Yay, we’re on time this week! Once more we force Ben from Primal Poodle to put down his paintbrushes for a few minutes and instead force a keyboard into his hands. I’m such a harsh taskmaster… Anyway, for your reading pleasure, part 7 of Fear of Retribution. Ioryssa and Elizabeth continue as Khadoran Greylord Kerenov finds himself closer to an Iosan than he likely thought he’d ever be…
- Part 1 can be found here: Link!
- Part 2 can be found here: Link!
- Part 3 can be found here: Link!
- Part 4 can be found here: Link!
- Part 5 can be found here: Link!
- Part 6 can be found here: Link!
Kerenov’s Manor, Merywyn
“Damn it, Bullets!” Ioryssa snarled, kicking the last Khadoran in the chest. The red-clad man fell backwards, yelping as he went down the stairs. Ioryssa didn’t pause to watch. She jammed her pistol into its holster and turned away. She needed to get to the broken window. That would be the easiest way out.
Lizzie Bullets had abandoned her. Time for Ioryssa to leave too.
She’d come to the house – formerly a Llaelese merchant’s home, now occupied by the Khadoran wizard Greylord Kerenov – to catch an Iosan Mage Hunter. Instead, Ioryssa herself had been caught by Lizzie Bullets. Bullets still seemed to believe that Ioryssa was the Mage Hunter. If Ioryssa stuck around to pick a fight with Kerenov, that wouldn’t do much to change Bullets’ mind. Ioryssa gritted her teeth. If Bullets had just stayed with her instead of being spooked by the guards, maybe they could have caught the assassin together. Now, all that mattered was not getting caught herself.
A freezing gust of wind blew around Ioryssa’s ankles as she turned towards her escape route. She shivered, every tiny hair on her shaved scalp rising. Greylords were widely known as masters of cold magic. She bolted for the bedroom with the shattered window.
“Stop!” The word was Llaelese, but with a thick Khadoran accent. Instinctively, Ioryssa glanced back. Another red-clad figure was moving down the hall towards her. A heavy fur was draped over his shoulders. The biggest, shiniest beard Ioryssa had ever seen rolled down his chest. He looked like some sort of large northern animal. Probably a bear. Khadorans liked bears. He also wasn’t walking. The edges of his furry cloak fluttered by his dangling feet as he floated towards her, born on another icy gust. Behind him, more Khadoran guards clustered on the stairs. None of them seemed interested in moving up with him.
Ioryssa gulped. This, then, was Greylord Kerenov. He raised a hand, ice-coloured runes beginning their slow spiral. Ioryssa dove for the cover of the doorframe.
Looking back had slowed her down too much. The torrent of glacial air drenched her mid-dive, making her bones scream. Her entire body went stiff from the shock. She bounced awkwardly off of the door frame, collapsing to the floor. She tried to roll with it, but her muscles would not respond. Her eyes tried to widen. The lids were too stiff. Kerenov drifted closer.
The moonlight dimmed.
Ioryssa’s frozen eyes couldn’t focus on it, but there was a dark shape outside the high window. The way it blocked the light, it must have been right outside. None of the Khadorans seemed to notice.
Kerenov stopped just outside of sword’s reach and glowered down at her. “So you are the one who has come to kill me,” he said. His voice was somewhere between a beast’s growl and the burble of hot tar. From his tone, he was starting a monologue. Ioryssa tightened her jaw and strained against the cold stiffness. Ever so sluggishly and ever so painfully, her limbs responded.
Kerenov frowned deeper. “You should not move. If you do, I will have to freeze you again. I do not think you would survive that.” Ioryssa growled. The Greylord stood straighter and continued speaking. “I realize that you Iosans have a grudge against people like me. People who wield Thamar’s Gift in the service of Human causes. I realize this grudge is irrational. You cannot help yourselves.” Kerenov gave Ioryssa a momentary patronizing smile, then frowned again. “I did not realize, however, that I myself was on your hit list.”
“You … aren’t … on my list …” Ioryssa managed to force out. Her eyes had finally managed to focus on the window. A humanoid form was silhouetted there, pressed up against the glass. “You’re … on hers!”
Kerenov finally noticed where she was looking and pivoted. With a grunt that edged towards a scream, Ioryssa levered herself up to her hands and knees. Head down, she didn’t see the moment the glass broke, but she heard it, saw Kerenov’s feet drift backwards as he recoiled. She looked up again just in time to see the man’s eyes go wide, his mouth droop open. A small, grey-fletched crossbow bolt protruded from his beard, just left of center. “No. No no no …” Ioryssa’s voice grated past her clenched teeth as she pulled herself up the doorframe. She twisted her aching neck towards the broken window.
The rain had stopped, and the clouds had begun breaking apart. Calder shone full and bright in the dark sky. In front of the large white moon dangled the silhouette. She hung from a rope with one hand, hoisting a slim crossbow in the other. A heavy cloak obscured details, but there was only one person it could be.
“No. No. NO!” Ioryssa bellowed. It wasn’t fair, wasn’t damned fair. She lurched into motion. Every recently-frozen muscle in her body joined in the angry chorus that her bruised shoulders and abdomen had been singing all night. It was not going to end like this. Her escape route lay behind her, red-garbed Khadoran guards clustered the top of the stairs ahead. The guards were between her and the window. Ioryssa bared her teeth and accelerated.
The dark figure slipped down the rope and vanished from sight. Ioryssa raised her voice into a wordless roar, raising her sword as she ran. The Khadorans began to stumble back, some down the stairs and some into the nearby rooms. Kerenov was dead, their duty ended in failure. They were getting out of Ioryssa’s way, that’s what mattered. She barrelled past their retreating forms, leaping for the window sill.
Strength and feeling had mostly returned to her muscles, but they still complained as she grasped the metal frame with her free hand. Remaining shards of glass crumbled under her thick glove. Ioryssa ignored the pain in her muscles, the pain where glass cut through the leather and into her skin. She flung her sword-arm’s elbow over the sill and pulled herself up. She paused a moment to steady herself, and jumped again. Grabbed the rope. She didn’t even try to hold her weight, letting herself slide to the ground. She needed speed. The Mage Hunter was already ahead of her.
Even before she hit the cobblestones, Ioryssa was scanning. She was in a courtyard behind the house. A small fenced square of cobbles where a wealthy person could enjoy the weather with some amount of privacy. If Merywyn ever had any good weather. A flicker of motion on a nearby rooftop brought another growl from Ioryssa’s throat. She’d have to climb again.
Ioryssa flung herself at the plank-and-wrought-iron fence surrounding the courtyard, grabbing the top and pulling herself up. A broad alley, what would have been a street in her part of town, ran behind. She dropped into it and sprinted towards the roof where she’d seen the motion. Puddles threw gouts of dirty water up under her coat. Her fingers, now thawed from the paralyzed claw they had been, gripped the hilt of her sword with determined strength. Nearly there.
“Whoever is Listening, it would be really nice if there were a ladder this time,” Ioryssa muttered as she slowed beside the target house. There was no ladder. Not even a drainpipe. Instead, as Ioryssa’s gaze panned up the back of the house, one of the shadows atop it lengthened and extended upwards. The moonlight, filtered through a drift of cloud, glinted from the tip of a crossbow bolt. Ioryssa immediately dropped into a crouch, her left hand diving for her pistol. She darted to the side, taking cover behind the corner of the next building.
“Who are you?” The voice spoke Shyrr, the language of Ios. It was soft and low, with a rasp that indicated the woman didn’t speak often. So then. Definitely a woman, definitely an Iosan. Definitely a Mage Hunter. “Who are you?” the figure called again, somewhat more forcefully.
“Ioryssa!” Talking was good. Better than being shot at.
“Of what house?”
Ioryssa snorted. That wasn’t a question she’d had to answer in a long time. “None in particular.”
“Ioryssa of No Particular House … why were you at Kerenov’s manor tonight? Do we hunt the same prey?” Ioryssa risked a glance around the edge of the building. The Hunter had crouched down again, her crossbow pointed to the sky.
Ioryssa stepped into the open, her weapons lowered but not sheathed. “The same prey? No. I kill strictly for coin, not for Scyrah.”
There was a long pause. The hood tilted to one side. “You’ve not been home in some time, then?”
“No. I left around the time everyone started going crazy.” Slowly, her weapons likewise lowered, Ioryssa approached the building.
“Is it madness to try to preserve our race? Insanity, to save the life of our sole remaining mother?” The soft voice thrummed. It was a tone Ioryssa had heard plenty of times on Merywyn’s street corners, from people waving Menofixes or Radiances. Never from hooded women with tattooed faces. Ioryssa’s jaw tightened. She felt the urge to touch her own tattoo. Calm. The debate wasn’t important. Keeping the Hunter talking was.
“Genocide doesn’t solve problems,” she said. “We can’t change the past, and your way isn’t going to change the future. Right now, your way is standing between me and my future. That’s all that really matters to me.”
Ioryssa could hear the frown in the Mage Hunter’s reply. “You truly care nothing for your own people? You’d abandon us all to a world that will destroy us in its ignorance?”
Ioryssa’s chest twinged, her mouth twisted. “I don’t … I don’t hate my race. I just wish there was a better way.” She didn’t want to think about Tovys. She couldn’t not think about Tovys. If more Iosans were like him, maybe she wouldn’t have had to leave home. “I wish more of us wanted a better way,” she muttered.
“There is no better way.”
“So you say.”
“So Scyrah says.”
Ioryssa glowered up from the foot of the building. “Scyrah’s in a coma!” she snarled up at the rooftop shadow. “She has nothing to say to anyone!”
The shadow rose up again. Ioryssa’s throat tightened. Stepping out might have been reckless. “Then I have nothing to say to you, cousin. I do not want to be your enemy. So let us hope our paths do not cross again.”
The Hunter disappeared over the roof with an overly-dramatic swirl of cloak. Ioryssa swore, jamming her weapons into holster and scabbard and racing around the side of the building.
By the time she found a way to the roof, the Hunter was gone.