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

Bronar Returns 12: Spear of the Nemesis 

By Patrick M. Tracy

Nosira held a ewer filled with water, watching them with flexed jaw muscles. Tahni’s ability to pick up heavy stones had become frightening. She’d never been weak for her size, but this new strength told her things she didn’t wish to face. The iron of her arm, now spread past the cap of her shoulder, had penetrated to the deep places within her. It was knit within the bones and sinew. The stress of reacting to that one limb of deific power pushed protean energy into every vestige of her being now. These trials only sped the process, bringing her closer to whatever the fruition of her change might be.

Having carried a stone a full twice her weight across the field, she dropped it near where Bronar sat. His face seemed less gaunt. He could walk on his own power now, but his energy wouldn’t sustain the efforts of training yet. Just eating solid food again, being able to sit up more than an hour without the sweating shakes starting…it felt like true progress at last. Nevermind that she could see a tendril of iron-like material at the juncture between his neck and shoulder, like the reaching legs of a spider within him.

Tahni turned from Bronar and watched Vandrid finish her carry. The keen, pained sound of her handmaiden’s effort came to a crisis, and she dropped her own stone next to Tahni’s. Less than half as large, but respectable for one so slim of arm. Vandrid collapsed to the turf and held herself, running through a litany of curses between gasps.

Her handmaiden let the exertion pass over and into mild laughter as she mocked her own tendency to let her pride ruin her. Bronar nodded, approving. When they’d first traveled together, he’d told Tahni that the occasional loss of consciousness or sudden regurgitation wasn’t anything to worry over. Just part of the process.

“I’ll take that water…” Tahni started, but Nosira’s face quirked in horror, and she dropped the ewer, spilling its contents all over Vandrid. 

“Hey!” Vandrid complained, but all of their eyes turned to the evening sky, where a fiery missile hurtled toward them like a falling star.

Her instincts told her to try and jump for cover, but they stood in the middle of Doom Harrower’s Field, a hundred paces from any shelter. The burning projectile screamed as it neared, the sound like a tormented scream from living flame. Agape, they stood frozen, flinching only as it slammed into the ground a slim few paces away.

The heat and impact toppled Tahni to her back. Shuddering there with the remnant of its weird energy, a spear as tall as a flagpole transfixed the earth. The fires of its flight rose away from it and disappeared into the darkening sky, leaving plumes of smoke to follow. That smoke, rather than waft upward, coalesced into a towering figure, equally as tall as the spear. The sense of runes that hurt the eye swirled within the half-real figment. 

Tahni had always imagined a wooly beard and the lined face of an old man, but this magic-made portrayal of their great nemesis had the face of a youth, smooth and handsome, with the cruel turn of lips that bespoke of getting one’s way in all things.

“Arvodeth,” Bronar called out, his voice still not as commanding as it had been in his full health. He struggled to his feet, unarmed and without armor as he was. “At last, after you deplete the world of assassins, you finally choose to speak. What taunts and bluster do you spend your spell upon in this tardy hour?”

“There are a thousand things you do not know, Bronar Val Brannison. And never will know or understand. I am older now than any man has ever been or will ever be, and you are the one living person on the face of the world who yet vexes me. But nevermind that. I know of your plan, and welcome it. I will dispense with my habit of sending you visitors. You survived the poison that kills all, and you have earned a small modicum of respect.”

“If you could evince the respect due to an enemy, you would have long since faced me yourself, Old Wizard. You wouldn’t have made a cruel game of my life and wasted the lives of hundreds in your petty antics,” Bronar shouted, somehow becoming more himself than he had been in a long time. 

“I would expect no better than that from you, who began as a buffoon and rose not much higher. As ever, I am surprised you lived. Some strange fate must protect such fools as you,” Arvodeth said, mildly enough and with an offhanded gesture of his smoke-made hand.

Bronar raised his arms to shoulder height, still built as mighty as any man, even in his depleted state. “I survive. Perhaps only to make those greatest of the grand feel the annoyance of sharing their world with one so prosaic and without artifice.” 

Arvodeth’s smokey avatar gave an impatient shake of the head. “Perhaps. Or perhaps the kings of fate are amused by you in some way. It matters not. Regain whatever powers you might. Gather what forces you will. Dare the halls below the mountain, if you think that will aid you, but come to me. You will find that I have rebuilt the home that you and your friends destroyed. It is grander and finer than it ever was. And the doorway is also nearly prepared. All your efforts, and all the pain they garnered you…all small detours on my long path. Come to me, and I will take the burden of the living from you myself. As you have enjoined.”

With that, the great cloud of smoke came apart upon the breeze, the mighty spear falling to ash, the whole thing passing from sight. Tahni could hardly be sure it was ever there. She looked to Bronar, her mouth containing no words, but only the ghosts of a hundred questions.

“He knows. Somehow, he knows all. Even though I never spoke it aloud, not even to you. Arvodeth, damn him, knows all that I planned. And yet, what else can we do?”

“We could stay. We could run,” Tahni said in a small voice. A voice that gave her no pride to evince.

“For a while. But I have trudged along that road, and it leads nowhere. No, we must go on. A brave action, even without much hope, is better than surrender.”

Tahni nodded. She felt Nosira’s hand upon her left shoulder. Vandrid laced her arm behind, touching Tahni’s hip. They would go, then, and do one last battle. They’d try to kill a wizard, perhaps the last remaining one of his kind. If they were to die…at least they would die together.

*****

Tahni wondered if this was how Bronar felt. To be the strong one, the one so mighty as to have to school himself to gentleness at every touch. But when she thought of it, she would have always been gentle, regardless. Always cupped herself carefully around another, if they were in need of it. The occasion had simply never arisen. She touched her lips to the upper sweep of Vandrid’s ear in the dark, her hand finding the delicate V of her ribs. Her handmaiden made a small, pleased sound. 

“How is it that you came to love me, Vandrid?”

“How, or when? I cannot explain love. You’d need a poet for that, I suppose. But I can tell you when I began to fall, and that might answer something.”

Tahni smiled, only for herself and invisible in the dark. It had ceased to feel strange. She treasured Vandrid’s mix of need and scars and hope. Her spates of blue curses that befit a mercenary more than a queen’s assistant. Her thin and clever fingers that knew their way to her every sensitive place. “The when of it, then.”

“You had just arrived. You came down the stairs when Kaldogurn was tupping me on the stairs of the throne. Neither you nor him knew, but when I left, I stayed just out of the circle of lights, and I heard your words. I saw Kal’s face as you stared into his eyes and gave back not a single inch at his questions. How, instead of being intimidated, you put a seed of fear into the Conqueror King. With just words. That was the beginning of it. But when you returned, having slain one of the Ancient Enemy, and sat so stoic that no one knew of your hurts…when you showed the bruises across your side, fierce even as you could hardly walk to your room…I began to fall for you then. I began falling, and I never stopped.”

Tahni thought about the story. “So soon, and I had done so little.”

“So little? Only the impossible.”

“Others had killed them in the past. Bronar and heroes whose names I don’t know. Kaldogurn proved his might and did so.”

“Perhaps they did, but you were made to do it. You killed them all. And even if you had done lesser deeds…it wouldn’t have mattered to me.”

“I don’t know that I will ever understand, but all right.” Tahni reached, moving her iron hand in a way that made Vandrid sigh, then shiver, and finally call out in a soft, high wail. 

“I shouldn’t ask but…” Vandrid said, her breath still labored.

“When did I begin to cherish you? The moment I opened my eyes after the great battle, and knew you’d taken care of us, almost alone. That you’d put aside your grief and sat a vigil over our deathlike sleep. When I could see that you’d been left alone, and could have fallen apart, but held steady. It sounds impersonal. I had no inkling that it would be thus between us. I am blind to many things. I didn’t know how deep your feelings went, only that you needed me, and I needed you. I hope that is enough, and I am not an uncaring monster. I hope I treat you well.”

“All the stars in the night…you needn’t hope, my queen. I know that, soon enough, Bronar will be hale enough to take you abed. I know that this is soon to end.”

Tahni squeezed her thin shoulders. “Don’t say that. I won’t cast you aside. I am not made that way. I can’t promise that any of us will live long. We go to tempt the most dangerous wizard there has ever been, and immortal mage with one foot in the swirling world of a nightmare realm. I may lead you unto your demise, but I won’t leave you alone.”

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