“Garret!” I screamed. He spun and saw me hesitating. He drew a slender dirk from his boot.
“Go!” he yelled at me. “Lyra go!”
I hung in a crystalline moment of indecision. The wizard, whose name I’d forgotten, was hanging back – as wizards do. But Tredan and Perin were advancing, keeping space between them, but clearly planning some sort of pinning manoeuvre. Damn them. I couldn’t leave Garret to face them alone. No matter what they planned to do to me.
I drew my sword and took a deep breath.
Garret gave me the barest of sideways glances as I stepped up next to him.
“Bloody fool” he hissed between clenched teeth. I ignored him, he was probably right and the odds were good we’d both be bloody before long.
Tredan shot a look over his shoulder at the wizard behind him
“I don’t care what you do with the halfling,” he snapped. “But we need the girl alive.”
The wizard shrugged his shoulders, he didn’t care. I snarled, he didn’t care – as long as he got paid. Well, I didn’t get paid for this. And neither did Garret. Not in coins anyway. I would pay with my mind, my sanity. Garret? He would pay with his life.
Not if I had anything to say about it.
I hit the ground with a thud, my elbows slamming into the cobblestones. Garret rolled off me onto his feet, dirk still in hand.
“Pay attention!” He snarled at me, his voice low and angry. Over the shoulders of the two advancing on us I saw the wizard throw something angrily to the pavement. He had tried to cast a spell on me, a spell that had failed when Garret knocked me out of the way. He was right, if I didn’t pay attention we’d both pay for it.
I scrambled to my feet, twisting my hand around to get a better grip on my sword.
As Tredan and Perin moved in, I realised we had one huge advantage over them. Sure, they were in armour, and neither of us wore anything heavier than stiff leather jerkins. Their weapons were large and clumsy, ours were light and quick. They would move slowly, we were quick. More than all of that, Garret and I had spent a year working together, sometimes even living together. We knew each other – better than most married couples know each other! These two idiots were too busy vying to be in charge.
Tredan moved straight towards Garret, who grinned up at the tall human, and promptly threw a neat forward somersault between the paladin’s legs, slicing with the dirk as he went.
I grinned as Perin moved towards me, his heavy mace swinging ponderously from side to side. He swung at me, and I blocked him, straining to keep his heavier weapon away from me. Abruptly I stepped back and he stumbled forwards. Garret moved in, stabbing between the armour plates to a sensitive spot in the kidneys. Perin screamed and staggered to the left. I danced past him; he wouldn’t be a problem for a while.
“Why do you fight us, devil-child?” Tredan’s words chilled me, despite my best efforts to ignore him. He is ignorant and foolish and I find it hard to believe he has the favour of any god. But he has terrified me from my earliest childhood – and he knows it. He moved towards me, step by slow step. I stared up at him, trying to force frozen muscles to bring my sword in front of me.
<Don’t get caught Lyra! Don’t get caught!> Garret yelled the words in halfling, even as he raced past me towards the wizard, who looked suddenly alarmed. Don’t get caught Lyra. How many times had I heard Garret telling me this? Drumming it into my brain as he taught me how to steal.
My sword spun around, sparks flying and the sound of screeching metal assaulting my eardrums as I blocked Tredan. Barely.
A scream and a cry of delight. We both spared hasty glances to the right – Garret grinned at me, full of triumph, even as he pulled the dirk from the eye of the wizard. Whose name I still couldn’t remember. I grinned back.
Tredan swore, quite viciously too. I giggled, and he glared at me as he stalked away towards Garret, who was already running. I slashed at Tredan as he moved away from me and missed. Offering up a swear word or two of my own, I dropped into a crouch and tugged the dagger from its hiding place in my boot.
My head jerked up. And stayed there. I moved my hand. Nothing. I twitched my fingers. Nothing. I turned my head. Nothing.
Then I heard footsteps behind me. Perin. We had both forgotten about him. Whatever he’d done had me held fast. He stepped up alongside me, I could see him in my peripheral vision as he kicked my now-useless sword away, and plucked the dagger from my fingers.
Touch me. I thought fiercely. Go on, touch me! You’ll see that holding me in place doesn’t make me any less dangerous.
He moved in front of me, staring down self-satisfied. I hated him. He ignored me then, instead watching as Tredan stalked towards Garret. My little halfling friend grinned, ducking once again between the paladin’s legs slashing and stabbing as he went. I saw fear flash through his eyes as he came out of the tumble and saw me, frozen.
Perin swung his mace at Garret then, a massive overhand blow that would have taken his head off had it connected.
I screamed. Wordless, soundless, my jaw frozen.
I had seen what Garret, ducking to avoid Perin’s mace, had not. Moving with surprising speed and silence for a man in heavy armour, Tredan had closed with them and then, with a sudden clanking crash, dropped to his knees. His sword braced with the hilt against his shoulder.
Garret danced sideways and back away from the mace.
Garret danced sideways and back into the sword.
There is a sound metal makes when it contacts bone, when it hits and grinds and screeches. When it slams into the back of your ears, and howls through your eyes. It’s accompanied by the liquid gurgle of blood flowing. When it splatters over your feet. When you can taste it as bile in the back of your throat.
It was then I discovered that a spell that prevents you from moving doesn’t stop you from crying. Tears ran down my face and into my mouth, threatened to choke me, I couldn’t swallow them.
There is a sound the mind makes when it pulls free from a spell. When pain splinters your mind in two. When you can feel a force pulling, tugging, forcing. It’s accompanied by a scream of rage and pain. When vision contracts to a single focus. When sound and sight and death and fury all become one.
I screamed as I wrenched free of Perin’s spell. And then I was moving. He had barely enough time to turn to face me before I was on him. I wasn’t interested in him though.
I touched him.
In the past, I have been wary about using my curse. Garret calls it a g- This time I was not so wary. I pulsed every ounce of power I could find through my hand, slapping scraped knuckles.
I felt the familiar ache in my mind, in my whole body. The pulling, desperate wrongness seeking to embrace me with oblivion’s dark arms. I ignored it. Garret…
I heard Perin retch behind me. Good. It worked. That was all the thought I had time for. Tredan was ahead of me. Tredan who had killed my friend. My only friend. The man who found me in the gutter, clouding minds day after day just to stay alive. Permanent headaches, my wrongness my only companion. Cursing my mind day-by-day, I had been on the verge of cursing my body as well. And now he was gone.
I would tear him with my bare hands, this murderer. This stealer of the only family I had left. My fingers became hooks, I saw them sharp as knifes – as the dirk Garret carried. He was standing now, gaping at me in shock. Good. Let him see me. Let him face his death.
I sprang at him. Teeth bared and fingers bent. I would not rest.
My head rang on the cobblestones.
I… I wha?
I tried to lift my head. Something pricked my throat. A sword point. Tredan’s sword point. He had… he had. I felt despair rise up to swallow me whole. The shield. Tredan had grabbed his shield and knocked me out of midair. I had landed on the cobblestones. This is why my head aches and I can’t breath. No wind.
I stared up at him, at the shining point of his sword. The sound of Perin retching gave me no pleasure, but a bleak and hopeless satisfaction poured out of me. It must have shown in my face, for Tredan knelt and put his face close to mine.
“I don’t know what you did to him, witch. But I will see you pay.”
I ignored him. My hand was on something soft. Something I had just realised was Garret’s leg. Don’t get caught Lyra. Don’t get caught. His first and last lesson and I had failed it miserably. Tears filled my eyes and spilled over, pouring down my cheeks. It felt like a river.
“Huh. I didn’t know witches cried.” Perin. Still retching, still throwing up, he had crawled over. Tredan pulled back from me and shot him a look.
“Are you all right?” He asked. Oh, concern, how touching.
“I will be,” Perin choked, gagged and threw up again.
My head was swimming, all the wrongness within me, oblivion’s dark fingers, and the cobblestones hard hitters swarmed over me, pulling me down.
Still, I smiled.
I was wrong. Garret’s last lesson to me wasn’t don’t get caught. It was defiance.
Fury in his face, Tredan lost control. His armoured fist swept down and slammed hard into the side of my head.