In which we continue the tale of murder most arcane, penned by that Ben guy who normally makes his name through painting stuff, but who it turns out can do writing stuff too…
Last episode we learned of Captain Elizabeth Lawley’s assignment to a murder most arcane. Several deceased and a single assassin…
Part 1 can be found here: Link!
An Alley, Merywyn, Capital of Khador-Occupied Llael
One week later
Ioryssa felt the rain-wet garbage shift beneath her as she crashed into it. The smell would have been enough to turn the best day sour. Today was a long way from the best. She should have run when the shadowy figure appeared and pointed its glowing hand at her. She should have turned back when she first found the alley suspiciously empty. She shouldn’t have come here at all, drunk and alone. But really, she’d come because she was drunk, she was drunk because she was alone, and it wasn’t like she was alone by choice.
No one chooses to get fired from their own company, but that’s what happened. Some wench had come along, smiled and batted her eyes. Ioryssa didn’t go for smiles and eye-batting. She preferred curses and fist-shaking. Thordok, Leon and Tonio had made their decision. They’d dropped her like a smoking powder keg. It’s what Ioryssa had deserved, an Iosan woman going into business with three non-Iosan men. So now she was alone. Alone, with a desperate need for some blood on her knuckles.
This alley was technically the fastest way from the shabby dive to her shabbier tenement apartment, but she’d come here looking for lowlifes to rough up. She’d found a mage instead. A mage who’d attacked her on sight.
Stone chips flew from the shattered cobblestones where she’d been standing, pattering against the wet leather of her heavy coat. She rolled out of the garbage pile, drawing her pistol from her belt and tucking it against her stomach. She came up in a crouch behind a barrel. Empty, from the way it moved when she bumped it. From the smell, it had once held booze. Bad booze, the kind you drank to forget.
Ioryssa eased her eye-line up past the top of the barrel. The figure was still there. There were no visible features within the smoky darkness that shrouded it. She couldn’t tell if the figure was looking at her, but one of its arms snapped up in her direction, a ring of bluish-white runes beginning to spiral around it. In their momentary glow, Ioryssa saw a woman’s face beneath the wide brim of a hat. She didn’t wait to see more.
She dropped back behind the barrel as the light of the runes waxed. She carefully raised the pistol beside her ear. She only had one shot. She waited for the hissing roar of raw magical force tearing through the air towards her. Then, she flung herself to the side and out into the open.
The barrel shattered behind her, throwing bits of wood everywhere, soggy with rain and sediment. Ioryssa ignored it, levelling her gun at the center of the shadow. The pistol’s report was deafening in the tight space of the alley. Her shoulder hit the cobbles, her full weight landing on it with a burst of bright pain. She bounced once, landing on her backside in a puddle. No staying there.
The shadow gave a jerk. Maybe dodging the shot, maybe recoiling from a hit. Impossible to tell. Damned shadow magic. Ioryssa scrabbled to get her feet under her, letting the pistol fall into the puddle and reaching for her sword. She had to press the advantage. Had to end it quickly. She was no Mage Hunter. If the fight went long, there was no way she’d survive.
She pounded towards the other woman, teeth gritted against the pain in her shoulder. She tugged her blade free and raised it high. The mage had regained her balance. Ioryssa couldn’t let her cast another spell. The shadows fell away as the mage retreated. Human, dark skin and hair. No armour, thanks be to Whoever Was Listening. A simple straight blade hung from her waist. Her hand came up as Ioryssa’s blade came down.
Iosan steel met flaring energy with a spray of sparks, but Ioryssa just growled and pressed harder. She had to end it. The mage’s mouth twisted as the sword bit into her upraised arm. It took a bright flash from somewhere near Ioryssa’s left hip for her to realize she’d lost track of the mage’s other hand.
She could be really stupid sometimes.
It was like being kicked in the gut by a donkey. She flew backwards, losing her feet and hissing in pain as she came down hard on her other shoulder. She rolled with it, coming back to her feet just out of swords’ reach. The mage also drew her sword, and the two stared at each other, breathing hard. Ioryssa’s side throbbed like a second heartbeat. Deeply bruised for sure. Too low on the side for broken ribs. She coughed once and spat onto the cobbles. No blood, thank Whoever Was Listening. Ioryssa narrowed her eyes. “Who are you, anyway?” she hissed.
The human woman scowled. “You don’t need to know that.” From her accent, she wasn’t Llaelese. Or Khadoran, for that matter. Probably Cygnaran. Not a local, anyway, and that couldn’t mean anything good. “All you need to know is that you are wanted for seven counts of murder and one of espionage. Come quietly, Mage Hunter, or I may be forced to execute you on the spot.”
Ioryssa gaped. “Mage Hunter? Are you mad, woman?” The primary reason Ioryssa was even in Llael was to get away from that particular brand of lunacy. Explaining that probably wasn’t going to help. She tried anyway. “I’m just a merc, lady. You’ve got the wrong person.”
The Cygnaran mage raised her empty hand. Ioryssa didn’t wait for her. She bolted.
Wanted, she’d said. The woman was bloody law enforcement, maybe even intelligence. Even if Ioryssa could take her down, that was not the kind of mess she wanted to be involved in. She’d have to ditch her. Easier said than done.
Her shoulders ached. Occasionally a spike of pain shot across her back as her arms pumped. The muscles of her left side screamed. Slowing down was not an option. Another hissing roar sounded from behind her and she lurched sideways, sliding across the slick cobbles. The arcane bolt slammed into the alley wall beside her, scattering brick dust around her. Ioryssa felt it mixing with the rain and painting her shaved scalp with gritty red streaks. The alley opened into a four-way intersection and she swung right without slowing. Her boots threw up spray as she skidded through a deep puddle, barely keeping her feet.
There it was. A ladder leading to the rooftops. Ioryssa knew these alleys well. There were plenty of ways to move unseen, if she could just get up there before the mage caught up to her. Fortunately, in Ioryssa’s experience few humans ran as fast as she did. All she could do now was climb and hope.
She climbed, ears straining for the sounds of feet pounding the cobbles, splashing through the puddles. All she heard was the rain and her laboured breathing. Running with her injuries had been bad enough, now she had to climb a damned ladder. One rung at a time, muscles bunching, bruises screaming. She was nearly to the top when she heard a splash and a curse. A smile flickered across her face at the thought of the mage wiping out in the big puddle. She didn’t waste any time looking back. The roof was almost within reach.
“Surrender now, or I will be forced to kill you!” It hadn’t worked the first time, it wouldn’t work this time. Ioryssa ignored the Cygnaran’s words and lurched for the gutter. A grunting yell tore itself from her throat as she pulled herself up in one smooth, agonizing movement. The left side of her abdomen and both shoulders joined in a single throb of pain. Shingles exploded from where she had hung, adding tarry wood chips to the stone fragments and brick dust already covering her wet clothes, face and scalp. Ioryssa didn’t bother getting to her feet, just scrambled for the peak of the roof.
“STOP!” the Cygnaran woman bellowed and Ioryssa heard more shingles explode, felt more fragments rain down. She flung herself over the ridge. On the other side, she clung to the wet roof, head down and panting. It would take the Cygnaran a few minutes at least to get around to this side. She could climb the ladder, but that would be stupid with Ioryssa waiting for her at the top. Ioryssa could catch her breath. She gently traced the tattoo beneath her right eye with a fingertip. “Thanks, Lacyr. Or Whoever Is Listening.”
The shingles shifted under her hand. She tensed, eyes widening. She shivered, and it had nothing to do with the rain. The shingle shifted again, and came away from the roof. “No no no no …” She grabbed frantically for a new handhold. Her exhausted fingers would not respond quickly enough.
“Come on, Lacyr!” With that indignant yell, Ioryssa slid off the edge of the roof.