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

Bronar VIII: Melee Among the Ashes

By Patrick M. Tracy

That screaming. Her own voice, echoing off the scorched walls between burned out buildings. The wreckage of Evaldr, burned in the attempt at killing them and burned for naught. Tahni’s spear-haft smashed against a scrawny manchild’s knee and burst the bones out the inside of his thigh. His pain cry joined the chorus as he crawled through wispy ash, his foot turned the wrong direction and dragging like a piece of him had died. Fatigue muted everything, even the pain. Her ears, deafened by the clang of weapons, gave her only vague grasp of the battle now.

In the screaming of the iron, her shocked ears could still hear the louder tones. Enough. Enough to hear Bronar’s groan as he took a blow across the back and fell into the dust. The image of him, of his massive arm buried in the blackened remnants of a consumed hovel, fire-cracked bones still there where fire had killed the vagrants, glimmers of copper pieces warped by the fire. Tahni felt like someone reached into her chest and smashed her heart with the tongs of a blacksmith’s shop, then drove a hammer strike into her gut. Seeing him there, the mightiest of men she’d ever known, motionless on the ground…

Time clamped down to a quarter of its pace. Tahni whipped her spear across her body. Deep inside, she felt that nameless something bloom and burn. Her power. The killing magic she had run from all her life. The only reason she yet lived. Was she a good enough fighter to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a near-unkillable legend? No. Not without inviting something dark and carnivorous to join the fight. And she had. At need. And now…now the need was not just for the life it might buy, but the feel of it inside her skin. The burn and sting of power, better than any wine.

Blood burst from the stringy rogue’s side, and his legs buckled. The spin of her weapon reversed, and she caught the injured brigand across the face. The shock and give of his bones breaking. Crimson and ivory flew as he fell across Bronar’s still form.

There were more. Always more, as if they belched up from some hellish netherworld, each one as ugly as the last. They’d been on the verge of running before, but with one to face, a woman a third of Bronar’s size, they bristled and found their courage. They yelled taunts at her, grabbing at their stinking crotches. An old message. She’d die, yes, but it would be a long time coming, if they had their choice of it.

But they wouldn’t have that choice.

Tahni set her feet, her heart beating so hard that her vision swelled and shivered with every pulse. The tip of her spear dipped, then she made herself hold it steady, watching the three cretins who still drew breath. She looked into their eyes, screaming again. Words had long since become irrelevant.

That bloom of dark magic. She reached out to it. Grabbed at it in desperation, deeper than she’d ever dared. Flares of ice and sparks shot through her tissues. So weary, but she found herself rushing at them. Every tissue flexed, infused with the external madness, that doorway within her kicked all the way open and flooding her with killing rage.

All human thought faded. Tahni tasted blood in her mouth. Chasing. Rearing back to throw her spear. The looks from a shadowed door of a burnt out building…normal people who flinched away from her wild glance as she wrenched her weapon from the dying man, a sickly looking oldster with greyish skin.

Not wanting to, she hissed at them, making the displaced refugees of the wild fire retreat further into shadow. Still in a bestial crouch, she probed the street. People fled from her presence, as they would a ravening wolf. She was but little different from one now. Perhaps worse, bereft of the clarity of purpose an animal would have. She wanted to kill again. Not because of the threat, or the anger, but simply to carry on letting blood upon the ground until there was no one left.

But there remained no one else. No legitamate threat. No one who would stand against her steel. Only shocked survivors and starving vagabonds now. Her pulse slowed, the red insanity of battle washing from her eyes.

The last quiver of magic died. Tahni went to a knee, hair hanging in her face. Blood dripped into the ash on the broken paving stones. Not her own. If she’d taken a wound, it ripped deep, somewhere inside her soul. An interior scar that only she could feel, the price of which she could not yet guess.

But her own darkened interior couldn’t be her only burden. There was something. Someone she had to help, but thought eluded her. All rational feelings and emotions fled.

Bronar.

Likely dead, her mind told her as it regained its words. Her mind told her she’d be alone again, as it had been so long, and she recoiled from that dark idea. She battered against it, like someone fighting smoke in the locked room of a burning house.

It took her a dozen tries to find her feet. She had to rest and lean on her spear with every few steps. Pain screamed from every muscle and joint from her hands to her shoulders. One cost of hitting far harder than she ought to be capable of. Her feet dragged upon the filthy street, legs numb and leaden.

The alley had grown to be a thousand years long, a whole eon of toil to walk.

Tahni let herself fall across Bronar’s body. She couldn’t tell if he yet breathed. Blackness swirling behind her eyes, she wondered if the price of her magic would snuff her own candle.

Pushing her face against Bronar’s hip, she set free all her regret, all her dreams of other lives. A life was an easy enough price to pay. In that moment, in the tomb of a city with its heart burned away, death did not seem so bad.

“This is enough,” she whispered as the bell black ocean swallowed her.

*****

A lean-to shelter built into a rock outcrop kept the sun from her eyes when she awoke. Tahni had no idea where she was, or how long she’d been insensate. She pulled air into her nostrils. Not Evaldr. None of that wretched city’s scent came to her. Nor did the wet ash of its fire damage.

She flexed her hands, wincing at the new pain and swelling in her wrists. She couldn’t close her hands into a fist yet, but nothing felt broken. Hunger and thirst muttered inside her, making themselves known. Tahni tried to sit up, but it proved more than she could do. She settled for rolling to her side, ignoring the flare of fire in her shoulder as it bore her weight.

Naked below a roughspun blanket, someone had cared for her. Someone. Tahni’s voice stuck in her throat, too dry to make a sound. She couldn’t call out. Should she? Where was she and what manner of folk had taken her away? Taking an inventory, she couldn’t find any unexplained injuries.

A woman she didn’t recognize drew back the animal pelt that closed the lean-to’s end and peered in at her. Lines etched the woman’s face, but it was hard to tell if that weathered look came from years, care, or the harshness of the wind. The stranger gave her a gentle look, then came in and knelt by her.

“Suppose you’re thirsty, eh?” The woman’s words had the inflection of the coastal villages, her voice as rough and worn as her face.

Tahni nodded, feeling the strained muscles and cords in her neck.

The woman left, coming back with a wooden mug filled with liquid. Water, cool and sweet. Country water, from a free-flowing stream. Tahni made herself drink it slowly, and found she could speak after the dust and blood washed from her voice.

“Where am I? How long has it been? Who are you? Bronar?” Everything tumbled from her lips in half-made questions.

“I’m Darva. You’re a ways down the coast. I’ll let the man himself tell you the rest, eh?” She brushed strands of hair from Tahni’s face and smiled before exiting the lean-to.

Tahni’s ears had recovered themselves, and she heard quiet words some distance from her, and the muttering of the sea beyond that. The brushing of tree limbs in the forest, and but little more than that.

Bronar came through the hide opening, filling the space and dwarfing the whole enclosure. He moved carefully, as if pinned together at the corners. His eyes were blackened, his nose a few degrees askew, but otherwise looked whole.

“I thought you were dead.” Tahni chided herself for such a stupid thing as her first words to him.

“I would have been. But for you, the Elf’s work would have been done. And the Old Wizard’s for that matter. You fought until the breath barely moved in you, Tahni. I have not often seen that. I thought that, like the others, you would die, but you didn’t. You are different.”

“If, by different, you mean that I’m cursed with the powers of a Death Witch, yes.”

He rocked back and sat down. He looked at her for a long time, saying nothing.

“Well?” That fear. The fear that had haunted her every day since the old crone’s reading. Everyone would leave her. If they knew her curse, they would cast her aside. And now…

Bronar nodded. “It makes sense.” A flicker of a smile passed across his battered face. “And it changes many things.”

“What does it change? Tell me what you mean.” She tried to speak forcefully, but didn’t have the energy yet to do so. Fear froze her stomach as she waited for his repudiation.

His heavy hand rested upon her brow. “First, we finish what the Elf began. For a thousand reasons, he cannot live beyond a week from now. Once that’s done, our real task will start. Something I should have done a long time ago.”

“You aren’t…going to leave me behind?” Her voice sounded so small in her ears.

He picked her up into his arms, as easy as one would pick up a child. “Why would I do that?”

“I…”

“We’ll heal up. Then, revenge. Perhaps justice, even.”

Relief washed over Tahni. Relief and a feeling she couldn’t name. A thing she’d never even dared to hope for. Acceptance. Another word she didn’t dare utter, even within smallest, darkest room of her mind.

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be like this, Bronar. I hurt myself, deep into the bone and gristle.”

“It will pass with food and rest. These things always do.”

“Can you…”

He tangled his fingers in the hair at the base of her neck and cradled her skull in his palm. “What do you wish?”

She felt the vibration of his words through the rough fabric of his tunic. It shimmered through the bones of her face where her cheek rested upon his chest.

“You must only ask,” he breathed into her ear.

Bronar had never been so tender with her. Gentle, yes, but not like this. Things had changed. Perhaps to a man like him, a battle as they’d just survived meant everything. “I just need to feel you near me. Not…that way. I’m too hurt. But holding me against you.”

He said nothing, tucking her back below the blankets. He kicked his boots off and drew his tunic over his head. The profusion of bruises, scrapes, and healing wounds across his torso made her wince, but he only shook his head, nestling close to her. Tahni relaxed into the heat of his flesh and the smell of his healthy sweat.

Her eyes closed again. Whatever grasp on the waking world she had faltered and tore away. The ocean of her dreams now gleamed like still water beneath the moon. A beast like a winged wolf that walked upright on its hind legs paced at the edge of the still waters, eyes flashing in the silvery light.  

It howled, and within the howl were words. “I am awakened in you, Witch, and I must be kept ever sated. You know the nature of my hunger. That which can feed my belly will fill a thousand graves.”

“I’m not going to run anymore, Night Wolf. You will taste the blood upon your tongue, and I will have your power,” she swore.

Whatever the cost, she would hang onto what she’d found for herself.

Advertisements

No Responses to “Bronar VIII: Melee Among the Ashes”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: