of the trees. Which would she choose, if it were up to her?
A clap drew her attention and she turned to Julian.
Where do you go when you do that?
“Go?” she asked. Had the forest grown quiet or had it always been quiet? “I was here with you, only, considering the road, the trees. Anticipating where the attack will come from. Archers could hide within the trees, kill us from afar. If they’re good. Not all archers are. It takes time, patience and coin to properly train archers. So we assume they are not very good, which means they wound us, or our horses. Possibly kill them. I don’t see how they could attack with swords or staves unless they ran out into the open and then we could prepare a defense.” She eyed the grass to the right. “I remember an arena with hidden tunnels that could be covered with dirt. From above, you saw no seam but dozens could hide within and spring forward to attack.” Her eyes narrowed. “It was by a sea. I could smell the sea.”
A clap followed by, You always go to battle, to fighting and death.
“Perhaps I do,” she allowed. “When you spend every day aware of danger, of attack and fighting for your life, it is a difficult thing to turn off.”
He nodded. I understand.
Seven wondered what that meant. Julian had said very little about his time at the Temple. The tattoos and scars, though – she had seen them. Winced at them. At the pain he’d endured receiving them. The guilt settled in her stomach again.
“What can you tell me about Blood magic?”
Julian made a slashing motion with his hand.
“Nothing at all?” she asked. “I thought you were taught about magic.”
Blood magic is an abomination.
“Can you counter it? Defend against it?”
You do not understand.
“I’m trying,” she said. Had her voice had a growl within it? “But you’re not explaining it to me.”
His fingers flexed several times. Sorcerers use blood to fuel their spells. The Magi gain power from devotion to their God.
“God?” she asked, voice sharp. “Which God? The same God? All of you?”
No. Each Initiate calls out for…patronage. When I called, Delj answered.
“Delj?” she asked. “What sort of God is called Delj?” Waving a hand she added, “I have never heard of him.”
Few have these days, he said. He is one of the Old Ones. I worship him, and he lends me the power I use, the Magic.
Seven raised one hand and reined in her horse. “Do you smell that?” Without waiting for a reply, she urged the horse forward. Leaving the road behind, she guided her horse into the trees, letting it pick the best route. Julian caught her just as she crested the hill.
The dead lay baking in a patch of sun, a mass grave so large she could not count the dead. Carrion birds covered them like a blanket, picking at exposed flesh and muscles, caverning out eyes. The uppermost bodies were bloated, a feast for the carrion. Below them, the bodies were in different stages of breaking down and returning to the earth.
“No blood,” she said. “We must be close.”
We are, Julian said and pointed.
Through the trees, a gleaming tower of white rose into the sky. She squinted.
Yes, he said. The tower’s peak is red.
Before she could comment on that, a shadow on the ground leapt up, her horse screamed and bucked. The shadow hit the beast as it reared up, paws clawing at the air and launched it into the air, flipping head over tail. Seven, thrown clear, spun away to slam into a tree where darkness and pain swallowed her whole.
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