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

Bronar X: By Vengeance, Taken

By Patrick M. Tracy

The foliage of the vine-choked thicket killed the starlight. What little showed through caught no reflection from Tahni’s soot-blackened spear blade and charcoal-smeared face. The Elf’s hired guard came to within a few feet of her, seeing nothing, hitching at his trousers, whistling a harvest tune. No more than a town bumpkin with a long dagger. Fool enough to imagine he’d live to spend the gold in his purse. Tahni surged up, the butt of her spear catching him beneath the chin as he stopped to spray his urine.

His teeth clacked together and he went down with no more than the faintest scratching of the nearby brush. Tahni swarmed atop his still body, took his dagger, and rolled him onto his stomach. Placing the dagger’s point against the protuberance at the back of his neck, she pressed her weight down. A sound like two rough stones beneath shallow water arose. Blood bloomed from beneath him. The guard’s body shuddered for a moment, then lay still. The Night Wolf howled within her, relishing the feel of a spirit freed, of vengeance applied.

Sitting atop the dead man, she listened for sounds of alarm. None arose. She wiped the blade free of its crimson stain and tucked it into her belt. With no more than a whisper of sound, she patted the dead man down, finding a boot knife, a few coins, and a hunter’s sling. Scanty remainders for a life. Crumbs fallen to the dusty floor next to a feast table.

“Leave nothing useful. Carry it if you can, hide it if there’s time, destroy it if you must,” Bronar had said. One of his first lessons, many months ago. The cruel way of wandering warriors, mercenaries, and sell-swords.

And of Death Witches. She knew that now.

Tahni felt sweat roll down her face as she moved the body below a low-hanging bush. Once hidden, she eased through the brush to where one of the other guards bathed. This one, a woman with bluff features and wide hips, floated in the water, just below a rock outcrop in the stream. The starlight winked upon the water. Her soft and pendulous breasts wallowed in the current.

Tahni appeared, just long enough that the female guard could take a single breath, then struck down with her spear, slashing across her throat. She stabbed a second time into the woman’s upper chest, holding her below the water as she thrashed her last moments of life away. In the dark, the color cloud of her blood couldn’t be seen. Even the coppery smell failed to rise above the slightest whiff. Using the spear like a push pole in a swamp canoe, Tahni moved the woman’s still corpse out into the center of the stream. She paused on the rock outcrop for just a moment, watching the body go away with the current.

All things grasped and held, every moment and monument, every hard-won victory and all ignominious defeats went thusly. They each would ride the cupping hand of the river one day, out into moonlit water and gone into oblivion.

A short bow and a dozen hunting arrows lay with the dead guard’s gear and clothing. The feeling of the Night Wolf touched the inside of Tahni’s skin. Its mouth red with the stain of death, it urged her on. It whispered for her to keep bringing the gift of nevermore to her enemies, until not a single one drew breath.

*****

The boy screamed as an arrow pierced through his stringy arm. He fell, flopping in the dirt in agony. The crone and the Elf hid behind the body of a dead guard, riddled with arrows from Tahni’s unschooled archery. Her quiver empty, the guard’s back looked like a beginner’s target. If such things bled and died, moaning to the gods for protection.

The fourth guard, morale broken, had run into the wood at the far side of the clearing. The sound of shattering bone meant that Bronar had intercepted him.

Tahni let the bow drop to the loam of the forest and hefted her spear. She could see the crone’s hand holding the dead man upright, that bundle of stick-like bones beneath her withered skin.

“Yes. Strength and might. They are yours,” the Night Wolf growled. “The time to strike is now.”

She settled her feet, turned her hip, and her arm whipped forward. The spear streaked through the pale light, a moving shadow upon the dark. The wet sound of flesh accepting the blade, then the keening shriek of pain as the crone felt the bite of death come through in the freight of a dead man’s blood and shattered ribs.

The dead man, the crone now inextricable from him in her grave-ward journey, sagged to the side, the smell of gore and freed bowels in the air. The boy fell quiet, his eyes glazing with the shock of the pain. The arrow, passing through the bone, had given him a deathly wound. The smallest of fires lit the Elf’s sallow face as he cowered amongst the fallen. Tahni approached him, her shield now upon her off hand, her short sword hidden behind her thigh.

He sprawled on the ground, a sickly toad of a creature, age weighing heavy upon him, the doom of a thing soon to die pressing him to earth. His mouth worked upon putrid gums, his teeth grown black and rotten in his jaw. The appearance of a century of torment had grown on his face since last time she beheld him, and he had already been a revolting sight.

“You knew what I was. Knew it better than I, and yet you turned your hand against me,” she spoke. Her voice held no anger now. Only power and certainty.

The Elf turned his face away, looking to Bronar where he stood, a mountainous figure in the gloom, his mallet dripping with bone fragments and brain matter.

“Save me from her. I…”

“You owe me something. If you had paid when you aught, all this death could have been averted. You named your price. We gave you your veangeance. You had only to deliver. But you chose the way of betrayal, and your actions put a city to ruin. Give me the truth of it, Elf. Before the end, you must.”

“I lied! I…never had it. The Amulet was lost hundreds of years ago. Sunk in the sea or smashed on an anvil. No one knows how to hide you from the wrath of the Old Wizard. No one can. I hoped you would die in your mission, or that you would die by my soldier’s hands, but you wouldn’t. Neither of you would do your duty and feed the hungry ground. Though the Warhells shreik your names, you will not perish.”

“You never had it.” Bronar’s face wrenched in the gloom. “Every word a lie, then. I see.”

He turned, walking back into the clinging scrub. The Elf’s screams arose as Tahni cut him. Shallow, and a hundred ways.

 

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