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

Bronar IX: Cold Trails in Darkness

By Patrick M. Tracy

“Notice where her spear point touches you,” Bronar said.

The night had no clouds, starlight and the silver half moon overcoming the pall of the broken city’s luminance enough to show the alley’s lines and angles. The man on the ground, a fringe member of the Elf’s crew, reached, as if to grasp the gleaming spear blade. Thirteen inches of steel, sharpened to a bitter edge. His hand hovered near the point, but never touched, as the pressure against his belly increased, just enough that a trickle of blood welled in the cloth of his grubby tunic.

Tahni felt the Night Wolf now. Felt him with every moment, hungry for the fruit of death. She could simply apply her weight, and the man’s flesh would give way. Easily. Compliantly, as if the blood and muscle urged the steel to do its work. But no, that was all within her.

Even the Night Wolf.

Her.

The dark incantations written indelibly upon her soul. Everything she had fruitlessly denied all these years. Of the many things one could flee from, the shadowed architecture of her own soul could not be abandoned. Inescapable, its streets ran in circular patterns through the moonlight world within. All her efforts had been for naught. For so long, useless striving to not be herself.

Some thought Bronar a stupid man, but he had always known himself, his place, his strengths. Or so it seemed. Perhaps a thousand storms raged within the calm surface of his leathered skin and impassive features. Just beginning to understand her own mind, how could she know his?

Bronar presented one blunt finger, as if the prone bandit needed any help in focusing on the dire nature of his position.

“You see, the big vein runs there, at the middle, right down from your heart. The red line, as some call it. She pierces you there, you have but a handful of breaths before you go. It’s a quick way. The way a warrior hopes to go. In blood and glory, face up to the sky as the spirit goes hence. But that isn’t where she’s got you pinned. No. She pushes down now, and it goes through the pipes of your gut, and all of the foul works pours out into your blood. Your own filth pollutes you unto death. You die feverish and slow, a smell wafting out of you that even the carrion birds can’t abide.”

The man shivered all over, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. “I swear to you, I don’t know where they went. I only know that the Elf and his circle fled two days hence. Just he, the crone, and the crippled boy. The rest of us, what few the two of you didn’t murder, are out of a job.”

Bronar squinted at him for the longest of moments, then nodded to Tahni. A flicker of disappointment coursed through her, chased by a terrible guilt. She had come to this. The taste of blood upon her tongue had revealed the savage creature within. A Death Witch. For a moment, she pictured herself pushing down, then wrenching the spear blade sideways, tearing the man open like a fish upon the gutting table. The moment of satiation it would yield. The sense of power it would give her to deprive him of everything he’d ever be.

No. No, she couldn’t allow herself to be so far gone. There was yet some humanity left to her, some control. She eased the spear away from the brigand and he rose shakily to his feet.

“Leave Evaldr. Go to the country and work an honest job for the rest of your days. Never return to these streets, or I will know, and I will make your death last eleven days,” she told him, her voice like the hissing of a snake.

He turned and ran. Hard running, his shoes slapping the trash-strewn pavement like a man fleeing for his very life.

Bronar looked at her, the beginnings of pride on his face. When he understood that none of what she’d said was a lie, that she meant every word, his eye changed. Not pride. Acceptance. Respect.

“The Elf left without the strong arms of his crew. He’s alone, and wouldn’t have gone by sea. There are only so many roads to choose from,” he said. He reached out, touching her shoulder, her cheek, the back of her neck. The Night Wolf eased. There would be a time for killing and blood upon the ground. Just not this day.

Tahni leaned against Bronar’s bulky side and let him push his fingers through her hair.

“We’ll have our vengeance, my love. I promise that we will.”

His love.

A part of her caught upon the word and held still, awaiting the silence or the repudiation. His love. Afraid to ruin it, she said nothing, just holding him harder for a moment before they exited the starlit alley and merged with the night crowd.

*****

Tahni watched their faces change when they entered the roadside tavern. All eyes turned to them. By their expressions, she could tell that news of Evaldr had spread this far. Whispers of what they might have done, the uncertain shadows of portent. Many looked away as quickly as they recognized who had come, growing fascinated with the surface of their ales and the crumbs upon their plates. A few let their gaze linger, as if to prove to themselves that they were not afraid.

How would they know? How would they know when someone had a kernel of knowledge about the Elf and his circle? She’d wondered, but the truth was easy enough. She’d know when someone ran for it. A table upset, bowls and tankards crashing to the boards. The loud clack as a chair overturned, then the thump of the back door as a man escaped through.

Her eyes flicked to Bronar’s and he nodded. Tahni sprinted after the chubby alehouse regular, kicking through the back door and closing with him before he could reach the stables. She swept his legs from beneath him and he rolled through the dirt awkwardly, tearing his pants and releasing a gout of nervous flatulence.

Tahni kicked him in the side, and rolled him to his back, wincing at the stink rising. He’d done worse than releasing gas. The shifting, shivering look of terror crossed his face. The insignia of her power. More than a suit of mail or a heavy shield, the ability to unhinge another with overarching fear. The Night Wolf howled within her, at odds with all her hopes of kindness.

“The Elf. How long since he was here?” She hovered her spear point just above his eyes.

“Hey! Leave him be, you wench!” someone shouted. A young man, in his teens. Perhaps the man’s son. He took an aggressive step forward, out of the stable’s dimness. He had a notched old knife in his hand and a wild look in his eye.

“Drop the blade, or I make a new hole in his face,” she said. Her face felt blank, as void of emotion as the statues of the ancient gods.

A war between passion and logic warred within the young man, but he saw reason and threw down the knife. Tears welled in his eyes.

“Sit down, back up against the barn, and don’t talk unless I ask you a question.”

He complied, all courage leaving him.

“Now. The Elf. Tell me all you know.”

The fat man told her all, his boy filling what few gaps he couldn’t recall. She let him up, and he limped into the stable, head hung low, shit in his trousers.

Tahni returned to the tavern. Bronar pushed a tankard of ale and a bowl of stew at her. She took a long drink and wiped away the froth. “We’re three days behind them. He’s hired guards, at least four. Best I can tell, they’re amateur toughs and town goons. They’re on horseback, but have no spare mounts. The guards are on sway backed nags and old plow horses. The crone couldn’t manage more than a few hours at a stretch in the saddle.”

“Then we’ll get a good rest here, buy horses in the morning, and try to catch them before they get to Mount Avariad. Outcast or not, his people won’t let us murder one of their own.”

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