Nasty, Brutish, and Short
Evil Flash Fiction by Patrick M. Tracy

Bronar VI: Purchased Vengeance

By Patrick M. Tracy

There was a hole where Gardov Zeck’s face had been. A hole she’d put there, with teeth clenched so tight pain sparked up her jawline. Tahni couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Blood and something thicker than blood clung to her spear blade, dripping in noisome globules onto the floor. She tried to turn herself away, but she couldn’t. Her eyes drew back into the void in Gardov’s face, where she could see down into the shattered bone and the gray brain within.

Outside, someone screamed in pain. “I have done nothing. I do not know your face,” the voice called out, hope already leaving, the truth of death already hanging upon the tone of his voice like ship’s ballast. The cut-short cry before the strike. The soft thump of a body hitting the earth preceded silence. Tahni knew what those noises were, could see through into another place and picture them in her mind. An eye had opened in her. An eye she would just as well have always remained blind.

Bronar appeared at the shattered door, stepping over the remnants that hung on the hinges like wings cut from a bird’s back. His eyes looked flat as unpolished stone, his face filled with a fatigue that had nothing to do with his heart or the working of his lungs. With strange care, he set aside his weapon and stood, meeting her eyes, something growing in him she had never seen before.  

Tahni drove her spear into the wood of the wall, shrugged free of her shield, and let it clatter to the floor. She pushed her face against him and held him to her so hard that anyone normal, anyone without the iron flesh of a colossus, would feel the pain of her embrace. He touched the back of her neck, the braid of her hair, the boiled leather and overlapped metal of her hauberk.

“This won’t always be the way, will it?”

His breath sawed in the stillness of the room. Sweat rolled from his brow down into her hair. An electric shimmer went through his sinews. He opened and closed his hands behind her, the creaking of the joints like the working of oars within their oar locks. “Not always. But sometimes, there are jobs that make this look like easy work. This – this will get worse before it gets better.”

It took her some time to feel like she wanted to stand on her own.

They’d killed everyone.

Everyone.

Tahni thanked the goddesses of her ancestors that there’d been no children. She still saw the terror on their faces. She could still smell the stench of their bowls going loose in death, still see the waxen truth of oblivion slide across her victims’ eyes. This place didn’t have the look of a den of thieves. This manor house cost more than a hundred working people could earn in their lifetimes, the property and trappings, two fold that figure. Respectable people had lived here. No more. They had rendered it an abattoir. She had killed people, simply as a means to an end. The ache of that clenched at her soul, a cramp that wouldn’t ease.

“It shouldn’t,” she whispered to herself. “I can’t wash this away with yesterday’s road dirt.”

He watched her, his eyes seeming small and black beneath his heavy brow. “These dead. They were hardly blameless.” As if he knew her mind, all those questions and horrors filling her. Like he could see within her, as the Elf had done before, but with such subtlety that she could feel no intrusion.  

“But…”

“Every starving waif we passed, every dead pauper on the roadway? People like this bite the side of the world and take their fill. They steal the money, the food, and finally the very breath of the poor. I’ve seen it in every city of the known world. Without fail. Everyone rich enough to have enemies has walked over the bodies of the dead to get his coin.”

“Is that just what we must believe? To not be ruined in our souls after these attacks?”

He took a long breath. Was this a colorless place for him? Just another battle, another day to survive?

“It’s the truth. Ugly as it is. Not as we would have it, but how things have fallen.”

Tahni picked up her shield. It felt five times as heavy as it had at daybreak, but it hung from her arm nonetheless. She turned her spear blade against the trouser leg of a fallen house servant, a man she’d stabbed a handful of times in the guts, carrying on until his screams finally faltered. This had become her life. Cleaning the gore from her weapon on an unsodden side of the dead.

“Perhaps it has always been fated. A thing that no running could ever forestall forever,” she said, her voice devoid of all the roiling emotion she felt. She remembered the crone her mother had brought around, the look of her filmy eyes going wide when she put a wrinkled hand to Tahni’s brow. The words. Fated to kill. Doomed to bring misery and death. Witch. And that old crone, who had not survived the impending winter that year, had been correct on all counts. No amount of running had been able to stop it.

Bronar touched her with his shoulder, drawing her away. “You have to be the broken or the breaker. In this world, you can’t simply float like a cloud of steam. You have to chew your way through the guts of the dead.”

Tahni looked at the side of his face as they slipped to the back of the estate. The scars. The places where deprivation and acid and the cruel spear of the desert sun had done its work. Somewhere deep, she’d known. Known that going with him would lead her into her destiny. If not by sorcery and flame, by steel. Fated to kill.

The flames of the manor going up lit the night behind them as Bronar lifted her to the top of the wall. The shouts began, the frantic movements as the nearby neighbors became aware of their red-handed mayhem. Far, far too late.

Down an overgrown culvert, then across the hills and into the smokehouse districts, thick with wet wood tang and the stink of poorly cured fish, they jogged. The third time. The third attack, and this time was the worst. The most shocking thing remained that getting away with mass murder had been so easy. Though Evaldr had a city guard that bristled at the walls and prowled the better places, they’d been no impediment at all.

It seemed that no one cared. The powers of darkness had given them some investiture, some proof and power over death here. They walked the streets like a wind bearing corpse ash and battle stench, the noise of their armor like the clinking of coffin nails in the undertaker’s pouch.

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