Now, we were wondering who it was that was running?
Tobimar had no idea where he was going, and he knew that was a very, very bad thing. The mazakh had captured him with a stunning spell before he'd realized they'd gotten behind him; he'd been so focused on trying to sense what was going on inside that he'd completely failed to watch his back, and the fact he wasn't dead yet was at least half luck.
He'd actually started coming out of his daze while they were still dragging him down some corridor, but he could tell he'd missed a fair amount of time. He'd stayed limp, trying to clear his head and gather his strength as they carried him, but when they'd set him down and the order had been given (by something that wasn't a mazakh, to his surprise and confusion) to strip and bind him, he'd known he couldn't play around any longer.
Gathering the inner light Master Khoros had taught him, he'd suddenly leapt to his feet, twin swords unsheathed, and cut the lights, projecting his essence through the swords, severing the enchantment that kept the glowglobes alight, plunging the room into total darkness. The heat-sense of the mazakh, he knew, took time to awaken – like the sensitive vision of a man at night. For the next few moments, they were as blind as anyone.
Anyone except those who could see the light of life itself.
In those seconds he had cut three of his captors down, and seen something else in the back, where the voice had come from, a something that vanished impossibly, no flicker of magic, no movement, a cold and eerie entity that was there one moment and gone the next.
But he had no time to think about that; he was running out the door, the three he'd killed leaving a gap wide enough to pass through.
Terian, please! Light unto darkness!
He burst out of another door, hearing the scratching rattle of taloned feet and whisper of trailing tails giving chase. Now he was into a lighted corridor, equalizing sight again. There's a lot of them after me. Where am I? Don't know if they brought me up or down, how large this building is…
If it was the same building he'd been spying on, it was very large. If I get out of this, I'm going to re-negotiate my fee, justice or no!
A turn, an angle, through another door, no! More of them – take the door ahead, no time to turn! Sand and storm, I need Wanderer's luck now!
A long, long corridor now, lit by glowglobes at intervals and with no side doors, his echoing footsteps being drowned out by the hissing, rattling pursuit. No help for it. I have to make a stand. At the next doorway, if there isn't a mob waiting behind it.
Tobimar bashed down on the door handle with the hilt of one sword as he reached it, hit the door hard with one shoulder, a jolt of dull pain echoing from the impact as the door flew open.
"Shiderich!" The Skysand curse meaning "die without water" was torn from him as he saw the long, triangular room before him, a room with two rows of ever-narrowing perches on either side of the central aisle – an aisle that ended at a double-fanged altar before a looming figure of a monstrous thing, part mazakh, part hideous insectoid. And rising from the perch-benches, a dozen of the snake-demons, furious at the interruption of a sacred moment.
Suddenly Tobimar could do nothing but laugh. It was a shaky laugh, filled with more fear and less clear bravado than he would have liked, but it was a laugh, not a scream, not a sob. Snakes on all sides of me. Then all that remains is to see how many I can take with me.
Too bad, Master Khoros; I guess your vision wasn't so clear this time. I'm never going to find out where pursuing justice and vengeance would have brought me… because this is as far as I go.
The worshippers were somewhat delayed; their weapons were placed in precise array at each side of the triangular temple, and the creatures scrambled to reach them. This gave Tobimar a minor inspiration; he spun around and brought both swords up and then down and across in a sweeping arc from front to back, sending a cold-iron will pulse through the blades that brought the seven mazakh chasing him up short – though, because he could not focus through their own wills, doing them no real harm – and scattered the weapons like straws in a dust-devil, breaking hilts, bending blades, and twisting gears and levers to uselessness.
As the mazakh recovered, he drew himself up straight and held the swords level and parallel as Khoros had taught him, and for a moment, looking into the eyes of the snake-things, he saw uncertainty. He forced a smile, the smile he had once seen on his mother's face when the Lord of Waters had offered to duel a troll bandit who had challenged her courage and honor, the smile which had only sharpened when the duel was accepted and when the rock-strong creature had started to realize how terribly wrong its estimation of the Lord of Waters had been.
"The Seventh Prince of Skysand greets you, and offers his blades to still your fear; or keep your fear, and your lives, if you flee." Into the words and level ice-blue gaze, he placed his living will, pressing back on their chill-hard minds with the blazing fire of his soul.
For a fleeting moment, he almost thought it would work. The three in the front wavered, hissing, and the other four stood still. But the twelve behind surged forward, and he had to focus some senses on them, and another figure – a larger mazakh, one of the Mazakhar – appeared behind the first group, screeching orders in their own tongue.
And all dissolved into the chaos of combat. Tobimar spun aside as the seven charged – the advantage of the doorway now a terrible vulnerability, the open space of the temple his only chance – and parried two strikes with one sword, leapt up on a prayer-perch, cut down, impact on scales going through to bone, wrenching the blade free as he jumped again over a spear-thrust. Parry! screamed the inner sense, something streaking at him from the side, his sword already coming up, the spangg! sound of a Zachass disc ricocheting from his own blade almost instantly followed by the meaty thunk and a scream from the disc ending its suddenly-deflected course in the chest of one of the attackers. They were trying to herd him, he had to get out of the corner, leap up, on this one's head, flip –
A line of fire scorched its way along his side, and Tobimar realized it wasn't just a matter of sensation – that wasn't a blade. One of the mazakh was a spellcaster – maybe a priest, even, and that would be very bad. He charged forward, channeling his will into his body, his legs, leapt over the warriors that tried to intercept him with a bound that almost cracked his head open on the wooden beams above, barely kept hold of his weapons and will as dark-blue lightning sparked around him and the scaly priest stumbled backwards, throwing up his arms; it was futile as the razor-sharp swords first took one arm and then half-severed his head. Three so far, maybe four.
Impact from the side, sensed too late to block, only roll with it a bit, come up, cut at the legs, back them up, block again, arms hurting, can't stop, turn, disarming spin, jab, he's down, another two on me, stab backwards, missed but they've moved away, jump up, by the Sand there's the statue, hope it's not Manifesting right now, land on the outstretched arm, that will make it harder on them… Oh dust and drought they've all got missiles, spears, Zachass, think some of the ones I scattered weren't broken, got to get down!
Even moving as fast as he could, Tobimar tried to block two bladed discs, only managed to get one, the other scoring a long cut down his right arm. It wasn't all that serious, but instantly the arm began to somehow simultaneously go numb and burn like icy fire. Poison!
The Inner Will could disperse a poison, even heal wounds – but if he used that much focus, they'd have him in an instant. All he could do was try to slow it a bit. And keep fighting. Swinging. Cutting.
Finally he realized there was a pause, a gap. He stared around, seeing that he must have killed eight, nine of them already… but there were at least eighteen remaining. Reinforcements.
The Mazakhar stepped slightly forward, hissing. "A good fight, boy, and brave speech. But you slow, you tire, and we are many. Nearly all in this house have come. What, then, should we fear?"
And in that moment, when he searched for some words that would mean something, another voice spoke. A voice strange and hollow, echoing around the room, seeming to come from no clear source above or below.
And the huge Mazakhar bellowed in agony, clutching futilely at its back as though something had impaled it there. The other mazakh whirled, seeking the source of that voice and that pain.
Tobimar didn't know what was going on, but he knew a chance when he saw one. He lunged forward, both swords drawn back, and with all his strength did a double cut; a second, gurgling scream and the leader went down, hands now scrabbling grotesquely at his own innards in a useless attempt to keep them where they belonged.
Now there was consternation on the reptilian faces, for as Tobimar forced all of his strength into a final whirlwind of cuts, it seemed as though some invisible force followed him, hindering every attempt to hem in the exiled Prince. A spear was levelled at his back, and the wielder suddenly pitched to the ground, clutching at an ankle that was fountaining blood. A blurred, tiny motion, impossible to follow in the shadows and deadly dance of combat, streaked away, and a moment later as Tobimar exchanged blows with a veteran warrior, scales thick and glossy with age, whose skill threatened to disarm the young man at any moment, something tiny dropped from above (or, perhaps, leaped from the floor?) and a silvery flicker of motion jabbed from one side to the other; the veteran's sword clattered unheeded to the floor as the clawed hands were clapped to the throat, impotent to stem the tide of red and the half-seen something bounded away. A murmur of uncertainty began now, and the twin swords spun and danced in lethal rhythm, weariness held at bay with sheer will and rising hope, punctuated now by a pair of chiming twangs, and two mazakh fell with steam-whistle shrieks as something entered their eyes and began to burn with white-fire agony.
That was enough; the remaining creatures fled, unwilling to face the unyielding Tobimar and whatever unknown and terrible force had allied itself with him, even here within their own temple.
In the sudden silence, Tobimar could hear his own ragged breathing, and he glanced around, feeling the poison still trying to work its way through him, dizziness warring with fear and confusion. "Wh… what are you? Where are you? Show yourself!"
"No need to shout." The voice from down near his feet was the same, but somehow less frightening, almost comical.
Nonetheless, he jumped back in startlement and looked down.
A small brown Toad – with, admittedly, a fair overlayer of red gore – looked up at him and waved. "Hello!"
And Tobimar Silverun, Seventh of Seven, Seeker of Skysand, found himself utterly without words.
Yes, I think I might be, too.