Vol.3, Ch.6, P.2
No! The winds—wielded again too soon!
Surprise was now mine to savour; escaping here required sacrifice. But there was nothing for it: reining in my every sinew, I stopped the soot-steel from finding Theodor’s flesh. All fighting form broken, I then threw myself away from the twister’s warpath. Like a thousand whips, its currents licked and lashed as it blasted through, battering my body with the shockwaves wuthering in its wake.
Grit and gravel rained as I tumbled to a halt. Left bent on a knee, I glanced back, discovering a long gash hollowing the ground where I’d been set to seal Theodor’s fate. But amidst the aftermath was the man himself nowhere to be seen. Struck by his absence, I leapt away once more and re-steeled myself for any coming surprise.
This was a foul turn. Never had I imagined Viola capable of volleying so monstrous a magick. “Sacrifice” indeed; had I tarried to fell Theodor, most surely would I have shared his grave. The thought alone wrung a cold sweat out of my back.
There yonder: Theodor’s voice as he appeared not in another ambush, but several paces from his sister.
“All well and fine,” Viola answered with softness. “My storm is your shield, Theodor. Not on my watch will that sword of his seam your skin.”
“That, I’ll not doubt,” her brother nodded.
More than ever did it cut clear: trussing these two was trust unshakable. Aught less would’ve made such coordinated combat an impossibility. The spearmanship of the Östberg siblings; far indeed did its fame ring throughout the realm, and not with any hollowness, either.
Viola’s voice sounded again, wintry now to its former, sisterly warmth.
“You’re looking more the haggard hog, Rolf Buckmann. Lo, how your sweat shimmers,” she observed, bearing her spear as a hunter does afore a quailing quarry.
“What, this?” I said, aware again of my fatigue. “What man wouldn’t swelter? To see so fair a fox as yourself?”
“What man would dare so deftless a line?” she quipped, cold and undaunted. “Do try not too hard, cherry boy. Your gloze is glass.”
A stinging retort. And piercing withal in its truth: that line of mine was, in fact, a gamble of a gloze, a mask for my flagging mettle. Rolf the “haggard hog”, for certain, one wasted and wounded before even chancing this battle, no less.
But what of it? This was no spar, no display afore feasting princes and their fawning courtiers. A war this was; to hie into the fields of fighting yet full-hale is itself the seldom scenario.
‘Even should blade and bow be broken both, abandon not the stroke of hope.’
Such was writ in the martial manuals. And as “hope” would have it, here in my hands was the soot-steel—a blade not to be broken.
Yes. There was hope yet. But one to be wielded at haste, for to this moment were the braves of Hensen embroiled in battle.
Here, then. Here must my idle complaints end and the curtain call begin; another second’s delay dooms one more comrade to the coffin. If my strength is as a waning flame, then let it feed upon a new fuel: my very soul. Only then can I cut these commanders down, and hew from them the dusk to this dire struggle.
I exhaled; hot-headedness now would sooner find me hewn, instead. Thus I cooled my nerves amidst my full-kindled spirit, that I might better scry the thread so key in solving this skein. And in so doing, I found in that moment a flicker yet in my heart.
Up from the fathoms it flitted.
Then to my lips it lilted.
And through the air it fluttered, bearing a name well-known to my ears… and a red memory to my sword.
“…Felicia,” I uttered at last. “…A handful she must’ve been, that sister of mine.”
“…Ah. That’s right,” Viola almost sang. “So, had her wish fulfilled, has she, that Felicia? How heartwarming.”
Had I heard them awrong?
Or had Viola indeed aired something most amiss? Silly, even?
“And yet here her brother stands, defiant to his plight… and deaf to her pleas, I should imagine,” the elder Östberg continued. “Tell me. Whatever happened to that poor girl?”
Was Viola truly dim to what had transpired between Felicia and myself?
Was such a thing possible?
The Östberg siblings; high upon the watchtower were they perched, all through the course of the day’s battle. How, then, could they not’ve gleaned so fraught a familial fray, if even for a moment?
…Nay. The possibility was there, that our duel had been but a wood in the forest; however broad the Östbergs’ view of this great battle might’ve been, it rattled reason to expect even their eagle eyes to find every fight. Indeed, such was the sheer chaos that was now flooding through the camp. A chaos that had demanded their full mind in commanding their dying men. But was it demanding enough? Distracting enough? To have cast wax over their eyes and ears for any sight or sound of the Buckmanns’ war-like bickering?
Yes… Thinking on it, Felicia and I had not fought for very long. No, not at all.
Our combat had escaped their ken—of this, more and more was I convinced. Or was convincing me in and of itself a card in their cunning hand?
This I could not scry. Clouds hung now over my own ken.
Mired in rumination within, I thought then to look without. To wit: at Viola. The meaning in her mien, the inquisitive quivering in her eyes, the rhythm in her respiration—at all of these I peered…
…and could espy from none the swindler’s port.
Only one way to find out for certain, then.
Steeling my sinews and bracing my bosom, I…
“What matter now, my renegade?” she called, cocking her face slightly. “A muted mouth ill-makes a man more the charmer, you ought kno—”
Once again were Viola’s words severed. But not by her own will: straight to her I shot, shouldering the soot-steel full-brazen.
“…hh!?” For an instant, her countenance cracked with confusion. My sudden offence seemed a fright upon her foresight—and a suicidal move to all eyes beholding, a prey hurrying into the hunter’s snare.
And so down the irons bit.
“Hhyah!!” Viola was a mercenary vaunted to high heaven. Never could she be taken aback for too long, nor deceived to much success. And so with all swiftness did her ensorcelled spear spring forth, unfettering the fifth storm in this fight. Billowing and bellowing, the bewitched winds whirled wildly my way.
Not in the gate-breeching battle of yesternight. Not in the camp-capturing combat on this day. Not once had I sundered a spell, save all that Felicia had brought to bear against me.
Sigmund and Ulrik, too, had I fought, sure. The swordsman’s cheek, the halberdier’s bosom—their flesh I’d severed unstopped by the palings protecting them. But piercing palings was a common sight. Unmaking magicks? Not so.
The Östbergs, then, knew not what fangs this wolf hid.
Straight unto me stampeded the tempest, a whirlwind to whelm the wits and grind to mince any man it devoured, flesh, bone, and all.
But I fled not.
Charging ever forth unto Death’s storm, I raised the weight of the wolfsteel off my shoulders, and from on high, heaved it down full-stroke.
A sound of finality—the sole remains of the maelstrom as it settled instantly unto silence.
At such a sight, Östberg eyes widened.
The gamble of a guess proved a profit. Never had Viola taken my foolhardy charge to be aught more than just that. Never had she thought it in my power to still her storm. That such an act, of killing spells with but a cut of the sword, could beckon much bewilderment from a foe… such was the lifesaving lesson from my own sister.
Indeed, it was bewilderment that now manacled the Östbergs in place. But only for the barest mite of a moment.
A mite of a moment, not much more than a blink.
Yet in that blink were they arrantly defenceless. A blink I did not let escape. Baffle their minds, unmake them in the while: the sword of surprise, swung to success… along with the soot-steel, as it arrived upon Viola’s midst.
Through my hands ran the rattle of mortality.
Of a blade burrowing through flesh.
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