Chapter 08 – Belok’s Play, Part 02

The constable swirled his arms as if spinning air into a vortex. Boruin felt the wind of it pass over him and then a frightening stillness. Their breath sounded too loud in his ears, and he reached out and jammed his finger on nothing. Pile thrust his sword, testing a near deputy, and his blade rebounded dangerously close to Toaaho’s thigh. This new spell surrounded them, a sphere of dense air they could not see or pass. It held them trapped like fish in a tank on a butcher’s live meat counter.

“A Wa’Ha’Wae,” Toaaho muttered.

“A Waha what?” Pile asked.

“A sorcerer. We walked into magi,” Wraethe said.

“You said nothing of a Köpeka!” the constable shouted over Boruin’s shoulder.

“No doubt I would have told a more profitable party had I known,” Belok said, stepping out of a dry goods shop. “All the same, I leave them to your care. I am just pleased to be able to fulfill my contract.”

“I’m sure,” the constable said with a snap of his fingers. Boruin had the sensation of slipping, as if he had blinked his eyes and stepped a foot to the side without realizing it.

“How did he do that?” Pile asked. Boruin turned his head to see the constable handing the boy over to Belok. He turned about, looking around him. His mind would not believe that the magi constable had snatched the boy away in some missing moment. He heard a rumble and knew Wraethe’s short temper was long gone. She was winding up, and being trapped inside the constable’s spell with her was going to be bad.

“Hold yourself. We can’t just start murdering lawmen. I can still talk us around this,” Boruin told her.

“Talk all you want, fool. It’s done us so well already,” Wraethe replied.

He held the original contract, lifted from Belok’s office. “The boy is my ward,” he said. “I’ve been contracted by this house. It’s binding to my name and non-transferable.” Another snap of his fingers, and the constable was glancing over the paper.

“Just like Tradesman Boruin’s copy.”

“Sorry, who?”

“Boruin,” the constable answered, pointing at Belok. Belok smiled wide, trying to enjoy the moment while holding the squirming child to keep him from chasing a glow moth skirting the cobblestone.

“He’s Boruin,” Pile shouted. “That guy is Belok! He’s the one cutting in on our contract!”

“Except he’s got an Easlinder merchant pass in his name and a Nefazo trade guild card. Four other merchants witnessed him in my office just last week. You have your pass?”

“No,” answered Boruin.

“Guild card?”

“No”

“Any respectable witness?”

“No.”

“You’re free to fulfill your contract, Tradesman Boruin,” the constable said without looking at Belok. In his anger, the man kept looking between Toaaho and Boruin as if trying to weigh evils.

“Thank you for your assistance,” Belok answered. “I’ll sleep well knowing your justice has amended this situation.” The boy walked into the trade house, his hand curled around Belok’s and his eyes still on the glow moth. Simple fool, Boruin thought, though his anger was not really for the boy. He wasn’t ready to let him go. There were too many questions left.

The invisible sphere pulled them into motion as the constable started walking. The fish tank was now on wheels; they’d been picked for dinner. “Toaaho isn’t my slave. I bought his writ to get him out. He’ll tell you the same,” Boruin said.

“No doubt. I’m sure he’s a very well behaved,” the lawman answered. He turned down a long avenue and Boruin could see it end with Iron Bridge arching high over the Oriune.

“Knock him down, and I’ll let you have this,” Wraethe said to the accompanying deputies, pulling aside her thin shirt. Though the men blushed at her display, they all sneered or looked away. She threw herself at the wall of containment, clawing out at the men.

“Can you make a separate spell for me, for Yuin’s mercy?” Pile yelled at the constable, ducking as Wraethe’s sharp nails sailed over his head. Toaaho snatched out and took her hand, holding it carefully. She calmed a moment as he whispered to her, and then they both threw themselves at the wall. The magi slowed, but the spell held intact.

“Would you just listen a moment?” Boruin yelled as he and Pile too shoved against the back wall of the spell. The four hit the invisible sphere together, stopping the magi constable short on the first step of the Iron Bridge. He spun with a curse.

“What can you say? You answered under the Skuwari. You could not have lied, and I know all I need to know. You can dispute Tradesman Boruin’s accusations before the judges, but even if they dismiss the contract breaches and the slaver’s charge, which they won’t, there is still the Köpeka. I’ve never seen a less promising chance for defense.”

“He can’t be judged just on a name,” Pile said.

“Not a name. The name. Those that kept us as slaves to the Kukane’Haku. The deliverer stamped them out. Alaka’i Mei destroyed them and led us from the God-Kings.”

“Maybe I misunderstood,” Boruin said.

“You would have not said Köpeka if you did not believe it.”

“Then ask me why I believe it,” Boruin said. The constable looked puzzled, but sketched the truth ward again across his forehead.

“How is he a Köpeka?”

“It is true they deceived their own people, but no less than they deceived themselves. They fled with the Dabattu, and when they found the Makua’Moi had followed, the destruction of that cult became their path to redemption. The Köpeka remained in secret to stand against the Makua’Moi, to destroy them and the last link to the Kukane’Haku. All but Toaaho died here, in Priyati, doing just that.”

The constable looked away and wiped the ward from his skin. His shoulders sagged, but he still held the force sphere around them. “Your belief does not make truth. Tonight has brought too many of the old evils. I don’t have the heart to hear more. It is not my place to weigh this. It must be decided before the judges.”

“There is no trial needed.” An old man stood leaning on his cane at the top of the arched bridge. The avenue had emptied, save for a few watchers peeking from shops and the ore houses on the bridge’s back.

“Your honor, I was bringing these charges to the courthouse.”

“I heard,” said the judge as he walked slowly down the steps. Two deputies walked behind as if to catch the frail judge if needed. Boruin recognized them from when they left their boss’s side. “A slaver, a thief, a whore, and a legendary Köpeka. There is little needed to decide their fate.”

“They have answered under a ward of truth,” the lawman said as he walked them up to meet the frail man. “They should be reviewed before the council.”

“Yes, the Skuwari. That has always been your specialty, Eloni. I have no doubt that you brought the truth out of them. Did they deny their crimes?”

“No, but—”

“No need for a courtroom,” the judge said as he continued down the steps toward them. “These crimes are punished with death. They are dangerous. Look at how the whore paces. She’d tear your throat if given the chance. Tighten your spell, Eloni.”

The constable stepped back. “Your honor, they cannot be put to death without trial.”

“And who would seat the trial? I have made my decision. I will not change it,” said the judge.

“I can’t just kill—”

“Do it!” yelled the judge.

“But, your honor!”

The judge raised his cane and slammed it down on the stone. The bridge bucked, and the spell knocked the constable off his feet. His head slammed against the rock. Boruin felt the air relax around him. The judge’s tongue lashed out old words and a hail of burning stars rained down on the bridge.

Pile dove through a shop window and Wraethe followed. Boruin checked his run as Toaaho grabbed the constable. They rolled him under a stone bench before leaping into the storefront. Three deputies fell, struck down by the hot stones now burning inside them.

“Makua’Moi,” said Toaaho.

“And not just one,” said Wraethe, her cruel smile wide and joyous. She dashed up a ladder and onto the roof as a crowd swarmed over the arch of the bridge. Their eyes were wide and frenzied behind bloodied masks that hid their faces. Boruin heard Wraethe’s feet running across the roof and then nothing as she launched into the air.

Wraethe came down in the mass of men, her sword slinging through flesh. Pile was out the door as the last stones bounced across the cobbles. His axe was buried in a man’s chest before Boruin could draw his sword. It had been awhile since last they‘d fought so outnumbered, and Boruin felt the familiar rush of fear and desperation. His eyes widened with madness and he screamed as he entered the street.

Toaaho ducked the clawing grasp of a deputy. Fire filled the man, sparks flying from his mouth as he stumbled after the Mana’Olai. The three struck by the judge’s brimstone had yet to die. The stones burned inside them, but the Makua’Moi sorcerer had kept them alive. Their bodies fought while their mouths screamed of their soul’s anguish.

Toaaho darted in and cut, spinning out again as guts poured burning onto the bridge. The body lurched on, dragging its entrails down the rough street to collapse in the doorway of a tailor’s shop. The body crumbled as the shop took flame.

A hard kick scorched Toaaho’s boot but sent the second deputy tumbling back into the third. The dead, burning creature roared, the intense heat shattering its teeth, rolling them out to skitter across the stone. Its lips peeled back in blackening curls from its steaming jawbone. The Mana’Olai danced around its groping arms and sliced through its cooking hamstrings. It fell back, and Toaaho turned over a stone bench to pin it as the coals burned its body down to cinders.

The last deputy sat on its knees, abandoned by the judge, and Toaaho left it retching fire out a hole burned through its throat. Tears streamed out of its baked-white eyes to rise into steam off the cheekbones. The night air caught up its flaming hair and lifted, the ash of it turning up into the sky, red cinders winking.

Toaaho ran up the bridge, leaping onto a stone lintel and vaulting over Wraethe’s circle of enemies. The two fighters drove a wide berth around themselves, cutting open the tight knots of men that tried to overwhelm their position. They began to turn like dancers, their blades shredding those that dared close and attack. Blood ran thick down the cobblestones as the two worked through the mob.

The old judge, the Makua’Moi sorcerer, dropped to his knees. He cupped the blood in his withered hands and spread it across his face. When he looked up again his eyes were on Boruin and his hands flung the blood toward him.

The drops hardened into shards at the old man’s hissed command. Boruin dropped to his knees to duck most and swung his sword, to deflect the rest. The shards exploded into dust as the constable’s spell of dense air rose just before Boruin. The judge snarled at Eloni’s interference.

Blinking back the dark tunnels before his eyes, the constable dragged himself out from under the bench. The lawman’s legs shook as he stood, but he drew his sword as the judge’s men turned toward him. The judge gathered two handfuls of blood and tossed them again toward Boruin. The force of the blood crashing against his spell knocked the lawman back on his heels, but the wall of air held, protecting his prisoner.

Eloni’s sword tip dropped off-guard, and Boruin knew the man could not defend them both. This is not enough, Boruin thought. Pile swung out and caught one man in the back as he passed, headed for the lawman. The other bowled over the constable, and the shield faded back into nothing.

Pile stumbled as a pommel caught him in the head. He dropped, dazed, to his knee. Wraethe screamed with pleasure as a blade caught her thigh and pain lanced through her. Toaaho fell and rolled, cutting out wildly beneath swords and spear tips.

“This is not enough!” Boruin cried as the judge took another cup of his men’s blood. The runes fell into his palm as he pulled on the long cordon of spells. He imagined the spell he wanted, willed the driving wind that would blow the judge off the bridge and into the Oriune. Boruin saw the Monarhig in his mind and prayed for that wind.

“I must be more,” he whispered to himself and to the mass of burning runes crushed between both palms. He threw the spell outward, but his hands flashed into flame. The wind was dead calm as the fire walked up his forearms. The judge swung his handful of needled blood, and Boruin stood holding his flaming arms away from his body, roaring in pain. The blood sizzled as it fell on the fire and was devoured. The flames climbed higher, and Boruin held out his arms, watching the fire consume him. “Oh, Yuin!” he cried through grinding teeth. I’ve finally killed myself!

“By Hammeoto,” the judge whispered. The fire burning across this man was not Wa’Ha’Wae magic. He could hear the flames whispering hungry words. With his sorcerer’s eyes, he saw the flames for the summoned fire imps they were. Flickering and dancing across this man’s skin, the creatures growled and gnashed their glowing teeth. This was a magic too strong and unknown to him. “Kill him quickly!” he roared. The Makua’Moi ran down the bridge in a wave.

Boruin forgot the searing pain as the first man drove his spear forward to impale him. Habit brought the old fighter’s hand to his hilt. He drew the sword and sidestepped the sharp point. The flames ran down his fingers, running across his blade as he swung. The Makua’Moi’s flesh sizzled and cauterized as the steel parted him in half.

The constable was on the ground, straddled by his attacker. As the man beat his fists against Eloni’s face, Boruin cut through the top of his head with an easy swing. The blade carried around to parry the next man aiming for Boruin’s heart. Landing in the flame, the attacker’s sword began to glow. Before the Makua’Moi could drop his weapon, the fire licked over the hilt as if sensing dry timber. It lapped across the man’s wrist, his skin seared, and the flame raced up his arm and over his face. The fire took him like he was a paper man with oil for blood and dry parchment bones.

Boruin began to swing as the first wave of rushing men stalled before the flaming man and those behind pressed them, stumbling, forward. The eager flame ate flesh, and the steel cut through what was left.

Wraethe and Toaaho fought to the top of the bridge and turned, driving the Makua’Moi down toward Boruin’s fire. Several peeled away their masks, pleading not to be struck down. Wraethe pulled these closest to her and killed them as they felt her hot breath on their lips. Others dove through the shops, leaping for the cold hands of the Oriune rather than meet the pale woman or the flaming sword.

The ranks of the Makua’Moi thinned until Boruin pulled his sword up short on the judge. The suffocating man’s face was swollen with blood, his lips blue. Boruin saw his hands weaving useless spells that swirled and mixed in a small pocket of used up air. Behind him, the constable was tightening his fists, the spell choking down around the judge’s hands and neck.

Boruin rammed his sword back into his scabbard. As his mind turned from the bloodshed and threat of death, the flame sputtered out with a distant sigh as if its plate was emptied, its appetite sated. The fire slipped away, and Boruin placed an easy hand on the constable’s arm.

“Eloni, you’ll do more damage to them if he lives,” he said.

“They should not be here! We built Priyati as a place of peace with the rilk!”

“They came long before that,” said Toaaho.

“They came for the Köpeka,” Boruin added.

Silence held for a moment, then the constable dropped his spell. The judge gulped down hungry, ragged lungfuls of air. Eloni tied the judge’s hands behind him, separating each sorcerous finger, and kicked him over into the gutter. Dark bruises stained his face, but this evening his heart had taken the worst beating. “So many old enemies. Who can I trust?” he asked.

“No one. Keep watch though. They will come for him, kill him if needed, so that they may stay hidden,” said Toaaho.

“With any luck, they will be after us anyway,” Pile said, wiping the blood from his axe.

The constable’s shoulders slumped. “You think there are more?”

“I doubt they raised everyone on five minutes’ notice,” Pile said. Boruin had not considered that, and he scanned the people creeping out of houses and shops to see what had happened.

“So let’s call this even,” Boruin said. “You let us escape, and we’ll get out of town.”

“Go then. I’ve got work enough to do,” answered Eloni.

They left the judge with the lawman, stopping only as Wraethe lagged behind. Boruin turned to see her stalking the wounded. He walked back up the bridge as she pushed her knife into a man’s breast, her hand slow and gentle. She smiled, watching him gag and then still as his life slipped from her wound.

“Wraethe.”

“What?”

“Wouldn’t it be best to give rites rather than quicken the dead?”

“We have time for my rites?” Her eyes darted between the dying. Her lips were a tight smile that too much matched the pain-drawn grins of the dead around them.

“I think we’ll make time. For your own good.”

“My good,” she said slowly, as if considering the sentiment. Boruin saw her catch him with the corner of her eye. It gave him a needed second to lean back on his heels as she turned and lunged. He swung aside and slapped her hard on the face as she passed. Wraethe fell to the stone. When she looked up at him her face was pure fury. He knelt over her.

“Remember who your friends are,” Boruin said. She sneered, saliva dripping from her lips. She was horrible. It sickened Boruin to look on her, but if he broke from her eyes, she would try and kill him. It was the only thing visible in her face. “Your rites, and then we go for Belok and the boy.”

The steel went out of her body, and she lay back in the blood. “Sick rutter, I’ll take Belok. Have your way with your precious boy.”

“Your rites!” he demanded, returning to his feet.

“Probably tired of Pile anyway,” Wraethe said as she knelt before her last kill. Boruin watched her begin the rites that would wash some of the blood rage from her soul. She was hasty and flippant, but it was something. Nurom Misuer was consuming her, and Boruin knew that her soul needed all the forgiveness it could receive.

“What did she say about me?” Pile asked.

“Don’t ask,” Boruin replied as Wraethe moved from body to body.

“Boss?”

“What, Pile?”

“Your scabbard is smoking.”

End chapter 08 part 02.

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