With the epic climax last time, it’s time to bring our story to a close. Please enjoy Chapters 18 and 19 of Fear Of Retribution. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tale! Next week’s Tuesday Fiction post will be all 19 chapters compiled into a single post for those who aren’t inclined to read in segments. Big thanks to Ben for writing the story, and thank you all for reading.
Part One! Part Two! Part Three! Part Four! Part Five! Part Six! Part Seven! Part Eight! Part Nine! Part Ten!
Part Eleven! Part Twelve! Part Thirteen! Part Fourteen! Part Fifteen! Part Sixteen! Part 17!
An Empty Tenement Room, Merywyn
Just Before Dawn
Captain Elizabeth Lawley of the Cygnaran Reconnaissance Service sat on a broken crate and regarded her prisoner. It had been less than two weeks since the two of them had started hunting one another, but it felt like months. Again and again, Liz had feared for her life, and now it was over. The Mage Hunter was captured, tied by both wrists to the back of an old but sturdy chair. Liz wished she’d had some good iron chains to bind her with, but ropes would have to do. The Iosan was so small, so thin, Liz did not expect she’d break free. It was actually hard to believe that such a scrawny, frail-seeming woman was responsible for so much death. Seven Cygnaran mages, one Khadoran Greylord, two attempts on Liz herself, and those were just the crimes Liz knew about.
The elf opened her eyes. Liz met them, cool and implacable, her face fixed in the interrogator’s mask. The rage and fanatical hatred emanating from the Iosan washed over her like a wave. Suddenly it wasn’t so hard to believe anymore. They were a murderer’s eyes. More, they were the eyes of a murderer who believed fully in her own righteousness.
The Iosan spat something, a hissing whisper in her native tongue. Liz ignored it.
“I can’t get you back to Cygnar,” she said, her voice calm and even. “I know I can’t. On my own, there’s no way I can make sure you don’t escape somewhere between here and Corvis. I’m fairly certain you know that too.” The Mage Hunter was silent, her eyes still burning. Liz continued. “So, that means I have no choice but to kill you. Here, today. I cannot risk letting you go free. But you see, I don’t actually have any hard evidence that you are the one I’m after. Since you tried to kill me twice, I’m going to kill you either way, but I need to know: are you the one who murdered the archmage Roderick and his six apprentices, as well as the Greylord Kerenov?”
The elf hissed again. Liz shook her head.
“Cygnaran or Llaelese. We’ve spoken before, I know you understand me.”
“You belong in Urcaen, with all the rest of the blasphemers.”
Liz shrugged. “That’s not helpful, but at least you’re talking to me now. Did you kill Roderick, his six apprentices, and the Greylord Kerenov?”
“Why would I tell you? You will kill me anyway.”
“It’s the difference between me shooting you in the face and me breaking every bone in your body and leaving you for the Kayazy.”
The Iosan’s teeth pulled back in a snarling grin. “Death is death. Scyrah will see my soul to its proper destination.”
Liz rubbed her face with one hand. Bloody fanatics. This would have to get messy.
An hour later, Liz stared down at her handiwork. The Mage Hunter’s face was bruised, her nose was twisted to one side, and likely at least one tooth was loose. Liz was exhausted, and could only imagine how the prisoner felt. “Did you kill Roderick, his apprentices, and the Greylord Kerenov?” The words escaped her as a sigh. She’d said them a hundred times in the last hour. Each time, her adversary had spat or snarled or stayed silent. Each time, she’d fired a low intensity arcane bolt into a non-vital area. Now, her patience was running out, as was the Iosan woman’s endurance. Would she break before she died?
The Mage Hunter met her eyes, fanatical fires still burning deep inside them. Liz heaved another sigh and raised her hand for what could be the killing blow.
Then, the Iosan’s eyes closed, her head sagging. Liz held the spell in her mind, ready, but not fired. This behaviour was new. The elf’s eyes opened again, the tattoo on her cheek twitching. “Wait.” The assassin’s voice was a low hiss, but the vitriol was gone. She spoke Cygnaran, her tone one of abject exhaustion and misery. Liz lowered her hand, and folded her arms.
“Did you do it?”
Another soft hiss. Liz leaned forwards. “Did. You. Kill them.”
The Iosan met her eyes. Her mouth moved, but the words were inaudible. Liz bared her teeth and leaned in farther, raising one hand to either side of the Iosan’s head, runes beginning to spiral around them. “I am out of patience, you Morrow-forsaken murderess. Confess! Did you kill Roderick, did you kill his six apprentices, and did you kill the Greylord Kerenov?” The words rasped from her throat, spitting between her clenched teeth.
The fire in the Iosan’s eyes re-ignited. “Yes.”
Liz’s breath sighed out in involuntary relief, but she did not let the runes fade. Those eyes held no surrender.
The Iosan’s teeth peeled back. “And now I’m going to kill you.”
Strike! Liz’s mind crystallized around the word and a torrent of restrained force flooded from her hands, but the Mage Hunter was already moving. A hand slithered from behind the chair, fingers curled protectively around a thumb that dangled oddly. The Iosan dove forwards, the chair coming with her, coming between her and Liz, absorbing the blast of the arcane bolt. Half of it came apart in a spray of splinters. Liz stumbled backwards, trying to open some distance as the Mage Hunter’s other hand whipped around. It was still tied to the remains of the chair, swinging a good sized chunk of wood through Liz’s legs like a flail, dropping her to the floor.
The assassin was on her feet, broken hand moving protectively behind her. The chair, still bound to the woman’s right arm, skittered across the floor and rose into the air, following her movement. Liz rolled as the Hunter swung her improvised weapon down. She was too slow, too tired, too winded and too shocked. Wood broke over her arms and face, and the chair receded, jerked back up into the air. Somehow, the Iosan had endured an hour of punishment and still been able to break her own hand to free herself. Somehow, she still had strength enough to wield the heavy broken chair. Liz had been a fool to think she had won. A fool to think she could have won.
She scrambled to her knees, barely managing to get one foot under her before the chair came down again, smashing her back to the floor. Lights flickered in her vision like spell runes as her forehead hit the boards. She rolled over, saw that the elf woman was now holding the shattered remnants of the chair in both hands, curling fingers around the legs even while that one thumb hung limp. She must have been in so much pain. The chair rose again, and began to come down. Liz shot up a hand. Strike! Or she tried to. Her head pounded. The word would not form.
No runes appeared. No bolts tore the air. The chair fell.
The Next Day
Ioryssa’s gaze drifted past the two empty bottles of clouded glass and swept over the faces of her companions. Faces she’d know anywhere, even through the haze of strong drink. They all smiled at her, and she smiled back. Good spirits had put them all in good spirits. Ioryssa was pretty sure she’d have been smiling even if they’d had to drink the same swill as always.
It was over. It was done.
Lizzie Bullets had arrested the Mage Hunter. Ioryssa was safe from both fanatics, the one who wanted to kill her in the name of an obsolete goddess and the one who wanted to jail her in the name of Cygnar and some murdered wizards she’d never met. Bullets was out of her life now, and Ioryssa could go back to terrorizing Merywyn’s underworld. She even had her boys back with her. Her grin broadened. As if anyone else could have kept Thordok, Leon and Tonio in line the way she could.
And Tovys was alive. Her smile nearly faltered as her gaze swept over to the bed in the corner. The Seeker, Ioryssa’s husband, lay there propped up on a thin pillow and whatever else they’d been able to put together for him. He smiled back at her, thin through pain but genuine. The Mage Hunter’s bolt had taken him in the chest, but missed his heart. With Tovys’ frail constitution, it would be some time before his full strength returned, but he would live. Thank Whoever Was Listening.
For that matter, thank Lizzie Bullets. Ioryssa was well aware that without the Cygnaran’s intervention, she would have been too late. The Mage Hunter would have shot Tovys again, and again, and again. Her jaw tightened. Bullets hadn’t had to save Tovys. But she’d done it anyway. Ioryssa picked up a bottle. I owe you one, she thought, and drained it. Not that she’d say it aloud.
Ioryssa had had plenty to be afraid of in the past weeks. Yet somehow, in the end, everything had come out all right.
“You did it, Boss.” Thordok’s drunken voice slid into her ears like gravelly slush. She looked over to him, an enormous grin distorting his blue features. “You beat ‘em all.”
Ioryssa reached for the third bottle and popped it open. “I did, didn’t I.” The tightness left her mouth. “Lizzie Bullets, the Hunter, the Kayazy, all of them. If only anyone knew or would believe it …” She took a long sip.
“You’d be the most famous merc in Merywyn if anyone knew,” said Tonio, reaching for the bottle. Ioryssa surrendered it and he saluted her with it. “We know, though. That’s good enough, right?” He drank. When he lowered the bottle, his face was surprisingly serious. “We never should have left you hanging like that, Ioryssa.” Then he flushed and raised the bottle again.
Leon picked up where Tonio left off. “We’re with you now. You can forgive us for being idiots?”
Ioryssa shrugged. “You’re human.”
“Oi!” Thordok seemed like he would say more, but instead he just belched.
“You’re not Iosan,” Ioryssa amended. “What’s more, you’re men. You’re entitled to be idiots.” She shrugged again. “It’s not like I don’t make stupid mistakes.”
The three looked at her in silence for a moment. “Boss,” Thordok finally said, “mistakes only count as stupid when you don’t win.”
Leon barked a laugh and clapped his hands. Ioryssa looked down at the table, a rueful smile twisting her face again.
Tonio lifted the bottle he still held. “To Ioryssa! She who prevails over all obstacles, her own stupidity included!”
“Hear hear!” Tovys croaked from the bed.
The bottle started travelling again. Ioryssa accepted it gratefully, not wanting to talk or meet anyone’s gaze. They were right, though. She’d won. Not only was the whole mess finally over, Ioryssa had actually won.
The door opened.
Immediately, all four at the table reached for their weapons. No one else had been invited.
Especially not Lizzie Bullets.
“Prevails over all obstacles, eh?” The Cygnaran’s hat was pulled low, and her voice was heavy with exhaustion. Even through the fog of drink, Ioryssa noticed that fatigue echoed in the way Lizzie was standing. She seemed about to collapse.
“What do you want, Bullets?” Ioryssa’s voice grated. “I thought I was done with you.”
“I’ve got some obstacles that I could use help prevailing over.” The hat tilted back and Ioryssa saw that Bullets’ eyes were as hard as her own. “My job’s not over yet.”
A short time later, Ioryssa sank back in her chair, shoulders slumped, feeling completely sobered. Lizzie Bullets shook her head. “Someone like that doesn’t make mistakes about alive or dead,” the Cygnaran was saying. She looked at each of them in turn. Ioryssa tried to meet her eyes steadily, but her throat was knotted. She’d won. Dammit, she had won! Now the Urcaen-damned Mage Hunter had stolen that victory. “She left me alive on purpose.” Bullets sighed, sinking her face into her hands.
“She didn’t just want to disappear,” Ioryssa muttered. “She wanted us all to know she’d beaten us.”
“Wonderful woman,” Leon slurred.
Ioryssa’s teeth gritted. She dragged a finger across the tabletop, idly drawing patterns in the condensation there. “Don’t blame yourself too much, Bullets. Mage Hunters are all insane. There’s no predicting them. I should have killed her last night, right then and there. I should have ignored your stupid professional pride. I just …”
Bullets shook her head again, looking down at the table as well. “You didn’t think it was important. You thought it was over. We all did.” She frowned at the drawings Ioryssa had done. “Your tattoos,” she murmured. Ioryssa’s mindless doodles had resolved into two divine glyphs, the symbols of Scyrah and Lacyr. The marks tattooed on the faces of the Mage Hunter, and Ioryssa herself.
Ioryssa pointed to them in turn. “Her goddess. My goddess. Like I said, the tattoos are common enough in Ios.”
“Enough, Ioryssa.” Tovys shifted on the bed, fixing Ioryssa with his gaze. He spoke Shyrr. He didn’t want Bullets to hear. Still believed in keeping Iosan secrets.
Ioryssa shrugged, and replied in the same language. “I was loyal to Ios once, Tovys. Look where that got me.” She switched back to Llaelese as she turned her gaze to Bullets. “Ideological differences used to matter back home. Now everyone is either like her, or pretending to support people like her. I thought I’d gotten away from that until you showed up.”
The mage grimaced. “I’m never going to be able to apologize for that. In my defence, I don’t believe I did anything incorrectly. But just because it was correct doesn’t mean it was right.” She looked right at Ioryssa then, a cold calm in her eyes that Ioryssa hadn’t seen there before. “Here’s a start, though. My name’s not Lizzie Bullets, and I’m not a criminal.”
“Figured that out.”
“I don’t doubt it. I still feel obligated to tell you. My name is Captain Magus Elizabeth Lawley and I work for the Cygnaran Reconnaissance Service. I started off investigating the murder of Cygnaran wizards, and ended up in this whole mess.” Somehow, Bullets – Lawley – seemed to straighten up even as she relaxed. Ioryssa’s mouth quirked up.
“A bit in over your head, weren’t you?”
“I was. As it turns out, I still am.”
“What’s that mean?” Thordok shook the last bottle, hearing not even a drop rattle inside. He set it down with a sigh and looked at Captain Lawley. “You’ll just catch her again, won’t ya?”
Lawley looked at him and smiled a bit. “Thordok, right?” The trollkin nodded. “Well, Thordok, the problem is, I didn’t actually catch her on my own the first time.”
“We helped!” Tonio raised his fist triumphantly. He and Leon had somehow managed to get far drunker off of the available booze than Ioryssa or Thordok. They always did. Ioryssa had never figured out if their constitutions were just that weak or if they were sneaking extra swallows.
Lawley nodded to him. “That’s right. You did.” She spoke to Tonio, but her gaze had swung back to Ioryssa.
Ioryssa frowned, deep and hard. “You want us to help you again. Track down and take out this fanatic wench once and for all.”
“The CRS isn’t above hiring mercenaries. And it pays well.” Leon and Tonio leaned in at that, identical smiles spreading stupidly across both faces. Thordok looked at Ioryssa, his heavy expression inscrutable.
“We do need work, Boss,” the trollkin rumbled after a moment.
Ioryss found herself looking to Tovys. He still lay propped up in the bed, but his eyes were bright and alert. “She will not come after you right away,” he said, in Llaelese this time. “She will have higher priority targets. She may even leave you alone until she’s killed Captain Lawley.” He nodded towards the Cygnaran. “But as long as she lives, you will be in danger. I cannot be content with that.”
Ioryssa switched to Shyrr. Even still, she lowered her voice, casting her eyes downwards. “Does that mean you’ll come with me if I go after her?”
Tovys smiled. “A Seeker’s work is everywhere. And I’m still between leads. Following an agent of the CRS for a time is as likely to provide me with new information as anything else.”
Ioryssa squared her shoulders and met Lawley’s gaze. “Well, Captain Lawley, it seems like we’re all in agreement. We’ll draw up a contract as soon as I can find some damned paper.” She stuck her hand out across the table. Captain Lawley smiled and shook it.
“Call me Liz.”