Kicking off Friday in Style

Here’s a Friday treat for you all, the first chapter from the revisions of Vengeance- this chapter is not finalized since I still have it going through a reader or two before it becomes released to the world. I’m still waiting for both my own satisfaction and another pair of eyes I have looking at a few spots before I send it off to said readers.  Keep an eye out for an ARC giveaway of the new version soon though! Details will be announced on various forms of social media.

So without further ado I present Vengeance- Improved Chapter 1:

Some months ago             

Life before Ravenwood started to burn couldn’t have been more different. Instead of battles against larger forces she faced enemies of her Lower Quarter Lord. They were usually suspected of being guilty of plotting or had committed treason against him somehow. Her largest worries were when her next job came, though she never had to wait too long. Lower Quarter offered her plenty of opportunities to work under her Lord, even if it was simply a tax collection or something equally mundane. Ravenwood left them alone since they were more focused on their desires, goals and whatever internal conflicts were happening before to police the other part of the city.

She had seen much during her life. She had seen their lack of care and controlling fear spread like fire and poison through the streets, choking out much of the goodwill and security. Eventually, it reached where many—like herself—left the city entirely. No longer was anyone able to get by beyond crumbs and fear over what would happen the next time was constant. That was, until havens like Lower Quarter rose up. After that she had met Lord Durj and his sister Cat and found a sense of normal with them that she had longed for so long to find. In time they became a family of a kind and he gave her the means to live and not simply exist with her skills. As such, Liz had no mercy for the plotters and committers of treason—guilty or not. They were in a similar situation to her enjoying an easier life because of the Lord they served. Not to say there weren’t plenty of offers for her, many jumped at a chance to give her one any chance they got, most offering a lot better pay. She turned a blind eye to these because serving Lord Durj alone and making his enemies pay with blood was all she desired.

A job was what had her out today, trudging through the sooty slush in the streets since winter’s grip had yet to disappear entirely. Daylight had started to fade, turning steel-gray sky into slate with clouds churning as the wind picked up. Pulling the hood of her tattered cloak she passed a vegetable stand closing for the night. The proprietor gave her a slight smile as she passed; she returned the gesture, hoping he had a good business day even after Lord Durj’s cut of the profit. The tax was one of the many things that strained her little family, Cat was often furious Liz saw nothing of it and that her brother took it at all. The main reason for this was of her stance on how Lord Durj deserved nothing of his position since he treated his citizens as if they were nothing and just took from them. Instead—according to Cat anyway—these things should have gone to Liz, who did all the work in her eyes.

The market itself was just as run down as the rest of Lower Quarter. If you were fortunate enough to be set up in a building it was on the verge of crumbling around you. Similarly, if you managed to secure a stand it was tattered. Each one tended to lean on newer supports that looked just as bad the old ones and that they could be blown down in a decent breeze. Most shops barely made any profits and only sold the basics, though there were a couple of blacksmiths and leatherworkers for the needs of the Lords and their people. Dodging around a group of people crowded around a fire in a metal bucket, she was pulled out of her musings by her boot hitting a large stone. As she twisted to avoid tripping over the crowd, she scooped it up, put it in a pocket and shouted apologies over her shoulder. Picking up her pace, she wove through the maze of back alleyways to ensure she was there on time. It wouldn’t be good to have her task waiting for her and risk running into unwelcome spectators.

Liz climbed a broken down staircase to the roof of a building. What remained of it wasn’t that tall, but it was perfect since it overlooked a hole in the wall of its neighbor. From this vantage Liz could tell when and exactly how she needed to strike. She highly doubted her target would be alone as he was Durj’s third in command. He usually traveled with a few trusted bodyguards and they were just as guilty with knowing what was going on here. The wind picked up, blowing Liz’s hood off and allowing her bronzy brown hair to blow about her face as the sky opened dumping down a cold shower. She watched as the water obscured the taller buildings partly from sight.  Liz turned her face towards it welcoming the company in her solitary wait as she took the stone from her pocket and began flipping it several times in her hand. Laughter carried up by the breeze drew her attention away from the rain and to the hole once more. Four men accompanied one in the center, all joking and laughing, though those on the outside of the group remained alert for danger on the ground. Two of them stopped at the entrance, bidding the other three goodbye before standing alert. Shortly, five other men appeared at the end of the street. They were stopped outside to be checked for weapons and means to harm those inside before being allowed in.

Well, this complicates things. She was going to kill whoever gave Lord Durj the information since this meeting was not supposed to be happening. In fact, the worst that was supposed to be going on was a territory grab independent from Lord Durj. The newcomers looked to be from a neighboring Lord, Jek she thought he was called, though fairly down his chain of command. She had seen them at some meeting Durj had made her sit in when she was younger. Back when he had the hope his sister would join his reign and didn’t know how visible he wanted Liz to be. No, this wasn’t right at all, he was supposed to be taking this on alone, not with allies from within or without. Now she had to find out if Lord Jek was involved or if these men working independently of their Lords. One way to find out…

Liz launched herself into the alley, rolling slightly as she landed to end on her feet. The two guards outside stared, open-mouthed in surprise. “Hello boys,” she greeted cheerfully.

Quick as a deer fleeing a hunter Liz was on one, grappling them tightly, the other bodyguard pulled out his sword and ran at them. Unfortunately for him, Liz had no issue using his partner as a human shield and the sword wielding thug was too slow to stop the collision. Liz dropped the grappled thug and swung around behind the sword bearing guard staring in disbelief at his friend. A loud thud and ting rang out as the sword and thug dropped to the ground, lifeless. Liz dusted herself off a bit, pausing to consider the bodies and putting the stone back in her pocket. If she were lucky that was quiet enough the meeting taking place inside would continue on as nothing was going on. Liz knew the bodies remaining where they were would alert people if they left before she was finished. Grabbing them under the arms and dragging she looked around to try to find a place. Finally, she settled on simply dumping them around a corner hoping someone would think they simply got robbed and the thieves had put the bodies there. The rain would be enough to wash away the other evidence of her presence.

It was completely dark within, filled with somewhat stale air carrying the smell of unclean bodies. Low, tense voices carried to where Liz stood. She crept forward, keeping to the shadows the darkness provided as best she could. Faintly, she could make out some guards moving about at the edge of a well-lit area. Liz ducked into a room just outside the outer edge of the light that spilled into the hallway. From here she could hear anything taking place in the meeting and know when it was safe to proceed while they hopefully would remain oblivious of her presence.

Durj is a complete idiot,” his third in command was complaining. “There’s plenty of area for all of us if he just grabs it and plenty of jobs to give us all coin. Instead, he has that half-breed freak running around doing the best ones while the rest of us starve unless there’s an opening. Which isn’t a lot these days, him not wanting to step on either the freak’s or his sister’s toes.” Liz had no doubt who the “half-breed freak” was; unconsciously she covered her ears.

“Yeah,” another speaker rumbled. “But Durj will never see beyond his secret weapon. Can’t say I blame him, she’s like a ghost, in and out on a job before ya blink and damn good at what she does to boot.  I heard he handpicked her as a youngin’ and raised the killer in her. I do kinda hope you keep her around when you get up there to Durj’s spot. Damn loyal too from what I hear, might be useful”

“Bah!” Durj’s man exclaimed. “That wench only obeys Durj. Besides, when we combine our forces we’ll have enough under our control to make up for her supposed skills. Though if you want her, go ahead.  I suppose I could gift her to you as a token of appreciation for your help in this. I can’t risk telling too many in Durj’s lot without the bitch getting scent. Especially since the plan is to eventually grab his area too by takin’ him out.”

The other speaker laughed nervously, “Now we’re talkin’!  Now no one knows ‘bout these weapons right?  Those you did tell wouldn’t blab now?”

Nah, they’re trusty, they value their skins too much since unless Durj tells her to heel she’ll kill us all. And I run weapons out of the market anyway, a few coins in the right places, let’s all this stay not official.”

“Nice to see the bastards’ tight purse strings backfire on him.” Liz heard a groan and the scrap of something against the wood floor. “Well then, I’ll be in touch when I get things in place to get you to make your move.”

“Good,” another chair creaked as Durj’s third spoke. “I look forward to it.”

Liz glanced out into the dimly lit hallway and eased farther back just in case. Jek’s man was surrounded by his guards once more. Liz eased the stone out of her pocket as the five men made their way out, suddenly happy that she had gotten so much information. Jek’s man was out of her reach since he wasn’t Lord Durj’s, but a few words when she reported in would get him taken care of too. Well, if Lord Durj decided it was necessary. That would be up to him, though, it wasn’t her place after all to do more than report. Smirking, she took the stone out and flipped in her hand again as she waited for the hall to clear. Hearing movement in the next room her smirk widened as it seemed Durj’s men were taking care of things. Rounding the corner and back into the hall, she crept around and eased toward where the light spilled out, listening to them joke as they worked.

“Come on boys, Lord Durj is expectin’ us at the Blood Moon,” he chuckled, turning to the door as he spoke where Liz now stood, leaning against the casing.

Ahh, but I believe you’re mistaken,” Liz replied and she kicked off the wall and started to stride toward them. Her green and silver-gray gaze was dark as she eyed the three men. “You see Lord Durj sent me to give his regards and after I heard what I have tonight, I see it was very well to send them.”

“You crazy bitch,” the man had a wild-eyed look in his eyes, trying to find how to escape what he knew to be a certain fate but wanted to try still. “Just go where your master directs you, eh?”

“If you are referring to why I am here, I already heard the proof of your alliance with Lord Jek’s man. I will honestly say that was not my original reason for Lord Durj requiring my services here, but it appears I will get rid of two problems for him.” she flipped the stone again and as it returned to her hand it transmuted to two long daggers with a hearty hilt made of stone. The knives’ edges glinted in the torchlight.

The man’s eyes bulged even as they fixed upon the blades as his men rushed forward; very few had ever seen why she was so gifted with fighting and killing. The ability to transmute weapons out of essentially anything was where it started accompanied by years of the skill being refined. If they did find out, most took the secret to the grave. In a smooth motion she transferred a dagger to each hand and raised them slightly. The men continued their advance; the smirk reappeared on Liz’s lips at the comfortable weight of her daggers. Her power had created them so they were a perfect fit for what she wanted to do as the men came at her. In two quick slashes they fell to the floor with loud thuds just as easily as their counterparts outside had done. Now, Liz’s eyes rose to rest on Durj’s third in command, beads of sweat appeared on his forehead as he stared at the lifeless bodies.

“Now…” he managed to start, his voice losing all arrogance and calm that it had. “Now… listen… I… can explain…”

“I am sure you can,” Liz replied coldly. “I imagine there are several things you will tell me as to the reasons why you did what you did if only to stop this fate, but they would all be lies. You were trusted into an inner circle and threw what made that trust well placed away with your planning here. Moving to make your own name, and then move against him.” She took a step forward, “That is the simple truth, which even you cannot deny.”

“Nono… no…”the man repeated, close to tears. Then suddenly, he recovered just as fast as he broke down and yelled, “You don’t know what it’s like, you get all the jobs! If he could, he’d just have a force of you, after all you’re perfect. Go where you’re told and do your dance, then go home to get a pat on the head! Do you think I’m the only one who thinks that? He deserves betrayal ten times over by now for it all! But you won’t see it until it’s too late. You’ll be blind sighted cause you’ll still be singin’ his praises—like he’s a God when all he really is… is a… ”

Liz’s eyes flashed and her temper raised, she flung one of the daggers at him, and it buried itself in his chest, dropping him. “It does not matter what you think he is. What matters is that you plotted against your Lord, who you promised to serve.” she said darkly going over and pulling the dagger out. She cleaned both on his clothing, and just as easily as she made them she allowed the rock she had used to fall to the ground beside the bodies. Standing, she glanced around the room, making note of what was there so she could have Lord Durj send some people later to reclaim it. Her eyes dropped to the bodies on the ground and sighed. Such a waste of life and talent for something that could be avoided had they stuck to side of honor and keeping their agreements. All these jobs and she still could not understand why do it at all? Pivoted on the heel of her foot she pushed them from her thoughts and strode from the building. Her destination was either the Blood Moon to meet Cat or reporting into Lord Durj. Maybe after is best, the job is done and this place will remain as is, she shook her head, glancing back once more before she reentered the welcome rain.

Darkness had completely fallen by the time Liz finally entered the Blood Moon, she eased the door open to a noisy and warm inside. All around men joked and laughed with a few women scattered among them, most were actually the serving girls. Liz shook her head at the state of their dress, she swore every time she entered the tavern their dresses were cut lower and lower. She nodded toward the proprietor, Terra at the bar and headed to her usual table tossing her cloak over an empty chair. Terra glided over, her hips swaying to put-on a show for her customers. She set a mug down on the table for Liz, “I’ll be back in a second, lass.” With that, she walked back to the bar and spoke softly with her girls while getting their drinks. The door opened again and a short blonde haired woman walked in, her ice blue eyes surveyed the room before landing on Terra who nodded to in Liz’s direction and shook her head ever so slightly.

The woman walked to Liz, tossing her cloak over hers and slid into the seat next to her. They kept the side across from them completely empty knowing Terra preferred that side to keep an eye her girls. Terra had always been protective of those girls since she took over the tavern from the woman who had trained her in the arts of servicing—all  things—to put it politely. The tavern was the oldest building in Lower Quarter, named the moon that hung overhead that night that had led to the creation of this part of the city. With such a beginning it had been preserved in probably the best condition, almost like a monument. The inside shone with cleanness and it had some of the few remaining windows and enough candles and wood to keep the place cozy even on the harshest of winter’s nights.

“So,” the woman began. “What did my lovely jerk of a brother, have you do now that has you having your sympathy drinks this soon after sundown?”

Liz took a long drink, “Nothing more than usual.”

“Really? My brother was hopping up and down in delight when I passed him on my way here.” Liz glanced at her and Cat raised her hands in the air defensively, “I was civil, I was civil.”

“I somehow doubt that,” Liz replied. “I think the entire city has heard your shouting matches.”

Cat made a dismissive noise, “He deserved it.”

“I’m sure he did,” Terra had rejoined them, sitting her open slot at the table. “But ye always think he deserves it.”

Cat glared at her, “Of course he does! The pig-headed arse needs some sense pounded in his head for what he gets away with, and thinks he can just because.”

Terra glanced over at Liz who was drinking deeply from her mug again. Calmly, her green eyes appraised the situation and rather subtly she signaled for fresh drinks to be brought over “So, what‘s the deal lass? Ye look like ye’ve been run over by a wagon. Last time I saw ye this deep in the liquid therapy so soon after a job was after that clearing ye did a few years back. Took out a lot of Lord Durj’s men if I remember right, and he even sent Kellin with ye to do it.”

The serving girl placed three new drinks on their table, and Liz reached eagerly for the fresh mug allowing the girl to take the old one away. Once she was out of earshot Liz replied, “Yeah, he did with that job. This one was similar in a way. He stood there yelling and screaming—then what he said and did…” Liz took another deep drink. “Let us just say that it was unexpected for some reason.”

Terra and Cat exchanged a glance, knowing that conversation had finished. For all their years of friendship and Cat and Liz almost being almost sisters, Liz still remained fairly private. Liz sat there, mulling over the last moments of her target’s life. She was usually calm during those last moments, when most unhindered truths came out. For some reason though, tonight hit her heart.

Lord Durj takes care of his people, unlike most Lower Quarter Lords I have seen. He never asks them to do too much, though he has made a few mistakes along the way but what new ruler does not? His people are not overly lacking in what they desire though. and especially those in direct service. All their claims are is lies for justification for their actions without foundation. I am more clear-sighted in regarding Lord Durj, they let their greed blind them.  

“Liz,” Cat gently touched her arm, causing Liz to start. “You were so lost in your thoughts there I thought we were going to have to pull you out with a net.”

Ye okay?” Terra’s voice echoed the concern.

“Yes, I am fine,” Liz’s voice was somewhat vague as she brought herself back to the tavern in her mind.

“That job that idiot sent you on really shook ya, didn’t it?” Cat took a sip of her own drink. Her tone was light, but her face betrayed her worry. “Tell him you need a break, or I will for you.”

“No, I am honestly fine.”

“If ye do need a break here might be yer chance,” Terra nodded toward the door. A group of men, all looking quite fit and well dressed for the usual variety of merchants and tenants that frequented entered the tavern. At the center were two men in deep conversation. One with beady ice blue eyes and hairless head nodded as a shorter man with rather pink skin and just as icy eyes with his long, light-brown hair slicked back spoke. Cat glared at the taller man with eyes that matched hers; there was little denying the relation to her despite how she had tried when she was younger. Silence descended on the room, some stood to bow low before Lord Durj waved them back into their normal activities. Then he went with most of his men to a table which was slightly raised above the rest. The man with the his hair in the tail went the other direction, toward Liz and her friends.

“Kellin,” Cat greeted as he drew nearer. “What brings you to our little corner of the tavern?”

He smiled at them though he kept his eyes on Liz, “I actually came to give this to Liz, she left it in Lord Durj’s place when she reported in.” He placed a decent size sack of coins on the table. “Also, Lord Durj wants to warn Liz he might have a lot of jobs in store soon. He’s working on gathering some information now about how large of an issue this is, he’s hoping to have answers after his meeting tonight.”

Cat looked outraged that her brother already wanted Liz for another job for him. Liz rarely forgot anything meaning something was bothering her. She had exploded last time this happened and she would gladly again, “Listen here messenger boy– ”

Liz clamped her hand over Cat’s mouth, silencing her. “Tell Lord Durj I am honored and look forward to the task. It will be my pleasure to do it, all he has to do is tell me when I am needed.”

Kellin eyed Cat who was giving an impression of a volcano ready to erupt and back to Liz. “I’ll pass along the message, though I hope he doesn’t need you tomorrow night.” He gave Liz a slight bow of sorts and a slight wink before he walked back to Durj’s table.

“That boy is heads over heels with ye, lass,” Terra said.  “When are ye goin’ to stop these moonlight dates?”

“That he is,” Cat agreed. She took a deep drink from her glass, feeling the need to join Liz suddenly in a blissful stupor. “Still, doesn’t mean he needs to come over here and bring tidings from that great and powerful idiot.”

“He does not really have a choice,” Liz insisted. “He has to do his jobs just as I do mine.”

“He might not have a choice dependin’ but that bastard has a choice to not use you guys for his own means, he can have the balls to take care of it himself.” Cat’s eyes flashed in anger and she slammed her cup down on the table. “And don’t give me any of that I owe him my loyalty since I gave him my oath of service crap. Gods know he’s the lowest payer out there in Lower Quarter anyway. Besides, what you’ve done has paid him back time and again!”

Liz and Terra exchanged a glance. “Don’t do it, lass,” Terra said, swirling her drink around in her glass. “If there’s anything ye two will never agree on its Lord Durj.”

 

Liz supported Cat up the stairs of their home several hours later, thanking the Gods that they lived alone in the building due to Cat singing part of the way up at the top of her lungs. She was happy she had the wisdom to stop quite a while before leaving though she stumbled being pulled by Cat as she flailed. Their place was quiet and pleasant in a secluded area of Lord Durj’s territory, away from the main bustle of Lower Quarter. It had managed to survive what had decimated the buildings around it, protecting them from the element for the most part. The only flaw was where the roof crumbled inward and exposed them to the open air.

“Liz… Liz.. I luv you,” Cat slurred stumbling over the steps.  “Yer like a sister to me, and that bastard… that bastard, he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Which bastard are we referring to again?” Liz asked. She felt obligated to despite knowing the answer.

Durj!” Cat shouted.

“Oh of course,” Liz grunted, trying to hold Cat upright while fumbling with the keys. Oh the times she wished her transmutation ability went beyond ways to protect herself or do a job. She wished she could make something more useful for moments like this – like a chair. At last, she managed to get the key in the lock and open the door. “Why is that anyway?” she asked, continuing to  humor Cat in her state. Her motives weren’t entirely pure though, she also wanted the company while she set to work starting a fire to combat the coldness of the night.

“Because,” Cat began, flopping down on her bedroll. “All ‘e does is use people. Once they’re not bein’ useful anymore, he finds a way to get rid of ‘em. Or if they don’t make his job cushy secure like. I’m ‘prized he didn’t have you goin’ around the whole Lower Quarter yet killin’ peoples, but give it time…” Cat trailed off, watching Liz work with the flint and steel. She eased into the bedding, not even bothering to remove her boots. Soon there were flames, she smiled at the warmth and Liz as she removed her own boots before settling in her bedroll.

Liz looked over at her, her eyes shimmering in the flickering light the flames gave off. “Any other reasons before we go to sleep?”

“Yeah!” Cat yelled, then took a more somber look. “Yer too good fer him Liz, too good. If anythinyer should be Lord, ye don’t deserve to keep just doin’ the dirty work, but him getting’ all the credit,” with a sigh she rolled over. “Nigh’ Liz.”

Liz smiled softly at her friend back before closing her eyes, “Good night, Cat.”

 

Liz’s eyes snapped open what seemed to her to be almost instantly. For a few moments she couldn’t tell what had caused her to awaken so suddenly. Glancing out the worn roof, she could see it was still dark out and judging by the sky, still in the wee hours of the morning. She sat up slowly, looking around the room, her breath visible in the air and found no visible sign of danger to be apparent. She was just about to resign that it must have been a dream she couldn’t remember or some other night noise when a scream rent the air followed by other shouts and yelling in the distance. Instantly Liz was wide awake and had transmuted her daggers to her hands using the stone she kept by her bed. Setting them aside on her bedroll she put her boots on quickly, being as quiet as she could.

She reached over to Cat and gently shook her awake. Putting a finger to her lips, she signaled for the confused Cat to be quiet, the reason became clear as more screams filled the air. Liz pointed to the bedrolls and indicated that Cat should roll them up, while Liz gathered what little supplies they had to store within them. The noises were growing more and more around them so she was taking no chances staying within the city. Hurrying past the window opening her breath hitched in her throat for a second. The sky was splashed with an orange glow and the air grew thicker and thicker with smoke. The city was ablaze, though it was more intense in some places than others, steeling herself she raced back to Cat.

“We must go,” she hissed, grabbing her daggers up and throwing on her cloak.

Cat’s eyes widened even more, but quickly recovered throwing her pack and bedroll on her back. “Where are we going?” Cat whispered as they rushed down the stairs.

“I am not sure, just we need to hopefully reach Terra and definitely need to get out of this city. We need to find Kellin too, if we can manage it,” Liz replied, her eyes moved around restlessly trying to spot anything that might be in their path to safety. They hadn’t made even off their street when Liz heard movement; she pulled Cat into a nearby cubbyhole. Several men ran past, weapons drawn and at the ready ran toward their building.

“Are the bitches there?” A man yelled a few minutes later in a Lower Quarter accent.

“No, they are not,” another replied. “They cannot have gotten far, though; this part of the city is surrounded by fire and our men.”

“Spread out!” The first man ordered in a shout. “We need to find and take care of them for the boss before we end up sliced by her blades.” The men scattered away, running past Liz and Cat’s hiding spot. “Ahh, look at that,” the man said in a much softer voice. “That’s where the Blood Moon was; too bad, we could’ve used those pretty faces to celebrate the new age.”

“Now, now my good man, you can have any woman you desire when this business is done,” the second man spoke. “We will be heroes for bringing this new age!”

“True,” the first agreed. “But Terra’s knew how to treat a man…” Their voices faded away until they were replaced by the frightened yells in the distance once more.

Liz’s heart caught in her chest and she glanced down at Cat, who had silent tears streaming down her face. “All we can hope for now is that she got out,” Liz managed. “We need to get out alive now; she would kick our arses if she knew were staying around and risking getting killed for her memory especially.”

“Forever the mom of the group,” Cat’s mouth twisted into a sad smile. “Let’s get out while we can, we’ll try to find them later.”

Liz led the way out this time setting out toward the outer edges of the city; Lower Quarter’s walls had little upkeep so there were several places to sneak out without it needing an official exit. Those would probably be covered by multiple men to keep people from escaping. As they went further outward the sounds of screams and yelling diminished.  It appeared whoever was doing this had already been through this section of the city, as Liz surveyed the damage around them trying to decide the route to take. Next to them a building crumbled, still smoldering sending a shower of embers up into the air as pieces fell. Watching it for a moment Liz spied a hand about the size of a child’s lying silent beside the wreckage.

“We must keep going straight. I can see the wall just ahead,” Liz told Cat quickly wresting her gaze away.

“How you can see anything in this smoke is a miracle, but let’s get out of here, it’s giving me the creeps.” Cat said as she checked the dagger that Liz had handed her back near their home.

Liz took one step forward and was knocked to the ground by a blur that turned out to be a man. “I got you!” he yelled.

“Liz!” shouted Cat.

A grunt escaped Liz’s lips as she tried to roll over, but the collision had put her hands at an awkward angle and made the one with the dagger in it virtually useless. She couldn’t get the leverage to get into a better position and the man had her legs locked. Liz and the man struggled, entangled so badly Cat couldn’t get a clear shot at Liz’s attacker without risking injuring Liz herself as they moved and writhed. Liz’s dagger skittered across the stones coming to rest half the street away during one attempt to break the grapple. One of the man’s arms found their way to Liz’s throat and began to choke her; each breath became a gasp of air and her vision blurred.

“Soon I will have you taken care of, then your little friend over there, and I will get the reward. There’s a damn good sum on your heads too. I don’t know why, but you’re both targets number one. That doesn’t matter, all I care for is the coins.”

Liz tried desperately to hold onto consciousness that became more fleeting by the second. Desperate, she decided to try something new with her ability since all she needed was one second to break his grip on her throat. Her hands scraped the ground frantically for anything suddenly she felt the sharp edge of steel. Gripping it, she gave it as much of a toss in the air as she could muster entangled as she was. As it rose she concentrated with all her might, shaping it into a throwing dagger. In that second of materialization she somehow flung it at her attacker, hitting him in the shoulder. That moment of pain was enough for his grip to lessen and Liz to flip around and grab another stone, turning it into a dagger as she slashed across his throat. Gasping for air, she knelt on the ground beside the body, Cat hurried to her side.

What the name of the Gods were you doing?” Cat yelled. “That was way too close! How in the world did you get him to break off?”

“I know, I know,” Liz said between breaths not even wanting to pause to think of how she did it. “We need to go now—then we will think about what happened.”

Cat pulled Liz to her feet and started on the way Liz had previously said as the way to go. Easing through a crack in the wall they found themselves breathing a bit easier. Still, they had more distance to put between them and the city before they could settle down. It appeared to Liz’s eyes that they were the only ones to make it out this far, but she still tried to remain hopeful, after all, Terra and Kellin might be out there somewhere. They paused at the top of a nearby ridge which overlooked the city; the fire seemed to have spread. Holding back their tears and exhaustion, they pressed on, disappearing into the dark forest.

 

 

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