Blood and Honor Part 12
Zee: By an American and a Canadian well mostly the Canadian, it's her fault.
Windstar: Zee is, as usual, making things up. This story is completely her fault and a result of her imagination only. I claim no responsibility for this at all.
A big thank you to Claudia for her help with all of this huge story.
Feedback is always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org, Adarkbow@yahoo.com
an uneasy darkness. That uncertain timewhen the moon and sun pulled and
pushed at each other, the ebbing of the night just before dawn.
Jinete stood quietly, listening intently into the dark. Beside her, Valzobasa snorted, impatient to be going. They had survived the winter, a cold unpleasant experience for both of them. The snow had been fascinating for about a day. After that it had just been a cold, wet annoyance that made both their joints ache. However, Jinete mused to herself,at least she had found some one to keep her warm at night. She grinned as she remembered some of those nights. She really did feel like singing, or dancing a jig. Love was a wonderful thing. And she, Jinete, second daughter to Herd Mistress Jinn of the Swiftrunner Clan, was in love.
Her smile got larger. Here she was, standing outside in the cold predawn hours because after a month of sneaking around, she had finally convinced Tyra to run away with her. Back to her plains,far away from that vicious, posturing bully. She didn't understand how Quinn could be so callous and cruel in treating that beautiful woman with such indifference. No, she didn't understand, but she did rejoice in it. For without Quinn's lack of attention, Jinete would not have found room in Tyra's shuttered heart.
She heard the careful tread of footsteps and she turned toward the sound, her face beaming with happiness. That happiness fled at the site before her.
Three women emerged from the trees. Leading the trio was a very grim looking Quinn.
Jinete, wished she could say she was an honorable enough woman that this was first time she had dealt with an angry partner, but it wasn't. She had seen this look before and knew what it meant. Quinn had murder on her mind. In a quick bounding step, she was mounted on Valzobasa. She wheeled the stallion around and urged him to run. Underneath her she could feel his powerful muscles uncoil, moving them quickly away from the approaching danger.Tree branches snapped at her snagging her hair and clothes, and she cursed the north.
Quinn watched the woman react, momentarily impressed by the woman's quick reaction time but then, her anger returned. She shouted for her two hidden riders to give chase. She would have that bitch's blood. How dare she make a fool of her in her own home.The Alcens would be slower than that horse thing, but they moved better in the trees.
Jinete hung on tightly to Valzobasa as they ran northward through the trees, branches whipping around them. Tiny cuts sprang up over their bodies as the foliage caused gashes across flesh and fur. Jinete could feel Valzo tiring and mentally urged him to keep going. She peeked under her arm and saw one of the Alcen following them, its horns glinting in the approaching dawn light.At least they had lost one of them. Then in her mind came a shout of warning and she automatically clamped her legs tighter as Valzo reared up when the second Alcen cut them off. Those deadly twin spiraled horns pierced her leg and slammed into the flesh of her mount. As one, Jinete and the stallion screamed in pain. Valzobasa veered sharply away, leaving a spray of red as the horn ripped out and threw Jinete from his back.
She scrambled to her feet, the pain almost making her swoon, but she gritted her teeth and stayed up. Valzobasa urged her in her mind to keep moving as he stayed in front of the riders to block the path. He reared up onto his hind legs and lashed out with his hooves. She forced herself to move but knew it was pointless. She could feel the Goddess of Death approaching her, but she refused to look at her. 'It's not fair', she wanted to scream, but instead, saved her breath for her escape. She struggled up a hill, slipped on some rubble from an old crumbling wall and nearly fell. Her head was pounding and she couldn't hear Valzo thoughts anymore. They were drowned out by her pain and exhaustion.
Cold, angry eyes drilled into the struggling woman's back as the bow was drawn back until it shook with tension. Then fingers released the string, the tension of that string transferring into launched arrow. With satisfaction, she watched it hit her target; sending the woman tumbling over the brink of the hill.
Jinete woke from unconsciousness screaming as the arrow in her shoulder was torn out. Her dark eyes darted around and she found herself surrounded by five women and all staring at her grimly.
Ducking down low to get into the Southern woman's face, Quinn snarled, “Did you really think you could get away with sleeping with my wife? That I would just sit by and let you make a fool of me?”
“You're the fool and the ass,”Jinete gasped out. “You treat her as a thing not a person. You ignore her beauty and preen around in your own self importance...”The rest of her retort was silenced as Quinn backhanded her.
“None of your pretty words. They are meaningless drivel. You are nothing but a liar and a thief. Did you really think you could get away with trying to steal what is mine? Tyra is mine. She will always be mine.”
Jinete winced inwardly. She had thought they were being so careful, so cautious. How had Quinn discovered them?
“I rule Abnoa. Nothing goes on there that I don't know about. Even the shadows have eyes.”
Jinete felt fear prickle along her scalp, living shadows, a very real Southern fear. She didn't think the North had any followers of the Shadows.
“Now, I'm going to kill you.” Quinn leaned forward again. “And remember this. I will have the pleasure of raising that brat of yours.”
Jinete's eyes grew wide as Quinn's boast sunk in and she weakly began to thrash around.
“You'll never hold her or be her Muanya. Just know that I will take as good care of her as someone of her linage deserves.” Quinn smiled a cruel smile that left little doubt how the unborn child would be treated. Then with a sudden motion, she stabbed Jinete in the chest and left the dagger in, the blood flooded out around the weapon.
Jinete gasped and bucked and then the world began to fade away. 'It's not fair,'she wanted scream, but her lips wouldn't move,'I just found love. I have a daughter that I'll never know...not right.'
“But you knew love, and enjoyed its touch upon you, even if it was a for a short time. Isn't that better than to have never have felt it?” The words were soft, the tone musical.
Jinete turned her head and spotted a pale woman with large violet eyes and inky black hair standing just beyond the circle of her murderers.
The woman strode toward her, moving through Quinn without the angry woman even flinching andthen reached down, took her hand and pulled.It was an unpleasant sensation, having her soul taken from her mortal flesh and she gasped from the ache.
“I'm sorry,”was all the Goddess of Death said, then turned and walked away, stopping only when she realized that Jinete was not following her.
“It's best if you leave mortal concerns behind now. Everything will work itself out,”the Goddess said softly.
“No!” Jinete shouted angrily.
The Goddess blinked in surprise at the refusal. “If you stay, you'll be a ghost and bound to the area of your body.
“Quinn just can't get away with this. There must be something...”
“These aren't your concerns anymore.”
not leaving,”Jinete said stubbornly and turned her back on the Goddess
of Death and watched Quinn and her thugs bury her body under a large oak tree.
There she would stay. Always alone, lingering on the edge of life and death as the stones of the nearby Abbey weathered with age while the tree she was buried under grew even taller and broader as the years passed.
"At last," the dark-haired Queen of the South muttered as she surveyed her army. Thousands of warriors, the largest army the South had ever seen, and it was hers to command. She would crush the pitiful northern barbarians beneath her boot. Finally, after months of forced inactivity and frustration, the army had begun moving as the ground no longer threatened to swallow her wagons.
The advisor walked quickly over to where Khelin sat on her horse. She took a deep breath, relishing the taste of the fresh air. She hoped it wasn't her last. "Your Majesty, there's a problem."
"The next words out of your mouth, Klynn, better be 'I'm joking'," Khelin growled, turning her gaze to stare down at the fidgeting advisor as her troops continued to head for the distant mountains.
"I wish," Klynn mumbled. "Two scouting parties have failed to return.” She stood ramrod straight and stared at the grass under the horse, noticing how green it seemed in the sunlight.
The Queen snarled, glancing up towards the mountains. Was Luna there already... in the mountain pass, waiting for her? No matter. "And how many of the northerners did our scouts kill?" Khelin asked softly.
The woman flinched. "At this time I don't know. I'm hoping other scouting parties will return with information." Wistfully, she remembered she could have taken the posting to be an ambassador to the Horse Clans on the Drakemore plains, but no, she had wanted the prestige of working for the next Southern Queen.
Khelin reached behind her and gripped the pommel of her sword. The world grew dark as it cleared its sheath. The black blade appeared to absorb the light around it. All the nearby shadows grew larger, as if it were twilight and not noon. With a casual, backhanded movement, the blade cut through the air, whistling like a banshee, and sliced clean through the advisor's neck. The woman's head toppled backward off her body. The blood arched from the stump of her neck.
With a smirk, Khelin sheathed the black sword. "You there," she called toward one of her nearby officers. "You're my new advisor. Find out what happened to the scouts."
The woman eyed the decapitated body in horror and slowly nodded. It wasn't as if she could say no.
"Well?" The Queen growled as the woman stood rooted to her spot. "Get going!"
"Yes, my Queen. Right away." She started running away, not sure what to do but she was sure Klynn had underlings somewhere.
"Must I always be surrounded by incompetence?" Khelin muttered. Her frown slipped away though as she watched the first of her babies roll past her. It took six oxen to pull each of the long black cannons. They were the pride of her army and had gone a long way to assuring her place as Queen of the South.
"Soon, my beauties, soon." She smiled as she pictured the bloodshed to come.
Oh yes, so very soon.
Torrin grumbled, sweating as she pushed against the healer's hand with
Stupid strengthening exercises. She was tired, grumpy, and generally not in a good mood.
She rarely got to see Luna because she was busy running the Northern clans. “People can't scratch their ass without checking with Luna first,” she thought glumly. It also didn't help that Eve was back at the Abbey with the other Clan leaders. Torrin knew she was feeling insecure but she couldn't help it. It was all fine and dandy to talk about their attraction but they really hadn't had much time together once the healers had determined Torrin was okay to move around again.
Finally, after being coaxed into doing one more, Torrin snapped at the healer. "Get the frak away from me before I break your leg! Then see how you like doing this."
The healer's face paled as her eyes caught Torrin's. She was quite certain the woman would follow through on her threat. Laughter from the doorway stopped her from replying.
"Is she being a troublemaker, Anna?"
Letting go of the foot in question she moved away. "Yes, just a little bit."
Torrin growled and snapped her teeth.
"Mind if I take over?" Luna asked, moving into the room with a fond grin at Torrin. "I think she tolerates me," she mock whispered toward the healer.
The healer nodded and quickly left the room.
Torrin eyed Luna warily. "Come on. I've already done 30 of them," she whined.
"How many did Anna say you had to do?" Luna asked, taking off her coat and setting it aside before sitting down. She'd just gotten back from seeing the improvements to the Abbey walls, and had decided she'd had it with people asking her questions for one day.
"Don't know. A lot," Torrin mumbled.
Luna grinned and gently picked up Torrin's leg. "How about we do a little more, then we hunt down dinner?"
"Fine," Torrin grumbled. "You're such a slave driver."
Luna's grin slipped, she stopped talking and simply provided resistance for Torrin's pushing.
"Do you really think that?" she asked quietly after several minutes of therapy.
Torrin hid her smile. In a quick move, she wrapped both her legs around Luna's waist and then pulled the woman down on top of her. She looked up into Luna's surprised eyes and grinned. "No, I don't. In fact, I think you need to delegate more. People around here don't need to come to you for permission to scratch their ass." She kissed Luna's nose. "You let them push you around. If they're not capable of doing their job, then get rid of them."
Luna studied her intently, troubled blue eyes slowly warming. With a sigh, she laid her head down on Torrin's chest, careful of her wound. "I missed you," she whispered.
Torrin wrapped her arms around Luna and hugged her tight. "I missed you too. I'm sorry. I will try to do better in the future. I just have a lot of training to overcome and most of it is not pleasant," she murmured into Luna's hair.
The blonde nodded, greedily soaking up every moment of contact with Torrin.
"A messenger falcon came in this afternoon," she said quietly. "Khelin's troops are on the move." More and more she was finding it difficult to talk with the others. She was glad it wasn't like that with Torrin. Luna didn't think she could bear it if it was.
"Have the patrols started to trap the path? We can't let the cannons get up here. We won't survive if they do." Torrin shuddered remembering the demonstration that Khelin gave of one of the cannons.
Luna nodded; she too had seen what those cannons could do. "Yeah, the scouting parties are pulling back, trapping as they go." She was quiet for a moment as she struggled with her silent fears. " Um, I don't know if we can stop them from reaching the Pass. At Abnoa, at least she didn't have time to bring them. Now she's clearing the way in front of them with her slaves."
Torrin kissed Luna's temple. "If they make it up here, we'll deal with it the best we can. There are always options. Nothing is ever hopeless."
Luna braced herself on an arm, pushing up so she could watch Torrin's eyes. "You'll be there with me, right?"
"Yep. Can't wait to see you kick Khelin's ass." She smiled trying to reassure Luna. "I'm not running away. Trust me.”
"I do," Luna whispered, giving into her desire and leaning down until she could reach Torrin's lips. What started as a gentle kiss quickly escalated. Luna's body was completely aware of Torrin's beneath her. She pressed closer with hungry kisses.
Torrin felt herself melt into Luna's body. Afraid to do something that would scare her away, she merely let Luna control the pace as she let her hands caress Luna's back. She groaned in pleasure when Luna upped the intensity of their kisses. Her hands snuck under the fabric of Luna's shirt so her fingers could touch the hot skin.
With a tug, Luna slid her fingers under Torrin's shirt, groaning at the feel of smooth flesh beneath her fingertips. Then she paused. Stilling her fingers, she slowed their kisses until she could pull back. Letting out a shaky breath, the blonde smiled wistfully at the dark-haired woman.
"I wish I could just..." She trailed off, shaking her head in irritation. Instead, she laid her head back down on Torrin's chest, fingers tracing patterns on the other woman's exposed skin.
Torrin took a deep breath to calm herself. She could feel her libido urging her on but she pushed away its demands. "It's okay. Really. We'll go at your pace. Whenever you're ready to do more, we will." She left her hands under Luna's shirt but instead of caressing skin, she began to massage the tense muscles she felt in Luna's back.
"No, it isn't okay..." Luna's words trailed off into a moan of contentment as Torrin's skillful fingers began to work. Nearly purring, she went limp, hedonistically enjoying every second as Torrin found tense muscles Luna didn't know she had.
"By the Goddess, you're good at that."
Torrin grinned. "Thank you. She whispered into Luna's ear. “You work too hard. Make Fyre do some of the heavy thinking. It would be good for her. And Tasha, all she does is lay around moaning about her shoulder. Make her brain work on things other than her pain. It would be good for her to strategize about possible plans for Khelin's troops. She gave the ear a soft kiss.
"Mmmm, you're right.” Luna sighed. “But it's strange telling these people what to do. It's different when they ask me. But to tell them they should do something,” Luna shrugged, not moving from what she was coming to think of as her favorite spot, “that seems... presumptuous."
Torrin snorted. "Why? They invade your space and interfere with your life by asking for your opinion and help. So just start out asking them to do stuff and then we'll work up from there to ordering them around." She couldn't resist. She licked the edge of the ear.
The tall woman quivered at the touch. She gave Torrin one last searing kiss before she grudgingly stood up. Holding out her hand for the prone woman, Luna smiled. "How about we start with getting dinner? Then I can show you what we've done while you and Tasha have been healing." The Ranger wanted to see what Torrin thought of the preparations so far.
Torrin pouted at having to get up. "All right." She grabbed Luna's hand and let herself be pulled to her feet. "But I was enjoying the cuddling. Having dinner is under protest."
"Didn't you just tell me I have to start ordering people?" Luna teased, not letting go of Torrin's hand as they started to walk toward the eating area.
Torrin nostrils flared at the thought. "Well, that does have possibilities." She muttered and gave her an evil grin.
Dinner was interesting. Luna and Torrin sat at the main table, having a perfectly normal conversation about mundane things. But quite aware of the fact that every few seconds, Eve would glare at the two of them from her own seat further down the table. Fyre joined them shortly after they had gotten their meal, as had Valarie. Although, the former had only stayed long enough to grab food to bring to Tasha's room. Luna shared an amused look with Torrin at that.
" Eve's just upset now. She'll get over it," Luna said, continuing their dinner conversation as they headed out of the crumbling Abbey for a tour of the defenses.
"Well, if I were her, I wouldn't,” Torrin admitted. “When I was out on patrol, I kept wondering how I was going to be pleasant to the both of you when I got back."
Torrin did feel badly for Eve. But she wouldn't give up those peculiar,
giddy, and contentment- filled emotions that made her want to grin all the time.
She slowly brought up a finger and tapped her heart. So this must be what feeling
happy was like.
Luna grinned as she studied the smaller woman's profile. Impulsively she leaned forward and captured Torrin's lips in a quick kiss. "Come see what we've done for the defenses while you've been laying on your back."
"Well, I admit lying on my back would have been more productive if you had been there." She laughed as Luna turned faintly red. "Okay, show me what you've been up to."
Luna recovered from her blush and swatted Torrin on the side. With understandable pride, she began to show the dark-haired woman what work had been done so far. The crumbling outer wall of the Abbey had been fortified and reinforced. Several catapults were in varying stages of assembly inside the courtyard. Warriors patrolled the top of the wall, on the constant look out for more assassins.
Torrin whistled. "My, my... you have been busy." She nodded her approval. Then she nervously cleared her throat. "At Abnoa, she had Rya's Hawks take the back wall. We scaled it with the climbing claws and infiltrated the castle while your troops were all focused on Khelin's main army." Torrin looked at her feet, unable to look at Luna.
"Hey." Luna touched Torrin's chin, drawing her face up until she could meet those gray eyes. "I know that." She nodded toward the sheer cliff face behind them. "We'll have archers ready to take down anyone who tries it this time though. We also are going to have vats of boiling oil ready to toss down the walls. Something we didn't have at Abnoa."
With a tug and nodding to the guards on duty, she drew Torrin out of the Abbey and into the Ellris Pass itself. As large as the Abbey grounds were, the Pass was going to be the main battle area. A long, deep trench had been dug along the top of the pathway and the resulting dirt was used to make an earthen wall behind it. Spikes planted in the bottom of the trench and along the top of the wall pointed southward.
"We need to stop her from crossing through the Pass," Luna said, shrugging.
Torrin smiled as she looked at all the extensive preparations. "I guess we're ready for war then." And for a brief, surprising moment, she felt sad. Normally before a battle, she felt nothing. She felt Luna reach for her hand.
The Ranger slid their fingers together and clasped them tightly. "We won't fail. We can't," she whispered.
Torrin squeezed Luna's hand. "We won't fail," she whispered back, "I'm the Betrayer, remember? From me, Queens will be made and destroyed, and I'm not choosing Khelin." She didn't know why those words had come to her just now. They stirred something deep inside her.
"From you, eh?" Luna whispered. How different this time was than the last time she had stood guard before a battle. Drawing Torrin close, she slid her hands down her side, and then pulled her closer. Dipping her head, she claimed Torrin's mouth, moaning appreciatively.
"Hmm?" Torrin mumbled as Luna claimed her mouth, and then she forgot everything else. She slid her hands around and down, grabbing and pulling the woman in to her body tighter. She couldn't get enough of Luna. She wanted to touch the taller woman everywhere, and taste the skin on her throat, stomach... everywhere.
Luna let out a surprised hum as Torrin pulled her closer, then lost track of everything as Torrin's tongue started to do wonderful things to her. She shivered and ran her fingers through Torrin's short dark hair. Despite the difference in height, they fit together well, and Luna gasped at the heat she felt when she slid a toned thigh between the other woman's legs. A tendril of discomfort wound its way through Luna's mind, but she pushed it aside, determined to enjoy the moment. Tugging on Torrin's shirt, she pulled it free and slid her hands underneath it.
Torrin felt like she was on fire as the Ranger's fingers danced across her side and upwards. Slowly, part of the ex-mercenary's brain realized that they were outside, in full view of anyone on patrol, and she gradually stopped what she was doing. Torrin whimpered as Luna's hands found a sensitive spot.
"Luna,” Torrin panted, “not that I want to stop... because trust me, I really really, really don't want to... but I'm not sharing this moment with anybody."
The blonde stilled her hands, and then reluctantly let go of Torrin with a sigh of regret. "We're outside, aren't we?" Luna murmured. She glanced around in the moonlight.
Torrin nodded against Luna's chest. Already she was starting to hate this new sense of nobility.
"Want to go see how Tasha is doing?" Luna asked as she pressed a kiss to the top of the dark head nestled against her. She wrapped her arms tightly around Torrin and hugged her, enjoying the warm feelings that spread through her.
Torrin pouted, then after a moment, sighed, "Yes, let's go see how the one-armed wonder is doing. I bet she's managed to get Valarie pinned to the bed."
A day later, a messenger falcon brought the news that they had all been expecting. Khelin's army was on the move and would be at the southern base of the Ellris Pass by the following night. The mood in the Abbey was tense and brooding with most of the women getting ready by going over gear and weapons, mentally preparing for the battle ahead, and spending time with loved ones.
The Clan of Fire, however, was throwing a bash outside in the newly blooming gardens. Laughter and drink flowed freely. They were warriors through and through. If they fell tomorrow, then they died being who they were and doing what they loved to do.
Torrin grimaced as drunken women jostled her again. She really didn't want to be here but had promised Fyre that she would stay for a while. She sighed as she looked around. She had hoped Luna would come, but so far, the woman was a no show. “Probably stuck in some stupid meeting,” she muttered to herself.
As a hand grabbed her by the waist and pulled her out of the mass of people, Torrin gave a small smile of relief. Turning around, she expected to see Luna, but instead, found herself face to face with Adrian. She tried to step away, but Adrian's hands only tightened and she could smell the ale on the other woman's breath.
"Hey, Torrin. Long time no see," the fire warrior slurred.
"Uh, yes." She looked around hoping to find some one to help her out but saw no one she knew. With a sigh, she realized she was probably going to have to hurt Adrian.
Oblivious to Torrin's search for escape, Adrian continued. "We should be together." She stroked Torrin's cheek.
"But no, that bitch Luna had to step in.” She tried to focus on Torrin's face. “Honestly, what has she got that I don't?"
Torrin rolled her eyes. "Adrian, I really want you to let go of me, because I don't want to hurt you. Tomorrow we're going to need every warrior and if I do, well, you won't be in any shape to fight."
"Really? You think you're that much better than I am?” Adrian snorted. “See how that bitch Luna has changed you? You didn't feel that way with me earlier.”
"Adrian, that was just sex. It had no meaning. There was definitely no intent on my part for an encore performance, so just let it go. I'm very happy now and if you'd grow up, you'd find someone who makes you feel the same way too." Torrin tensed as she felt Adrian shift her hand to the back of her neck.
Adrian gave an ale-scented burp. "But I have found someone."
Torrin was ready to protect herself, but instead of the choking she was expecting; Adrian pulled her head down for a kiss instead. Shocked, Torrin stood there dumbly and let Adrian kiss her.
The news the southern army was on the move created quite a stir in camp. It had taken hours for Luna to soothe people and remind them, repeatedly, that this was what they had all been waiting for. Finally, much later than she'd expected, she managed to make her way to the Fire Clan's war party. She saw no sign of Torrin so the Ranger set out in search for her companion.
She found her in a dark corner of the ruins not far from the dancing going on around the bonfires. "Torrin?" Luna called, not sure what to make of the sight in front of her.
The sound of Luna's voice freed Torrin from her shock. She pushed Adrian away and spun around. "Luna?" Torrin paled seeing it was indeed Luna. "That... this... Adrian...um, it's not what it looks like." She mentally slapped herself at the lameness of the words.
Luna looked back and forth between the two of them. She wanted to believe Torrin. Like Torrin did when Eve had grabbed her. But, still... she tried to push away her confused feelings.
Adrian stood back up with a drunken wobble and laughed. "Sure it was. She was kissing me."
Torrin glared at Adrian.
"Torrin?" Luna asked, ignoring the drunken Fire warrior.
Torrin's mind raced trying to find words to explain but somehow they kept swimming out of reach. She stammered, "We weren't kissing.” She watched Luna's eyebrows arch. Torrin rambled on quickly, “Well, we were, but it was a one-sided kiss because Adrian kissed me... I was not participating. Actually, I thought she was going to try and choke me, so when she pulled me down for a kiss I was caught off guard..."
Adrian just laughed and reached out for Torrin. "Oh, come on Torrin, just tell the Ice Queen you're better off with me." Losing her balance, she fell backwards into the crumbling remains of an old wall.
With a contemptuous look at Adrian's sprawled figure, her fingers curled into fists ready to pummel the drunken Fire warrior, Luna said, "I'm going back to my room." As she stalked away, her icy gaze slid over Torrin's red face.
Torrin watched Luna's retreating back and felt her heart fall into her stomach.
"Oh looky, the Ice Queen ran off." Adrian reached up, grabbed Torrin's arm and pulled herself back to her feet. "You really want to be with someone who won't even fight for you?"
Torrin growled. Grabbing Adrian's wrist, she turned to face the warrior while twisting the arm at the same time. Grimacing at the sudden pain, Adrian fell back to her knees. Torrin stared down at the woman in contempt.
"There is no 'you and I'. Get that through your thick skull! I want to be with Luna. I will never be with you,” she snarled. “And you better pray I can fix things with Luna or I will make sure you never fight again.”
Adrian eyes widened as fear worked its way into her ale-addled brain.
Seeing that she had made her point, Torrin let go of her arm and ran off after Luna.
Luna was in her room by the time Torrin caught up with her. She was standing at the window, staring at the newly repaired Abbey walls, and the warriors who endlessly patrolled them. She didn't turn around as she heard Torrin enter, nor did she say anything. She knew this really wasn't as different as her incident with Eve, but it still stung to see Torrin with someone else. She didn't know what or even how to say the thoughts that raced through her confused head.
Torrin stood and fidgeted for a moment then became more distressed as Luna continued to ignore her. Finally, she spoke in a soft voice. "Luna?"
"You didn't have to leave the party," Luna said quietly, forcing her fingers to uncurl from the fists she had made.
"Yes I did. I upset you. I can't just stay there while you're here being upset because of me." Torrin replied.
Luna turned around. A plan formed in her mind. She was not going to let the likes of Adrian to take Torrin away from her. "I need some wine. Want some?" she said at last, moving over to the side table and pouring a goblet for each of them. Her hands were trembling slightly as she did.
Torrin blinked in surprise. "Okay," she said, then took the goblet from Luna. "Are you okay?" She asked, not sure what was going on.
The Ranger didn't answer, draining most of her goblet before setting it aside.
"I just think it's time for bed," she said instead. The warmth of the wine had stilled the shaking in her fingers and she was able to undress without visibly trembling. In the light from the moon, she tossed aside the furs wraps they wore to keep warm and started to undo her tunic and pants. She moved slowly purposefully as she stripped in front of Torrin.
Torrin coughed as she took a sip, spilling it down her face and chest. Setting the goblet down, she wiped the wine off. "Um..." Forgetting what she was going to say as she watched Luna undress. Torrin's eyes got large at the show in front of her. Shaking her head, she got her thoughts back on track again. "Ah, um... don't you want to talk about earlier?” Her libido was screaming at her to forget the questions and move closer to the nearly naked woman in front of her, but her gut kept telling her something was wrong. Fumbling for the goblet, she brought it up and took a healthy swallow.
Luna let the last article of clothing drop to the ground, her blue eyes almost cobalt in the faint moonlight. The silvery glow highlighted her tall lean frame as she moved toward Torrin. Without saying a word, she took the goblet from the mercenary and set it aside. Taking Torrin's hand in hers, she drew her toward the bed.
Torrin let her. She knew there was some reason why this wasn't a good idea right now, but for the life of her, she couldn't think of what it was. As they sat on the bed, she licked her dry lips and took in Luna's stunning, moonlit body.
Long fingers began to undo Torrin's shirt, sliding under the fabric to touch warm skin. Luna leaned closer, her breath hot on Torrin's ear. "Do you like what you see?" She whispered, her lips teasing Torrin's earlobe before pressing kisses to her neck.
Torrin squirmed and her breathing ragged as Luna's hands touched her skin. "Yes. I like what I see very much. You're beautiful," she whispered back.
"Then what are you waiting for?" Luna asked, her fingers sliding up over Torrin's chest and cupping her firm breast.
Torrin blew out a breath. She placed her hand over Luna's, stilling it. "Are you sure you want this?" she asked. Inwardly, she was amazed she had that much self-control left.
The Ranger leaned back, her long blonde hair hiding most of her face. "Don't you?" she purred as her other hand slid down between Torrin's legs, feeling the heat there.
Torrin moaned, torn between jerking away or toward that hand. "Yes, I want this,” she gasped. She ripped off her shirt, tossed it somewhere into the room, and laid down on the bed as she tried to get her boots off.
"Let me," Luna said, proud that her voice didn't waver. Sliding her hands down the length of Torrin's legs, she grasped the boots, pulled them down, and then tossed them aside. The dark-haired woman's pants quickly followed. Soon there was nothing between them but bare skin. Luna trembled as she lowered herself onto the bed next to Torrin.
Torrin sighed in pleasure as a naked Luna slid up against her. She felt her heartbeat as it pounded in her chest. Slowly she kissed her, letting her mouth and tongue convey what she couldn't say.
Luna lost herself in that kiss. Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as she had feared. Pressing herself against Torrin, she let herself be swept away by the emotions that Torrin's body was expressing. Her fingers traced patterns along the smaller woman's side and chest, then up along her breast, circling erect nipples.
Torrin groaned as Luna touched her chest. It was something she had wanted Luna to do for so long. Gently she stroked Luna's sides and then down her backside. Letting her hands come upward a second time, she lightly trailed her hands under Luna's breasts without touching them. Then she caressed the valley of skin between them before slowly moving her hands and cupping each breast while being careful to ignore the hardening nipples.
With the heat of their touching bodies, her heart racing, and hands shaking, Luna trembled beneath Torrin's touch. She refused to give in to the painful memories that hovered just outside her consciousness. Luna drove them away by immersing herself in Torrin... her taste, her smell, and the feel of her beneath her lips and fingers.
Torrin was on fire. Her skin burned and desire flared throughout her veins. Her groin throbbed and all sensations came to a boil. Gently, she rolled them over so she was on top and Luna was easier to touch and feel. With a moan, she kissed and tasted the skin on Luna's throat and collarbone.
On the bottom, Luna turned her face to the side, biting her lip at the memories it triggered. It was hard to distinguish between what was happening to her now and her past with Khelin. Her thoughts struggled to keep up them apart. But desperate to give Torrin what she thought the ex-mercenary wanted, Luna forced herself to lay there, her hands urging Torrin on.
Torrin could feel her desire coat her upper thighs and whimpered as she started to kiss down Luna's body. Her hands were stroking everywhere, never staying in one spot. She wanted to map Luna's body into her. As her right hand caressed the flesh on Luna's upper inner thigh, she paused as she felt raised, smooth flesh that shouldn't be there. At first she thought it was a birthmark. But it wasn't. Torrin knew how branded skin felt. She had one too.
Luna went still, not wanting to see the look on Torrin's face.
Torrin removed her hands from the mark. She sat back on her knees and looked up at Luna. Finding Luna's face hidden away from her she moved off her and slowly lowered her body down next to Luna's. "Are you okay?" she asked in a quiet voice.
"I can't give you what you need," Luna whispered, her voice deep with anger and sadness. "I can't." Sitting up, she snatched a blanket and wrapped it around herself as she prepared to flee out the door.
"Luna, don't..." She knew she could grab Luna, but right now, that would only make things worse. Staring at Luna's back she said, "Luna, don't run away from me. Please."
Luna's shoulders heaved as she sucked in needed air. It took everything in her to stay seated where she was. "The last..." She faltered for a second then went on. "The last night I was in Thulis, Khelin did... things."
The blonde shivered, her mind skirting around many of the things that had happened that night. "As she finished with me, she took a piece of metal with her brand on it, heated it up in front of me then she..." Her voice failed her and she hung her head, tears leaking out from tightly closed eyes.
Torrin had closed her eyes during Luna's recounting of the events so firmly etched into her own mind. When Luna stopped talking, she got out of the bed and stood in front of her. Clearing her throat so Luna would know she was there, she placed her hands gently on Luna's shoulders to give the woman the option of rejecting her comfort.
For a second Luna didn't react. Then, with a strangled cry, she buried her head in Torrin's chest. With tears flowing freely from her eyes, she cried for the past, for her parents and for the youth she had given up to Khelin during those nights in Thulis.
Torrin held Luna close and whispered, “It's okay. It's over now. She can't hurt you again.” When she felt Luna's tears stop, she gently took Luna's hand in her own and brought it up to the brand of the serpent coiled around a sword on her arm. "I understand completely. This marks me. Anyone who sees it knows me for what I am. And I can never get rid of it. It's forever seared on my skin."
"If..." Luna took a deep breath and forced herself to say the words. "If you need to be with someone else, like Adrian, you could..." She couldn't even finish the sentence.
Torrin sighed and shook her head. She grabbed Luna's hand again and brought it up to her lips, kissing the palm. "I don't want Adrian. I don't want anybody else. I only want you." She kissed Luna's palm again and let the hand go. "I'm not going anywhere. And when you're ready, we'll move at your pace." Torrin marveled at her words. When had she become so understanding? When had someone else's needs become greater than her own? It had to be Luna. Somehow the woman had changed her into someone she hardly recognized.
Luna gave her a weak smile, her blue eyes shining with another wave of unshed tears. Shaking her head, not trusting her voice, she held Torrin tightly for a few minutes then slowly let her go. Finally she whispered, "Then how about we go to sleep?"
Torrin nodded and slid back into bed.
Torrin was cranky, so ill tempered the next day that the women of the Abbey were desperate to avoid her. Torrin tried to feel remorseful, but then again, it wasn't her fault that her libido had gone from go to stop so fast she still ached from it. She was proud of herself for putting Luna's needs and fears first. It gave her an unfamiliar warm and good feeling. But that didn't change that fact her libido was upset. Finally, she went down to the bathing chamber, stripped down and much to the horror of the other women present, dropped her body into an unheated pool. With a sputtering gasp, she lifted her head out of the water, her teeth chattering from the cold water. Her eyes narrowed, she was so going to kill Khelin.
Torrin started to smile at an archer as she made her way out to the Abbey wall then stopped as the woman dropped her gaze and gave Torrin a wide berth. Torrin shrugged inwardly, she was feeling much better now. Her hair was still slightly damp as she made her way over to Luna. She was proud she had healed so quickly. Her limp was hardly noticeable. The stitches in her shoulder had been taken out the other day and while the muscles were stiff, she had a full range of movement. The only thing that scared her was her eye. She had managed to hide from everybody the fact that she was nearly blind in her left eye. And after her tumble into the tree, her sight was nothing but murky grey shadows when she closed her right eye.
Luna stood on the edge of the newly repaired Abbey walls. Her winter cloak flapped around her as the cold wind tugged on it. Below her, she could just see Khelin's army emerging from the trees. From where she stood, they seemed to be nothing more than little colorful dots. If only they were as harmless. Her shiver had little to do with the cold. Sighing, she glanced about noting the hurried last minute preparations around her.
As they had all morning, her thoughts once again turned to the night before. She didn't know what to feel or think about it. She tried to offer herself to Torrin, to give the dark haired woman what she wanted, but just hadn't been able to. And now... now Torrin knew her awful secret. How the Southern Queen had branded her like a slave. Torrin had been kind and understanding. But still... Luna shook her head at her confused feelings. Despite herself, the blonde felt her lips tilt into a smile when she caught sight of Torrin trudging toward her. The ex-mercenary's wet hair was evidence of a recent bath and Luna had the sudden urge to run her fingers through those short dark locks.
"The wind is cold up here," she called out in warning.
Torrin made a face. "It's the north, Luna. It's always cold," she replied as she made her way up to where Luna was standing.
Silently the Ranger made room, and after a moment of indecision, wrapped her cloak around them both. It was a beautiful spring day, not a cloud in the sky, and the sun warmed the rock around them. The clear air gave them a good view of the activity in the valley below. She nodded down at the Pass. "She's coming."
Torrin smiled as Luna enclosed her with her cloak. With that one move, Luna rested her fears about any awkwardness between them after last night's adventure. After a moment, and not caring who saw, she leaned over and kissed Luna's cheek, then turned to look out over the wall. She closed her left eye to see better and saw Khelin's army slowly moving toward them.
"How are you feeling?" Luna asked quietly.
Torrin opened her eye and turned her attention away from the Pass to Luna. "I'm okay," she answered. She studied Luna's face. "And how are you doing?"
"Better." To her surprise, it was the truth. Wrapping her arm tighter around Torrin's shoulder, she held the other woman firmly, enjoying the shared warmth. She softly murmured into the smaller woman's ear, "How are your injuries?"
"Mmmm, they're okay,” she said while sliding her hand around Luna's waist. “A little stiff perhaps, but getting better each day.” She grinned. “Nothing that will stop me from going out into the fray for a little hack and slash."
The taller woman frowned at that, but Luna knew Torrin better than to say anything. Instead, she gazed down the slope, studying what was obviously a field camp that the Southern army was setting up at the base of the Pass. With every hour, her estimate of the Southern force grew. "There are so many of them," she whispered.
"Yes, there is. But we have a lot of things to our advantage so don't lose faith." Torrin said, giving Luna a soft squeeze.
"I haven't yet," she replied with a grin and returned the squeeze. "What are you doing right now?"
"Copping a feel. Was I doing it wrong?" Torrin asked innocently.
Luna laughed and drew the attention of the nearby warriors who shared amused glances and went back to what they were doing. "How about we go cop a feel inside, where it's warm?”
Torrin grinned and started bounding down the stone steps. Half way down she looked back up, "What are you waiting for?"
With one last glance down the valley, Luna shook her head. "Nothing."
Khelin was pleased.
Things were starting to get back on track. The infernal northern winter was well behind them now, with spring in full flower. The Southern Queen glared up at the mountains in front of her. There was still snow up on those peaks, and she had no doubt it would be damn cold in the mountain pass itself.
Despite that, she would crush the northern army beneath her. Then it was only a matter of time before she would be in the northern city and their magical relic would be hers. Then she would rule everything. Her Mother will be so proud.
Her grin made the nearest of her warriors so uneasy that they decided to go help set up the base camp.
Teryasa coughed softly hoping to get her Queen's attention. She also hoped she was just far enough away should the Queen decided to start swinging with that dark sword of hers.
Patting the neck of the dark horse she was sitting on, Khelin glanced down at the woman hovering nearby. "What?" she snapped.
"Um..." Her mind went blank. Why did the last advisor have to go get herself killed? "Oh, um, I have a report for you, my Queen."
"Go on," Khelin drawled, dark eyes watching the woman with barely veiled contempt. Why did she always have to put up with these scribes? Life would have been so much simpler if she could rely on her warriors to do everything.
Teryasa cleared her throat. "We believe that the Northern army has set up a base at an old Abbey at the top of the Pass. From all reports, we should have no trouble defeating them and descending into the valley beyond. The Troops are moving well, only a few falling to sickness. The cannons are slow to navigate but they are moving up the pass. Um..." She trailed off.
Dark eyes narrowed ominously. "Yes?"
"Well, um, we've lost a lot of slaves and a few scouts to traps set in the trail, but it is a manageable loss of life. Your troop strength is still glorious." She was shaking as she finished her report.
A gauntlet-covered hand flexed, the reins she held, creaked. "It better be," Khelin purred. She had stripped the southern lands bare of warriors, demanding tribute from every land under her rule. There had never been such an army assembled. She dismissed the loss of the slaves with hardly a thought; they were good for little else.
"Oh yes, my Queen. Your army is still the greatest that has ever been. She cleared her throat nervously again. “Tomorrow early afternoon the cannons should be up here with us."
Khelin nodded, dismissing the woman with a sneer.
"Good." Her gaze turned once again toward the pass above her. The sheer mountain cliffs to either side meant she had to go through that pass. If she squinted a little, she could make out the form of a building. Probably the Abbey the Northerners were using. It would make an excellent target for her lovely cannons.
"Wait," she snapped as Teryasa started to move away.
The advisor halted the blood running from her face. She turned slowly around. "Yes, my Queen?"
"Find me the leader of the mercenaries. Time the dogs earned their scraps." Khelin smiled at her own joke, her gaze never leaving the pass in front of her.
"Yes, my Queen. Right away." Teryasa took off as quick as her short legs could take her to find the Merc leader.
After a few minutes, Rya strode over to Khelin, her steps confident and her posture relaxed. The advisor followed behind, hiding behind the thick Mercenary.
Rya grinned at the Queen but it didn't reach her eyes, "You wanted to see me?"
"Tomorrow we will begin the battle," Khelin pronounced. She would wait no longer than that to crush the northern army. "Tonight I want your people to pay them a visit." Her expression was bloodthirsty as she turned to look at the mercenary. "Make them bleed and demoralize them for tomorrow."
Rya glanced over squinting to make out the Abbey. "A little slash and dash. We can do that. Usual fee," she replied matter-of-factly.
"Fine," Khelin sneered. "Double if you bring back the head of their leader."
Rya frowned, "I make no promises to do what your shadows could not, but we will slash and dash tonight. Now if you excuse me, I have to go prep my Hawks."
Khelin waved her away; contented that blood would finally flow tonight.
Rya gave a short bow and walked off, her mind busy making plans for an effective attack.
The sun did not linger long in the northern sky. It would be a while yet until the long, hot days of summer would come. Twilight gave way to darkness. The night lit only by the full moon above. The northern camp was restless. Many warriors prowled the walls of the abbey, while even more helped to bring up supplies from the river. A never-ending procession of non-combatants had taken over the task of supplying the northern fighters. There was stillness to the air, as if the earth itself was aware of the battle soon to come.
Torrin couldn't sleep. She stared at the ceiling and listened to Luna breath next to her in bed. Normally that was a comforting sound, one that lulled her to sleep in a matter of heartbeats. Again, another oddness she mused, since she was not use to this intimate closeness. She fought the urge to wiggle around and then finally eased herself out of the bed. Maybe it was the battle to come. Maybe it was being so close to Luna while her libido was on overdrive, but whatever it was, she just couldn't sleep.
She covered carefully Luna not wanting to wake her. She knew Luna needed all the sleep she could get. Quietly Torrin got dressed and slid her sword into the scabbard before leaving the room.
In the deep shadows created by the light of the full moon, the Hawks studied the stone walls in front of them. While not as impressive as the castle walls at Abnoa, these were more heavily guarded.
Rya frowned, it was almost if they were aware of the possibility of what her Hawks could do. But that was impossible. In the South, a defender might try to out guess her, but in the North there was no way. Unless... Rya's eyes narrowed then shook her head. Even if Torrin had managed to survive the Assassins, there was no way her Baby Bird would give up the secrets of the Hawks. After a moment of deliberation, she nodded for Helen's pack to go further down and cause a distraction. Then Nixos' pack and hers would scale the wall here.
Luna turned over in bed but then waking up slowly as she realized that the nice warm body cuddled against her was gone. Sleepily she sat up, squinting around. When she failed to see any sign of Torrin, she grabbed her clothes.
Torrin gave a shudder as the cold night air struck her, and she wondered again why she was here instead of inside in bed wrapped around Luna. She nodded to a guard. "How goes it?"
"Cold and dark," the Fire warrior mumbled, the chain mail she wore jingling as she moved along her patrol.
"Then it's a good night, no one's bleeding yet," she said with a grin.
The guard snorted. "I'd be warm then at least."
“And less bored, but tomorrow will come soon enough and so will your second shift." Torrin's grin got larger and as she turned to leave, she clapped the woman on the back causing the woman's chain mail to jingle.
Torrin froze. That have been the cry of a bird, but her gut told her it was not a sound made by animal, but a human imitation.
"You all right?" the guard asked, turning to look at Torrin as she stopped dead in her tracks.
Quietly Torrin turned and whispered to the guard. "Go get reinforcements. Khelin has sent us a welcoming party."
The guard paused, started to ask a question, then nodded and headed for the main part of the Abbey.
Torrin gestured to some of the guards to join her has she made her way to the edge of the wall her eyes trying to pierce the darkness. "You two see anything?" she asked in a quiet whisper.
The Fire warrior to one side of her shook her head, the helmet she wore shaking with it. The Ranger on the other side leaned further over the edge, frowning. "I don't see anything... but what is that sound?"
There was barely a flicker in the moonlight as the dagger slid straight upwards. The tip sliced through the ranger's throat, then upwards. For an instant the woman tottered on the edge of the wall, then slowly pitched over, tumbling gracelessly down into the darkness.
Torrin backed away from the edge dragging the Fire warrior with her. "I'd say they are right here." She said calmly, "How about we send them some oil and fire?"
The shocked warrior, to her credit, quickly understood what was going on. Snatching at her belt, the older woman raised a horn to her lips and blew a single piercing note into the night. Other horns took up the call around the Abbey and everything was suddenly alive with people.
"To the walls!" was the shout, and large pots of slow boiling oil that had been kept ready at the fires were brought forward.
Torrin could hear the click of the climbing claws on the stone. She drifted away inside herself. She would be attacking and killing women she had once fought side by side with. She shouted for the oil. "A little quicker, please!"
As the first woman's head came up over the wall she stopped in surprise to see Torrin. Then her face became a cold mask and she lashed out with the sharp metal claws attached to her left hand. Torrin avoided the slash and kicked out sending the woman's head snapping back, and then with another kick the woman was gone.
Grunting and cursing warriors carried the heavy pots closer, and then dumped the boiling contents over the side of the wall. All along the wall, oil was tossed downward.
Torrin stared down the wall into the night and listened to the screams of pain, but something wasn't quite right. The Hawks were the best and that had been too easy. As she heard more yells and fighting on her right she realized why - it had been a diversion.
Torrin cursed herself for falling for it. By the Goddess, she should know better.
"Leave the oil, to late for that. To arms!" she shouted as she unsheathed her sword and ran to meet the enemy climbing over the walls.
Torrin ducked and slashed, pared and twisted in a deadly dance of steel. If any of the foes remembered her, they said nothing, just intent on spilling her blood. Spinning away from a desperate slash to her stomach she turned to raising her sword to meet an attack at her back. She winced as metal met metal the blow vibrating along her arm. Her gray eyes met hard brown ones.
"How dare you." Rya spat out. "Tell me are you at least getting a good payment out of this?”
Torrin's eyes slid away from Rya's and she pushed the heavier woman away.
Rya's face turned dark in anger. "How dare you turn your back on us? I raised you, nurtured you in our art, and this is how you repay me?" She slashed out again and again putting Torrin on her guard.
Torrin backed up blocking blows and gave a cold laugh. "Nurtured? You bought me from the Mistress of Shadow's temple. I was an indentured slave for two years with you. I had no choice but to be a Mercenary. Now for the first time, I have a choice to be who I want to be and you want to take that away from me.”
With a scream of rage both women fell at each other their blows coming hard and fast.
Torrin was quicker in getting in kicks and cuts on Rya's muscled arms and legs but nothing life threatening. Rya's blows were heavy, making Torrin's shoulders ache at each block. Around them women on both sides got out of their way not willing to intrude on their deadly dance.
Torrin jumped over a slice to her legs and tsk'd. "That's weak, Rya," she taunted and before the woman could get her sword back into position, Torrin slammed her blade down and pinned her arm to the stone.
Rya cried out in surprise and pain, her sword dropping from unfeeling fingers.
Torrin sneered darkly and kicked the sword away before pulling her own out. "How would you like to have a choice, Rya? Life with you wasn't all bad. You were honorable for the most part, gave me a small taste of what being apart of a family could be like. Treated me well. I think perhaps I could give you a choice." She whipped her blade over to the thick neck stopping it only just before it would have sliced the skin. "Death or chains?" Torrin asked quietly.
Rya laughed. "It's not over yet, Baby Bird." She looked up unafraid into the gray eyes above her, and then shouted "Ferratilis!"
Torrin's eyes went wide in fear as the word of power washed over her. She had not heard that word since the Temple. Muscles bulged as she tried to resist its demands, part of it was training but the other part was the Magic in the word. Before she realized it, she had dropped her sword, fallen to her knees, bowed her head, and clasped her hands behind her back.
A perfect picture of submission.
Luna emerged into chaos, her sword clearing the sheath at her side without conscious thought. "Can't even have one quiet night," she muttered, sprinting with a group of warriors toward the Abbey walls. She ducked a vicious swipe, stabbing her sword up into the gut of the mercenary in front of her. Shoving the dying woman off her blade, she looked around. The fighting around her was dying off as more northern warriors flooded onto the walls. Blue eyes scanning for any sign of Torrin.
Luna squinted against the glow of her sword, blinking as she spotted Torrin further down the wall. "Torrin!" What in the name of the Goddess was she doing?
Rya laughed, stood up and picked up Torrin's sword with her undamaged hand.
"Surprised, Torrin? Do you really think the Priestess would sell me a highly trained killing machine and not sell me the control word to keep such a slave under my command?" She laughed again and drew the sword blade along Torrin's neck making a shallow cut.
"You may have paid off your purchase price to me, but I still own you. I will always own you." The Mercenary rested the sword under Torrin's chin forcing Torrin's head up. "So how about I give you a choice? Death or you return with me?"
Torrin's mind whirled as she tried to get her muscles to move. Slowly her pinky on her right hand became unfrozen, but at this rate it would take forever for the rest of her.
Rya smiled. "Oh, I give you permission to speak."
Torrin opened her mouth slowly as the feeling returned there. She rasped, "Death. I won't betray Luna or any of the women here."
Rya nodded, "Very well." She drew the sword back. "Lucky for you, you keep your sword sharp. I should be able to do it in one quick cut."
Torrin closed her eyes, holding a picture of Luna in her mind to be the last thing that she saw.
Luna watched in horror as she saw the mercenary's sword arch back. They were at least fifty feet away from her. There was no way she would reach them in time. She slid her long, glowing sword into the sheath at her side, ripped the bow out of the hands of the woman next to her, and yanked an arrow from the woman's quiver. In one smooth motion, Luna knocked the arrow, drew it back, and let fly.
The arrow streaked through the air in the blink of an eye. The steel arrowhead, designed to pierce heavy southern armor, hit the mercenary leader in the left eye. It flung her backward, her body sliding to a stop against the edge of the wall. A crimson pool slowly formed around it, dark in the moonlight. As if her death had been a signal, the last of the fighting on the walls ceased. Only a few mercenaries were left to flee back down to the valley below.
Torrin opened her eyes at the noise and stared across to Rya's lifeless body.
Slowly her muscles began to unlock and she felt tears come to her eyes. Her hands unclasped and fell to her sides. Despite her harsh words earlier, she had no bad will toward Rya. War was violent and messy, and that was the kind of world Rya had existed in. And despite the end, there had been times that had been very good between them.
Luna ignored the startled woman next to her, her heart in her throat as she took off at a run toward where Torrin remained kneeling..
"Torrin?" She called out, almost falling off the wall as she stumbled to a stop next to the kneeling woman. "Torrin?"
Torrin slowly moved her head feeling the muscles gradually release. "I'm okay.” Torrin found herself yanked upward into a fierce hug.
"What in the name of the Goddess were you doing?" Luna yelled, but the dark-haired head she was kissing muffled her voice.
Torrin groaned as some of her muscles hadn't relaxed yet. " Sorry to scare you. I didn't have much of a choice," she said into the fabric of Luna's shirt. She looked up and gave a relieved grin, "Thank you for saving me ... again."
"Almost puts us even," Luna replied and grinned despite the organized chaos around them. She glanced down at the bow still clutched in her right hand. "I think I stole someone's bow. A Ranger is never supposed to give up her bow.”
Torrin smiled, "Do you hear me complaining?"
Luna hugged her again. “Let's go see how we fared.”
No one slept for the rest of the night as the wounded were tended to, and the battlements cleared of the dead.
The beginning of the dawn found the two of them preparing for the day to come. There would be a battle this day. Luna was sure of that. She thoroughly wiped and polished the sword she had been entrusted with then moved on to the chain mail armor she would be wearing. Every few seconds, she glanced across the room to her silent companion. Again trying to come up with the words to ask what had happened earlier.
Torrin could feel Luna's eyes on her, questioning, wanting answers to questions she didn't want to answer...before now.
Before this strange, never imagined Northern path she was on, she had little thought about the life she led in the South. She just let it be what went before... the temple, her training with the priestess.
Now, in a short time, so much had changed inside her. Anger didn't rule her so much and she was finding she was a little sad and somewhat ashamed of her past. Rya was a big part of who she had been. The woman had been a good owner, all things considered, but now that she had grown up, she was finding she had a different perspective of that time.
But still, now in this room with Luna, she wasn't sure if she could give voice to her earlier life.
"That was an... ummmm... interesting tactic you used on the wall," Luna finally ventured, wincing at how inane it sounded.
Torrin's mouth went dry. "Um...you know me, full of surprises." She shrugged and picked up her soft undershirt and slowly slid it over her head. She felt the pull of the muscles in her chest but it was not serious, just a twinge to remind her that she had been wounded not that long ago.
"Warn me next time, I don't think I could survive anymore of your surprises," Luna said quietly, setting the polished sword aside. "Want to tell me what happened?" she asked cautiously.
Torrin sighed and sat back on the bed. She looked up at Luna, her gray eyes getting lost in Luna's blue ones. Her eyes dropped down to the messy sheets on the bed. "If you had a vicious guard dog, wouldn't you train it so it wouldn't turn on you?"
Luna's fingers found Torrin's, gently squeezing them in support. She knew she wasn't going to like whatever Torrin was going to tell her, but she had to hear it. "I suppose."
Torrin squeezed Luna's fingers back but didn't look up.
"At the Temple, we are all trained to be efficient fighters, assassins, mercenaries, or whatever word you want to use. We're highly skilled killing machines. Each of us had our own Priestess as a trainer. And in order to assure our compliance or at the very least, if we tried to turn on our trainer, we were given a control word. It's... a..." She trailed off trying to find the right words to describe it. “Um... each word is different for each trainee. It's a word tied to our very essence. It's magical and binds us to submission at its very utterance. When Rya bought me, my trainer at the Temple must have sold her the word as well. So last night, when I had the upper hand, she used it on me, reminding me that I was nothing but a slave that she owned.”
“We've both been branded by the South, each in our own way it seems,” Luna thought. She ducked her head down until she could see Torrin's troubled gray eyes. "You know you're more than that to me, right? More than an ex-mercenary or assassin?"
Torrin gave a weak smile. "I try, but... but sometimes the past seems like it's so heavy. I did some awful things without nary a thought to right or wrong."
"You think about it now, though." Luna said, cupping Torrin's cheek. "Whatever happens today, I'm happy I got to know you, Torrin, Daughter of Tyra."
Torrin soaked up the warmth of Luna's hand on her cheek. "Yes, I think about my past a lot now. I feel like I have new eyes sometimes." She turned her head in Luna's palm and kissed the flesh now under her lips. "I'm happy that I got a chance to know you as well. Even on a day that dawns with the possibility of carnage and horror, there's no place I'd rather be."
Khelin's warriors began the push up the Ellris Pass before sunrise. The slaves went first, exposing the traps set by the northern Rangers. Then came the bulk of the army, each flank covered by the cavalry. Finally, inching their way up the steep incline, were her cannons. It would take most of the day to get them within firing range, but when they did... the Southern Queen smiled. When they did, Northern blood would flow. Until then she would engage the Northerners with her slaves and wave after wave of warriors and mercenaries.
That reminded her.
Turning around she stared at one of the surviving Hawk mercenaries, the sun glinting from the woman's immaculately polished armor. "What happened?"
The scarred woman grimaced and shrugged her shoulders. "They were expecting us. Knew our tricks and had boiling oil to send on the pack making a diversion, then when the others made it up the wall, they were waiting for us."
Khelin scowled. That was unfortunate. She had hoped that the Rya's little pack would have been able to cause a lot of problems. Instead, it seemed they'd managed to do little damage. "Where is Rya?"
"Dead," the mercenary choked out. "One of our own betrayed us. Should have known though, she's part Northerner. She's the one who freed your prisoner at Abnoa. Torrin, she's the Betrayer." The last part was sneered out as a curse.
The Queen stiffened, the color draining from her face. "What?" she demanded. "What did you just say?"
The mercenary looked up at the Southern Queen puzzled. "Torrin, she was one of the Hawks, she has turned into a betrayer."
Khelin paced in a circle, her thoughts whirring. "Impossible," she muttered to herself. "No, it's not possible." Frowning, she whirled on the mercenary. "What else did you see?"
The woman shrugged, "Lots of women with swords wanting to skewer me."
"Useless," Khelin spat, making a motion to the nearby warriors to remove the mercenary. "Take her away."
"Hey!" the woman shouted as she was dragged away.
A wicked little smile crossed her face. "Put her in the front ranks,
with the slaves," Khelin called after them. She dismissed the thought of
the Betrayer. It was impossible. Besides, it didn't matter now. She was so close
As the sun rose and painted the sky a brilliant red, Torrin stood with her head leaning on the cool bark of the oak tree. "Hey. It's me again. I'm off to defeat a much larger Southern army. Um...wish me luck?"
Laughter came from behind her. Torrin whirled around and saw the aggravating dark-haired ghost of her Muanya.
"Daughter, you are the luckiest woman I know."
Torrin glared at her.
Jinete laughed harder. "Who else could defeat the Mistress's Chosen not once but multiple times? Although,” she reflected, “if it wasn't for Luna's prowess with the bow, you'd be fish food now. So, all in all, I'd say you're very lucky."
Torrin scowled harder. "I don't care what Mother says, I don't see how I possibly take after you in anyway."
Jinete smiled at her daughter, "It's a certain cocky arrogance." She stared intently at Torrin and her smile fell. "I can not see the future or its outcome, but heed me well, the sword is not enough. Don't forget your music when things are at their darkest. Don't allow your heart to shut out the thing that means the most to you when all you feel is pain. And in the end, the sword will not be enough. Trust your blood and its heritage." With those words, the ghost of Jinete vanished.
Torrin's mouth fell open. "What... I... you..." She growled in frustration and kicked a rock. "I'm having a Priestess banish all ghosts away from me!" she shouted.
"Torrin?" Luna peeked around the corner into the garden, her blue eyes dark with worry. "It's time. If you're done yelling at trees, that is," she added with a smile.
Torrin looked over to her and rolled her eyes. " Okay and yes, I'm done."
Luna had never seen so many fighters in all her life.
They were a sea filling up the Ellris Pass. First came the slaves, many weaponless, some still shackled. Behind them came mercenaries and fighters, while behind them, in a third wave, she could just see the bright armor of Khelin's own warriors.
The northern forces were in a precarious position. The majority of the warriors were standing on the rough earth wall that stretched across the top of the Ellris Pass. That line was anchored on one side by the old Abbey walls, and on the other, the sheer cliff face of the mountain. Behind the northern lines were the mounted Alcen riders, forming the core of the small northern reserve. They had been charged with containing any possible breakthrough.
All was quiet on the line.
No one spoke. The flags above them flapped loudly in the wind. Luna glanced sideways towards Fyre and Tasha. Tasha had refused to stay away and carried a shield in her uninjured hand. Beside her stood Valarie.
"You okay?" Luna whispered to the smaller woman at her own side, blue eyes never leaving the row upon row of advancing enemy warriors.
Torrin nodded feeling her heartbeat pickup at the sight before her. The Southern army was enormous, bigger now than when she had been a part of it.
Luna licked lips that had gone dry, and watched as the front rows of slaves came to a stop just outside of bow range. They waited there as the other ranks closed up behind them. Knowing it was only a matter of moments, Luna drew her sword, raising it into the air. Up and down the line rangers drew their bows, knocking arrows and aiming skywards. The moment of hesitation, the breath before the storm, seemed to stretch on for an eternity.
Torrin looked out over the slaves searching. No cannons yet but they were coming, Torrin was sure of it. Her eyes paused on the mounted soldiers. "We need to hold back our warriors with the long spears until the cavalry comes into play," she muttered low into Luna's ear.
"As long as we survive the first waves," Luna muttered in return, blue eyes spotting the cavalry behind the rows of slaves and mercenaries. The deep ditch that had been dug in front of the earth wall would help stop them, she hoped.
Torrin nodded and went back to waiting. She wasn't worried about the slaves. They were fodder; not trained in war. The most damage they could do was their dying, as their corpses became breeding grounds for disease.
A single horn, further down the valley, blew a long high piercing note. Like dogs straining at their leash, the first rows of the enemy formation broke into a sprint, screaming as they flowed as a human sea toward the northern lines.
Luna's sword swept down the moment the first of them crossed an invisible point. In response, arrows launched into the sky, arcing up and then down to rain into the unarmored slaves and only slightly more armored mercenaries. There were screams of pain and bodies littered the muddy ground, but the wave kept coming.
More and more arrows rained down in flight after flight as the rangers fired as fast as they could. The air seemed dark with them, but the human wall of slaves continued up the hill.
Further down the Northern line, Luna heard Allysandra yell as she signaled her troops. The Wave Dancers let loose with their crossbows as the enemy swarmed closer, adding to the death and mayhem. As they charged the hill, Luna couldn't help but feel sorry for the slaves.
Grimly she set herself for the coming torrent, spreading her feet and raising her sword. The top of the earth wall was muddy and she hoped she wouldn't slip. To her right, she was reassured by the sight of the archers stationed on top of the Abbey's stone walls.
Then there was no time for conscious thought as the first disorganized ranks broke upon the northern line. Some fell into the ditch, trampled to death by the ones behind them. Those who reached the top of the earthen bank were met with steel blades, and the ground began to run red with blood. The bodies of slaves covered the ground. Behind them came the grim faced mercenaries, a more serious threat with their armor and training.
The sword Luna held glowed faintly in the morning sun as she twirled it, slashing and thrusting. Those who came too close to her lost limbs and lives. Yet again, she felt pity for the slaves. They had no training and no chance. Wiping at her brow Luna glanced upwards. It felt like hours had passed; yet the sun had barely moved across the sky. It was going to be a long, long day.
Torrin gripped her sword so tightly her knuckles turned white. She wished the slaves would break ranks and retreat, or at least flee from their Southern masters instead of this mindless race towards death. There had to be overseers down there, driving the slaves forward. Torrin's eyes scanned the masses looking for a Pitt Master. If they could be taken out, the slaves might break and flee.
There. Torrin's grey eyes caught a flash of a whip wielded by a stocky woman dressed in the South's colors. "There!" Torrin shouted and pointed. "Take down the woman in the blue and silver with the whip!"
The nearest Ranger grunted, drew another arrow from her rapidly emptying quiver and let loose. The Pitt Master went down thrashing, swallowed up in the mass of humanity.
Grey eyes frantically searched the mass of slaves. With that many bodies, there had to be more than the one overseer. "There!" she shouted again pointing out her target. "Find those women among the slaves and kill them. If we are lucky the slaves will break and flee."
Torrin drew her sword to protect the archer as she took out the Pitt Masters.
Up and down the line the order was passed and the Rangers began to hunt their targets. Anyone who bore a whip and the colors of the South became marked. With swiftness shocking for any not familiar with the Northerner's prowess with a bow, the Pitt Masters were culled.
The reaction by the slaves was abrupt as slaves either threw themselves down on the ground pleading for mercy, or fled. The pressure on the northern lines slacked and then died. Luna spared Torrin a pleased grin before the next line of mercenaries arrived.
Torrin winked back at Luna as she brought her sword back up to block a blow.
There were fewer mercenaries than slaves, but these women had actually been trained for battle. The raining arrows and flashing swords cut many of them down, but they did not die alone. All along the line, northern warriors began to fall. The lucky ones merely injured were dragged away to the healers in the Abbey. With every one that fell, the northern line weakened. Twice the mercenaries came at the Northerners, and twice the Northerners flung them back. The ground leading up to the Abbey was covered with the dead and had taken on the smell of death that every battlefield seemed to take on.
Torrin kicked a woman back and then lashed out cutting her cleanly across her neck. As she dropped, another woman took her place, her face dark with anger and rage. "Betrayer!" she shouted as she slashed out with her sword.
Torrin blocked the clumsy blow and shrugged. "I get called that a lot lately." She knew the woman and had served with her under Rya.
"Rya's death is on your hands. May all your oaths rot in your mouth," the woman rambled, her blade trying to get through Torrin's defenses.
"Goyia. I'm not the one who threw you in chains to fight with the slaves. You know the chances you take as a Mercenary. Don't make Rya's death more than it was. Don't sully her memory like this."
They fought back and forth each one seeking an opening.
The woman howled and charged. Torrin spun to avoid the charge and tripped the woman to send her tumbling in the mud. Quickly Torrin stripped the fallen woman of her sword. "Goyia, surrender. Please?"
The woman turned back over, a knife in her hand flashed in the midday sun. The woman was a predictable fighter and Torrin easily avoided her knife. Their eyes met and Torrin nodded sadly as she blocked another blow and then her sword was sprouting out of Goyia's chest. As she pulled the sword out, Goyia whispered one more time "Betrayer."
Despite wanting to help Torrin out, Luna had her own problems. She grunted as she was kicked in the stomach but managed to side step a thrust that would have impaled her. The Ranger had to trust Torrin could take care of herself and as she continued to deflect blows.
Shoving the last of the mercenaries off her own blade, Luna let out a relieved breath as she saw Torrin still standing. She was terrified that another woman would know Torrin's command word. A quick glance down the wall assured her that the northern line held during the last assault, although the Fire Warriors were stretched thinner now.
"Torrin." Luna called out, stepping over two bodies to get to her as the mercenaries regrouped for a third attack.
Torrin smiled tiredly at Luna. "How goes things?"
Luna let out a snort, wiping a hand across her face to clear away the sweat. "We're still here, so pretty good." She kept an eye on the other mercenaries, watching Khelin's troops behind them getting organized.
Torrin looked down at the army. "Eww, she hired Addison's mercs. She's nasty, heard a rumor they're into cannibalism."
The blonde nodded wearily. Nothing would have surprised her when it came to Khelin.
"How sad, there are only a few Hawk's left down there. I thought they would flee with Rya dead." She gave a shrill whistle and seven heads popped up glaring at her.
Torrin gave another one, this one followed by two shorter whistles. She looked at Luna. "We got any money in the treasury?"
Young girls, too small to fight, came up to the warriors on the lines carrying wooden buckets filled with water from the Abbey well and rough bread for the fighters.
"Treasury?" Luna asked with a raised eyebrow, taking the bucket of water from a young girl and offering Torrin first drink. "Some, I guess."
Torrin sipped the water. "Well, with freedom and a few coins and we might get seven new fighters. "She blinked. "Um, if you're okay with them switching sides."
"You think we can trust them?" Luna asked, taking back the bucket and drinking deeply from it.
Torrin shrugged, "Yeah. With Rya dead they don't have a contract and I'm fairly certain Khelin is forcing them to fight. They aren't getting paid so they have no loyalty. You probably wouldn't want them wandering around unescorted, they're not fond of me right now, but give them to a few of the Fire Warriors..."
"Very well." Luna handed the half full bucket to the next warrior. "First one that calls you a Betrayer, though, gets killed
Torrin nodded, then gave a low whistle that sounded like the cry of a hawk.
A couple of the mercs looked nervously up at Torrin.
Torrin scowled and whistled again. "Cover them with some arrows. I don't think Addison will like them coming up here."
Luna nodded. Leaning down she spoke quickly to one of the girls. With a motion she sent her running back to the Abbey and to the archers on the stone walls. Fyre!” She called, raising a hand to get the attention of the head of the Fire Clan.
Fyre grunted and got up from where she was checking on one of her warriors. "What?"
"Torrin's going to recruit some warriors for you," Luna answered.
Fyre nodded. "Okay, but I don't want any little girls." She went back to checking her warriors.
Luna just shook her head and shrugged. "I guess that is a yes. Just tell me when you need the distraction, Torrin."
"If the other mercs make an aggressive move toward those seven, we'll need an arrow storm,” Torrin replied.
It was going to be difficult, Luna thought, since the mercenaries were almost out of bow range.
Finally, the remaining seven Hawks began to edge up toward Torrin.
Torrin frowned as a tall dark-haired Mercenary shouted something at the Hawks. "I'm thinking that's Addison and I'm guessing I'm not the only bastard from a Northern- Southern meeting. Why couldn't I get the height?"
Luna looked down at her friend with a fond smile. "Is this a bad time to tell you I like how short you are?"
Torrin grinned back wickedly. "I'm not complaining, really. At this height I have easier access to your breasts." She wiggled her eyebrows.
Luna's laugh caused more than a few nearby heads to turn toward them curiously. "Hold that thought," she said.
"Don't worry, it's all I think about. That thought isn't going anywhere." Torrin turned her attention back to the mercenaries.
The Hawks came up the hill holding their muddy, dirty hands up to show they were not armed although Torrin knew that could change in a heartbeat.
The nearby Northerners watched them warily and more than a few arrows were aimed in their direction.
" Hey you louts, move faster! Addison is looking like she's going to blow," she shouted to the Hawks.
Addison, just now realizing that she was losing some of her human shielding for her own mercs, reached for her sword. "Hey! Get back here!" she shouted.
"Here we go," Luna muttered as a group of mercenaries separated from the rest of the pack and set out at a run toward their defecting comrades. Raising her hand, she waved to the rangers on the wall of the Abbey.
Torrin grunted. "Hold on that. Addison was too slow on the uptake. Don't waste any arrows. She can't get to them in time now."
The pack that had set out at a run seemed to realize it at the same moment and slowed to a walk, turned around and then heading back to their line. Slowly Luna let her hand drop.
Addison was just about to wave more of her women forward when she realized it wasn't worth the effort. She snorted, she'd just be sure to snack on them when they were still alive.
Luna squinted against the glare of the sun, taking in the unusual sight of the next wave of mercenaries. It took her a moment to realize the bones hanging from many of them looked human. "Cannibals, you said?" Luna asked grimly, drawing her sword as the mercenary line finished organizing itself.
Torrin nodded. "That's the rumor. I told you I was very thankful Rya bought me from the Temple and not some other band of mercs."
The blonde sighed. She didn't want a reason to be thankful to the dead mercenary leader. Further down the Pass was a sight that made her blood run cold. She could just make out the forms of Khelin's cannon's as they slowly moved up the sharp incline. "There they are," she muttered, returning her attention to the arriving mercenaries.
Torrin glanced down the road and then leaned over lightly kissing Luna's cheek. But to someone watching, it could have been a secret conversation being whispered. Torrin straightened and turned to her one-time comrades-in-arms. They glared at Torrin.
The Ranger couldn't help but smile at the kiss, and she didn't bother wiping that smile from her face as she stood at Torrin's back, hand on her sword hilt.
Torrin nodded her head in understanding at the glaring women. "I offer no apologies for the other night. As a former mercenary, I know you all know the risks of what you do. That you run the risk of dying." She was encouraged that they remained standing there, listening to her. "I'm offering you a contract. I know with Rya dead, her contract and thereby, your contract, with Khelin is no more. I know Addison is down there ordering you around and that you are now little better than slaves. I'm making you each, individually an offer. Each of you can take it or go back down there to die."
The ex-Hawks grumbled a bit but still listened.
"With Luna's consent, I can offer you freedom and coin if you join with us and help us fight the Southern invaders."
"Right, Torrin." A woman sneered. "Now, as well as being a Betrayer, you're insane. Have you seen Khelin's army? She's going to make you a bloodstain."
Luna caught Fyre's eye and nodded toward the standing mercenaries.
Fyre rolled her eyes but came up behind the woman and picked her up easily.
Torrin sighed. "Put her down, Fyre."
Fyre grumbled and put the mouthy woman down then gave her a quick parting punch to the kidneys.
The woman staggered, grimacing in pain.
"Next one who calls Torrin the Betrayer gets an arrow in the throat for her trouble," Luna said quietly, meeting the eyes of each of the mercenaries to make sure they understood.
"No, it's okay. I am the Betrayer and that's a good thing," Torrin said, a plan forming in her head.
"What?" Luna exclaimed.
"I was destined to be the Betrayer, and from me 'would Queen's be made or destroyed'. Are any of you aware of that prophecy?"
Most shook their head, but two nodded, their eyes going wide.
"Torrin..." Luna started, shifting a bit uneasily at where this was going.
"And, because I'm the Betrayer, I can promise you that I'm going to destroy the Southern Queen. That's why I'm not worried about Khelin and her army. So what is your answer?" she asked looking each woman in the eye.
Luna sighed. There went any chance of stopping people from calling Torrin, The Betrayer. "Decide quickly," she said instead, with a glance toward Addison's mercenaries who were starting to move toward the northern defenders.
A thick woman with a broken nose shrugged. "Food's got to be better than the scraps Addison was giving us."
The rest followed after that.
Torrin grinned but knew better than to clap any of them on the shoulder or back. She was no longer one of them. She had made her decision and had no regrets.
"Very good. Fyre will take care of you. Follow her."
"From me, Queens will be made or destroyed, huh?" Luna whispered as the last of the mercenaries were led away to strengthen other parts of the line.
"Well, that's what the priestess said. Might as well make use of some creepy negative prophecy and turn it into a positive. And who knows? I might actually somehow destroy Khelin.” Torrin gave a sheepish grin. “Can't think of anyway right now, but it is possible."
Luna smiled at the shorter woman, her blue eyes lightening for a moment. "You are one of a kind, you know that?" A yell from the mercenaries pulled the Ranger's attention away and she sighed as the massed group of women began to charge toward them.
"Here we go again."
Torrin grinned. "I know and be thankful there aren't more like me out there."
She gripped her sword and turned to face Addison's hordes.
Torrin wiped the sweat off of her face not noticing the smear of red that she streaked on her skin. She was tired and the muscles in her upper chest hurt where her wound had been. She could see the cannons in the distance. They weighed heavily in her mind knowing that they could be fired at anytime and she wondered why they hadn't.
Luna scowled at a bite mark on her arm. "I can't believe she bit me." The blonde gave the dead mercenary at her feet a swift kick, sending the body rolling down into the ditch.
Torrin grimaced and looked over at Luna. "Probably should have a healer flush that. Goddess knows what else they put in their mouth. They could be worse than Rock Wolves."
With a snort a tired Luna stood upright, stretching out the kink in her newly healed side. Shielding her eyes against the noonday sun she stared at where the last of the southern cannons had been wheeled forward. "Frak."
Torrin's head whipped up. "Well, Alcen dung. Incoming!" she shouted.
The first shot out of the new weapon was loud and impressive but fell short. The cannonballs fell into the cluster of Southern mercenaries blowing them into small pieces.
Torrin's heart started beating in her chest once more. "Oh, Goddess. I guess two more shots and they'll have their range worked out."
Luna nodded grimly, certain of that very thing. She watched the southern cavalry begin to shift. "They're going to try to hit us with those damn cavalry of theirs too."
Another loud explosion. This time the cannon ball went sailing over the northern lines.
"Goddess, Luna you were right." Fyre whispered, her face pale. She gulped and then laughed. "I'm giving them one more shot and then they'll get us.”
Torrin made a face. "Spears. I need women with long spears to unhorse those women on horseback. Once on foot they'll be worthless."
"Take Allysandra's women, they're the only one's we can spare right now." Luna told her, even as the third shot slammed into the northern line down from where they stood.
Bodies and earth exploded upwards, raining back down.
"Hold the line!" Luna shouted, raising her sword as the warriors shifted nervously. This was entirely different than facing an enemy face to face.
Torrin eyed the horses wistfully, remembering the time she had ridden one. "All right. Don't die on me, Luna. I have plans for you."
Luna ducked her head and gave Torrin a swift kiss in promise. "You either."
Torrin blinked and gave a goofy grin for a moment. Then she schooled her features. "Good, as long as we are of the same thought on this."
Torrin stared at Allysandra then back out to the wall of horseflesh coming at them. "Well..." she trailed off, thinking. "Okay, crossbows, spears, and then woman on woman combat. Sound like a plan?"
The Wave Dancers gathered behind the northern line were smaller than the Earth Clan women and more slender than their Fire Warrior sisters. Most still wore the attire they had on board their ships, and quite a few carried no armor at all. However, spears and crossbows they knew how to use.
Allysandra raised the long spear she'd been carrying and grinned. "Aye, that works. Let's go, girls. Time to earn our pay."
"We get paid?" One of them shouted back in jest.
"If we can get the first line on horseback down, it should trip up the ones following behind," Torrin noted.
The earth shuddered beneath them as a cannonball slammed into the front of the earthen mound. Each woman turned to watch a cloud of dust rise near the Abbey. Grimly they turned back to the task at hand. They couldn't do anything about those cannons, but they could about the cavalry.
"Spear carriers with me, crossbows behind, and Alcean riders to the flanks!" Torrin shouted. She'd let the crossbows do the work until the riders got to close then they'd go hand to hand. She forced her worry for Luna out of her mind and tried to focus on the chaos at hand.
It was obvious where the southern cavalry was headed. The cannons had blown apart a two-dozen foot wide stretch of the northern line, and the southerners were streaking towards it. The few northern warriors left standing there looked relieved as Torrin and her reinforcements arrived.
As the riders got closer she could feel the ground shake under their hooves. She gritted her teeth as she waited for them to get into range. As she looked out on the approaching riders she noted they weren't really of the Horse People. Their armor was too heavy and bulky. Torrin knew the Horse Lords favored light armor as well as the spear and bow. These women were armed only with swords.
This might play to their favor.
Just as her teeth began to rattle from the pounding hoofs, she looked to Allysandra and then gave the order to fire. "Now!" she shouted.
The front line of Wave Dancers braced themselves as they raised their spears creating a hedge of long spears aimed at the rushing cavalry. The Wave Dancers who were armed with crossbows fired. Although the bolts lacked the range of the northern longbows, they could punch through armor just as well. The heavy bolts sowed chaos in the charging cavalry, sending horses and riders tumbling.
Then the wave slammed up into the wall of spears and everything became chaotic.
Torrin was happy to see the Alcens' long dual horns being just as deadly as their armed riders. This gave them a slight edge over the horses.
Horses and women screamed and bodies covered the blood-soaked ground. The sheer numbers of the Southern cavalry pressed against the northern line, forcing them back step-by-step. For every southerner that the northerners took down it seemed two more took her place.
Allysandra fought her way to Torrin's side, using her spear to unseat a nearby southerner and fling her to the ground. "They're forcing us back!"
"Yeah, I know." Torrin grunted. She wasn't sure what to do. They were doing all they could.
The horseback warriors, sensing a victory, fought harder. More and more of them crammed into the small hole in the northern line, forcing the Wave Dancers back. They bled the southerners for every foot, but they were still giving up ground to them.
The southern cannons roared again, flinging the explosive cannonballs up the Ellris Pass. Three of the cannonballs slammed into the stonewall of the Abbey, sending stones and warriors flying as a section of the wall collapsed into rubble.
But the fourth, as if guided by the hand of fate, went wild. It tumbled erratically as it exited the cannon, slammed into the hard ground just below the northern line and bounced up into the massed cavalry. If the explosion of one of those cannon balls along the top of the northern lines caused mayhem, its explosion in the center of the densely packed cavalry caused a massacre. What the blast did to the southerners was beyond imagining.
Shrapnel cut down a few Wave Dancers, and a shard of metal nearly took off Allysandra's head.
Pieces of horse and warriors were flung about. Warriors missing arms, legs and in some cases, half their bodies, screamed and moaned. Injured horses flopped about on the ground, while others lay still.
Torrin stared out over the destruction. If she hadn't been so far into her detached mercenary role she might have puked on her boots. Instead she just wiped blood and guts off of her body while making sure none of it was hers. Taking a moment to compose herself she looked over at Allysandra. "You okay?"
Allysandra, her tanned face looking decidedly green, nodded slowly. A small cut she'd taken on her forehead bleeding down her cheek. Nearby, several Wave Dancers did heave the contents of their lunch onto the ground. It took only a small push by the Northerners to send what was left of the Southern cavalry rushing back toward the southern lines.
"By the Goddess..."
Torrin watched them go. "Yeah, I'm hoping that was a touch of the Goddess there, although she could have avoided cutting it so close to our own lines."
Wind Walkers were already searching the area for the wounded, dragging away those who could be saved to the doubtful safety of the Abbey.
Torrin watched as the battered and blood-soaked riders wheeled around each other. They looked more like a manageable level now. "Crap. Looks like they're regrouping. I guess they're more afraid of Khelin than another stray cannonball."
Even as they watched, the dreaded cannons fired again, puffs of gray-white smoke drifting up from their muzzles as the low thunder rumbled outwards. A second later all four cannonballs slammed into the side of the Abbey's outer wall, once again reducing a section to rubble.
Torrin flinched at the sound and destruction but calmly picked up a spear from a fallen warrior and hefted it into her hand. "Let's take care of these fools and then we can make plans for those cannons. Are you with me?"
The small group of women, Fire Warriors, Earth Rangers, and Wave Dancers, cheered and raised their weapons skyward in answer.
"Luck saved us the first time, but it won't be luck this time. She shouted to the women looking back at her. “This time were going to push them back with our own might and show them why they should fear the Warriors of the North!"
“Go me,” Torrin thought tiredly before turning to face the oncoming cavalry that had just finished reforming. Strange...the earth doesn't shake so much this time, and my teeth don't rattle. Instead it was an odd feeling that over took her, the vibration of each hoof on the ground seemed to travel up her legs and straight to her heart. The pounding seemed to grow until she could feel her limbs being infused with strength, shaking off her weariness from the long day of battle. Then she heard the whispering. It made no sense, it was of a language in no human tongue, but it plucked at the edge of her consciousness.
Shaking her head Torrin tried to focus on the battle to come. But it was hard to fight the whispering voice at the edge of her hearing. It was driving her crazy. It would almost make sense to her but at the last minute the meaning would elude her.
Once again the Southern cavalry charged toward the northern lines determined to drive a wedge in them and force the northerners aside. There were fewer women on horseback this time, but they were no less determined. There was no trumpet calls or wild grins on the rider's faces anymore but instead grim expressions well aware of the carnage that awaited them.
Torrin shook her head again and took a deep breath. She gripped the spear tightly in both her hands, set her feet and braced for the onslaught.
Then she heard the laugh.
It was out of place, deep and masculine. Frantically her head whipped to the right and then the left. By the Goddess she was losing it and this certainly wasn't a good time for her nerves to go.
"Oh, stop it. You're not losing it."
Torrin turned to the woman on her left. "What did you say?"
The nearby Wave Dancer looked at Torrin as if she had lost her mind. " Um, I didn't say anything," she replied, edging away as much as she could from the dark-haired woman.
The laugh came again. " The gifts of your blood are awakening. Now that you've made your decision, the gifts of my line are open to you."
Torrin looked around. "What the hell does that mean?" she mumbled as she realized it was probably another ghost giving her confusing advice.
"That means, my little one..."
Torrin blinked as Armando appeared on the field in front of the oncoming cavalry.
"... that you should do something to stop this," he said with a wide grin.
Torrin rolled her eyes. "Like what?"
"Tell them to stop."
"Oh, I should probably tell you that you are the only one who can see
and hear me."
Torrin cursed. "Figures."
The women to either side of her, oblivious to her little conversation tensed and raised their spears as the cavalry pounded closer. Crossbows were hurriedly reloaded and aimed.
The whispering got louder to her ears. She fought the urge to cover them from the sound that began to drown out the thunder of the horses galloping towards them. Torrin didn't say anything, determined to ignore the God until the fighting was over. Maybe he'd get run over.
The horse riders raised their voices and screamed a war cry as they swept toward the northern lines. The Fire Warrior near Torrin whispered a prayer to the Moon Goddess.
Finally Torrin couldn't take it any more, she held her head and screamed out, "Stop!" The women on both sides of her glanced at her. Quite certain she had lost her mind. She felt foolish but as the pressure receded in her head she looked around, stunned to see the result of her outburst.
She watched the horses closest to her skid to a stop, sending quite a few riders over their necks to the ground. Others danced away, prancing sideways as their riders tried to urge them forward. Whatever happened hadn't affected the horses behind them but the sudden halt of the first line of cavalry caused the entire Southern formation to dissolve into chaos.
"Nice trick," a warrior to her left said, while one to her right simply stared at the chaos in surprise.
"Um, thanks. It's new," Torrin said after she got her mouth to work again.
Allysandra clapped a hand on Torrin's shoulder, shaking her head. "Whatever you did, keep doing it."
Facing the continual bombardment of cannonballs was a sort of courage that none of the Northerners had ever had to summon before. Luna was proud of them though; none left their spot in the line. She could tell the moment that Khelin was going to send her cavalry into the fray. The Southern cannons stopped firing at the northern line and started to focus their attention onto the stonewalls of the Abbey.
One the four Southern cannons fired and the cannonball arched up over the Southern army, and then slammed down into the outer Abbey wall. The explosion flung pieces of stone high in the air and before their eyes, a section of the wall collapsed into rubble. Luna was moving before her brain gave her body a conscious order.
There had been women on the top of that wall when it collapsed. With the cannons still firing she was certain the Southern forces would not attack her position, but would concentrate on trying to breach the northern lines where Torrin was.
"Start digging!" Luna shouted, sheathing her sword and beginning to frantically toss stones aside.
A twenty-foot section of the old stonewall had collapsed under the bombardment and reduced to a mound of rubble. Healers and nearby warriors rushed to help her, forming a line to toss aside rocks in an effort to reach any survivors.
Two more hits caused another section of wall to collapse, and a near miss almost killed them all. Luna was beginning to hate the whistling sound of an incoming cannonball.
"Here's one!" Healers rushed toward the bloody Fire Warrior who was being pulled from the debris. Another was found and tugged free, then a ranger and a stunned young girl who had been bringing water to the warriors.
Her hands bleeding, Luna dug with the others, with every passing moment fearing they would find no more survivors.
Then her fingertips touched something soft. Shoving aside the rock she'd been reaching under, Luna spotted a small piece of fabric. "Here!" Others gathered around, helping her dig faster, as the bombardment around them continued.
Slithering down into the hole they had dug, Luna carefully pulled the warrior free of the rubble. The body was covered in dirt, and a cut bled freely from her shoulder, but the face was unmistakable. "Adrian?" Luna blinked in surprise, staring down at the injured Fire warrior.
Adrian coughed and her eyes fluttered open. "Am I alive?”
"So far," Luna muttered, lifting up the heavier woman, trying to pass her upward to the waiting healers.
Adrian just weakly shook her head in disbelief and limply let herself be hoisted out of the debris.
A quick search of the cavity where Adrian had been found revealed the crushed remains of a warrior far beyond the healer's help. With a bit of scrambling, Luna climbed up out of the hole, ducking as a cannonball screamed overhead, overshooting the Abbey. Two healers worked on Adrian as the others continued to sort through the rubble.
Adrian waved off the two healers, grunting that she would be fine. She was alive. As she had lain under the crushing weight of stone, her life had flashed before her eyes, and sadly she found it had been a miserable one She watched Luna tiredly brush off the dirt and debris on her shirt. Then with a deep sigh, she called out, "Luna?"
Luna approached cautiously, quite certain she might snap if Adrian started ranting about how she didn't deserve Torrin. "What?" she asked briskly.
Adrian looked away and mumbled, "I'm sorry."
Luna blinked, and then frowned. Just when she had decided the Fire Warrior was beyond wasting time on she does this. "Well, you should be."
"I, um..." Adrian blew out a breath. "I deserved that." She finally looked at Luna. "I know I'll probably be an ass again in the future, but something about knowing I was going to die and feeling all that stone crushing down on me... well, I suddenly realized I had lost the only person who would miss me if I died, my Muanya. That was a slap to my face knowing the women here, and probably my own sister would celebrate if I had died." She paused, taking a breath.
Luna didn't have time for this. There was a battle going and she'd spent as much time helping search for survivors as she dared. Meeting Adrian's eyes she nodded swiftly. "You need to apologize to Torrin, too," She said as she turned and headed for the front line.
Adrian nodded. "I will. I just hope she'll let me. It's not easy for me to say this, but I hope you two can be happy, and ... um, she was telling the truth. I grabbed her and kissed her the other night." Adrian looked back down and bit her lip. "I feel good and kind of sick to my stomach all at the same time right now. I hope being a better person doesn't feel like this all the time."
Pausing, Luna let out a laugh. "It usually does, but there are benefits." She grudgingly gave the injured woman a smile. She hadn't forgiven Adrian completely, but perhaps the Fire Warrior had indeed turned over a new leaf.
"Get better, Adrian." With that the blonde hurried back to the fighting, anxious to make certain Torrin was alive and safe.
She climbed back up the artificial hill that marked the northern lines, nodding to Fyre as she came up to the top of it. "How are we doing?"
Fyre blinked and then as if in a daze, turned to Luna. "I think we're doing better. Your girlfriend just stopped a line of charging cavalry and the ones behind them ran into the stopped ones. At least I think that's what I saw, I could be having a Karo flashback."
"What?" the blonde asked, even as she studied the scene in front of her. The Southern cavalry had obvious been in disarray as they hit the northern lines. That chaos had only grown once they entered range of northern bows and as she watched now, the whittled down Southern cavalry broke and retreated back to the southern lines.
"How did she stop the first line?" Luna asked, confused.
"Um, she shouted 'Stop!' and the horses stopped. I'm positive the two are related." The muscular warrior shook her head still trying to believe what she saw.
Luna glanced sideways at Fyre, raising an eyebrow. "No more doing Karo while we're here, okay?"
Fyre sighed in relief. "Yeah, that does make more sense doesn't it? I mean nobody can just command a bunch of charging horses to slide to a stop."
"Yeah," Luna whispered, not entirely as certain of that as she would have been before the fall of Abnoa.
There wasn't much daylight left. In a little while it would be nighttime. She studied the southern lines, nodding as she spotted them digging in for the night. The cannons had stopped firing as well, at least for the moment. "Fyre, make certain we have a lot of sentries out tonight, but rotate them so everyone gets to sleep." She spotted Tasha and Valarie a short distance away, helping with the wounded, and was relieved that both had survived the blood filled day. "I'm going to go see my girlfriend." Luna grinned tiredly.
"The Horse God, Armando, can," Tasha said quietly as she passed by her.
Luna stared at Torrin's elder sister, frowned and shook her head before she started to walk toward the hole where the southern cavalry had attacked.
Tasha looked over at Valarie "I heard Jinete, Torrin's Muanya, once say she was descended from him. I always thought she was spinning a good story but now... you think it might have been true?" She looked at Valarie, her face a little pale.
Valarie tightened the bandage she was putting on the stump of what had been a woman's leg. Stepping aside she let two other Fire Warriors take the moaning woman away before joining Tasha at the edge of what remained of the Abbey's outer wall.
"Maybe. Those Southern Gods and Goddess's seem to interfere more than the Moon Goddess does." She touched Tasha on the shoulder and looked up at the taller Earth warrior.
Tasha leaned into Valarie's touch, getting all the comfort from it that she could. "It's just a little scary to think back on how mean I was to Torrin as a child and well, she can stop a line of running horses with a simple command. Kind of scary to think what she could have done to me as a child."
Valarie said nothing for a moment, simply wrapping an arm around the other woman's waist, her armor clinking as she moved. "I think we can trust in Luna to keep her in check," the Fire Warrior finally said with a wry smile.
"Yeah. " Tasha smiled and patted Valarie's arm. "Guess I'm being silly. Obviously, I survived childhood just fine."
Since she was certain there was much of her childhood that Tasha had avoided talking about so far, Valarie simply gave the taller woman a squeeze. "Come on, let's see what else we can do to help."
Tasha nodded but didn't move. She just held Valarie's arm. She was enjoying the silence and the falling night sky as it covered over a day of vast horrors and appreciated the comforting solidness of Valarie's presence behind her.
Then after a moment, she let go of Valeria's arm, "Okay, let's go help."
Rhain grumbled to herself as she cleaned another pot. She was a warrior, a fighter trained by the best there ever was, her Muanya. But since Luna had cut her braids off no one would let her fight with them.
They laughed at her and told her to come back when she was old enough. She had thought about going to Tasha but then changed her mind. Tasha had chosen Torrin's lies over her.
She still had some pride so she helped out were she could but the only place they would let her help was in the kitchen scrubbing pots.
This was all Torrin's fault.
She was almost to the point where it mattered very little if Torrin was the Betrayer. Regardless, Torrin had made her life like this. She should be a leader but instead she was scrubbing food off pots! Now she wanted revenge for the sake of revenge. And then she would take her place at the head of the Earth Clan.
" You really think you can fill my boots as Head of the Clan?"
Rhain winced at her Muanya's voice. It grated at her nerves, no longer a welcomed voice. She looked around and then set the pot down and walked over to alcove.
"No, Muanya, no. Nobody could take your place."
"Especially you." Quinn sneered. "Look at you, cleaning dishes! While that traitor fights on the front lines swaying over even more of our people." Quinn's ghost sniffed in disdain. "You are a failure. No wonder I had Tasha in mind to take over when I died."
Rhain's vision tunneled and turned red. "I have done nothing but try and please you!” she shrieked. “I have done nothing but try to convince my Northern sisters of Torrin's duplicity. I have done nothing but follow your wishes!"
A few passing warriors glanced toward the alcove, then at each other, shook their head sadly and kept going. It was sad to see the daughter of Quinn losing her mind and screaming at walls.
"And yet you fail," the ghost sneered. After a moment Quinn's features softened. "But I do concede that Torrin's power over your sister is seemingly hard to overcome. You must watch and strike on your own it seems."
"What?" Rhain asked, blinking as she tried to decipher her Muanya's words.
"Keep an eye on your dear half-sister and when the time comes - kill her," Quinn spoke slowly.
"What? Murder her?"
Quinn glared. "More like becoming a hero and cleansing the North of scum. What? It was easier to swallow when you had others to do your dirty work but now you don't have the stomach to do it yourself?"
"No, I will do what needs to be done for my people," Rhain said with a sigh. Her head hurt and everything seemed to be spinning out of control.
"Good. Time is growing short, before too much longer, things will be too far along to be fixed."
Rhain looked up to ask what that meant but her Muanya was gone.
"Idiots! Morons! Cowards!" the Southern Queen raged, flinging a dozen rolled up maps at the nearest unfortunate officer.
The assembled officers and aides of the Queen stood in silence inside her tent. Two bodies already lay on the floor, rapidly cooling, their blood splatter against the canvas of the tent as testimony to the Queen's rage.
"How!? How have they managed to hold out against us?" she demanded of the first person she came across.
Nobody dared say a word for fear their blood would be next to be splattered on the ground.
The young woman she grabbed choked as her body was shaken to help her come up with the answers more quickly. "Th-th-they have a g-g-good luck charm?"
With a snarl of disgust Khelin tossed the young woman aside. "Fools!" She cursed them all, kicking the fallen women before crossing to the throne that had been transported with her tent. "Well?" she demanded of her generals. "What plans do you have for tomorrow?"
The new current advisor cleared her throat. "We plan to hold the troops back and let the cannons decimate the structure. They got here too late to be fully effective today and since the cannonballs are a hard to replace we don't want to risk wasting them by firing at night. But tomorrow will be different."
Khelin studied the advisor, her fingers caressing the hilt of the dark sword. Slowly she nodded, the murderous mood of moments before suddenly disappearing as she smiled. "Yes. Perfect. We will crush them with the cannons and then we will simply march over any who survive." She smiled at the uneasy generals and advisors.
The advisor nearly wept in relief but held together. To show weakness now would mean death.
Darkness fell upon the Ellris Pass, bringing the fighting of the daylight hours to an end. The Southern cannons, the bane of the Northern defense, remained silent thus giving the Northern clans a chance to regroup, count their losses, and do what they could to prepare for tomorrow. Healers did what they could for the injured, and everyone got bowls of hot stew prepared by Eve's people. Those most seriously hurt were taken down the northern side of the Pass to the base camp that had been established near the banks of the Winderling. Supplies, especially the seemingly endless number of arrows that was needed, were brought up to the Abbey on the return trip.
Luna, once again, found herself on the battlements. The outer walls of the Abbey had taken a beating. Nearly all of them had been reduced to rubble. Another day of such onslaught would destroy the northern lines. The cannons, she thought grimly, were worse than she'd expected. Gazing up at the full moon, she prayed once again for a miracle. The mood at the war council meeting had been grim and the news not much better. More than a hundred warriors had died, three times that number was seriously injured.
Below her laid the battered defensive wall. It had been chewed up, a part of it blown apart, and repeatedly assaulted. Somehow though, they had held that line, denying the Southerners passage. Whatever else happened, Luna was proud of these women, all who had bled and died to keep Khelin from entering the North. Even in the face of the new horrible weapons, they had held.
She had already vowed that she would not live through another victory by Khelin. Luna intended to either succeed in stopping the Southern army or die trying. She would not, could not, allow herself to relive what had happened after Abnoa had fallen.
Torrin came up to the wall silently. She stopped for a moment and just watched Luna. She felt her heart lurch in her chest as she gazed on Luna, softly bathed in the full moon light. The Ranger was so beautiful but Torrin suspected Luna didn't see it. The Ranger's past with Khelin had somehow blinded her to her own inner strengths and the brand blinded her to her own beauty.
Feeling eyes upon her, Luna glanced behind her, smiling softly as she spotted Torrin. "Hey."
Torrin smiled back and then continued her way over to Luna. "How are you?"
"Tired," the blonde said, admiring the way the silvery moonlight illuminated Torrin's features. "You?"
"Oddly, I find myself full of energy." Unable to resist, she leaned over and kissed Luna's cheek.
Luna chuckled, allowing herself to be distracted from the worries that had plagued her and slid her arms around Torrin. Drawing the smaller woman's body tightly against her own, she turned her head and met Torrin's lips.
When she pulled back, Luna brushed aside a few short locks of dark hair, studying Torrin's face intently. "Tasha thinks you told the southern horses to stop charging today."
"Um..." Torrin looked away nervously.
Her calloused fingertips gently urged Torrin to meet her eyes. "Tell me what happened?"
Torrin's grey eyes darted around over Luna's face and finally she leaned her head down to rest against Luna's breastbone. The soothing sound of Luna's heartbeat relaxed her. "It was a noise at first, a whispering of voices in a different language. One I didn't know, but it was familiar."
Wordlessly Luna wrapped her arms around the smaller woman again and offered whatever support she could as she listened.
"It just kept building up, distracting me from the charging horses. I thought I was losing it, that my nerves had finally given up the ghost. Then Armando was there, saying things..." She looked up, "he was being annoying and cryptic and he was saying things about heritage, and having chosen the right path and the gifts of the blood."
She made a face. "I'm beginning to really hate that godly interference."
Luna brushed a thumb across Torrin's cheek, slowly grinning. "When you came up here, I was praying for some interference by the Moon Goddess."
Torrin turned her head just enough and snagged the thumb with her teeth and gently sucked it into her mouth and then teased it with her tongue for a second before releasing it. "Well, I guess it's okay then."
The taller woman gasped at the unexpected move, blue eyes darkening with desire. "You guess?" she whispered, closing the space between them until her lips brushed against Torrin's, their breaths shared. The fatigue she'd felt earlier fled as her heart sped up, her skin suddenly hyperaware of every place they touched.
Torrin grinned and then asked innocently, "Do you want to hear the rest of my story or do you want to go make out somewhere private?"
Luna didn't deign to answer. Instead, she released Torrin from her arms, snagged the dark-haired woman's hand and tugged her toward one of few Abbey buildings to have survived the day's barrage relatively intact.
Torrin giggled until she realized she was giggling and then went quiet and let Luna lead her.
Luna drew Torrin along through the battle-scarred buildings, nodding and calling out to those she knew. The further they got away from the central buildings, the quieter it became until they were nearly alone as they entered the building with their rooms.
With a growing impatience she pulled Torrin faster down the hallway, shoving open the door to their room. Closing the door right after Torrin, Luna pressed the shorter woman against the doorway. Pinning her there with her body, she ducked her head and urgently kissed the other woman, trying to sear the feeling of Torrin's lips into her soul.
Torrin kissed Luna back and felt every horrible moment that had happened on the battlefield being released from her soul in that kiss. It reminded her that she was still alive, that she was still here with Luna.
She let her hands trail up Luna's sides feeling the contrast of cool metal and warmer furs. Then she let her hands slide down Luna's back, over her hips, and then she grabbed Luna's thighs. With a small grunt she picked Luna up and started walking them back to where she vaguely remembered the bed being.
Luna let out a startled yelp, then a laugh. "I keep forgetting you're stronger than you look." She smiled. Taking advantage of the change in position Luna slid her hands down Torrin's chest, tugging aside cloth and armor, she found warm bare skin and traced patterns on it.
It felt strange being carried, but Luna didn't care at the moment, all she cared about was the feel of Torrin pressed close, the feeling of rightness in kissing her. Which is exactly what she did, claiming Torrin's lips and mouth with a fervor that surprised herself.
Torrin sighed into the kiss forgetting about the bed until her shins banged into it and then they both tumbled into the bed with a clank of metal armor.
Torrin began to laugh a loud belly laugh.
Luna landed with a grunt, trying not to slam the full weight of her armor down onto Torrin. With a laugh of her own, she twisted onto her side. "What?"
Torrin rolled over and wiped her eyes. After she got her breath she just grinned. "Nothing. Just thought it was funny. Trying to be all seductive and stuff and I trip over the bed."
With a mischievous smile, Luna sat up, and helped Torrin with the straps of her armor. "Hard to be seductive when you're wearing thirty pounds of metal."
"That too." Torrin leaned back on her hands and let Luna remove her armor. "I should be sweating over a strategy for those cannons but I don't care. All I want to do right now is touch you. I suppose that's bad?"
Blue eyes sparkled with laughter as Luna shook her head, pulling off the armor and letting it fall to the ground. "No, it's not bad." She wanted to remember this, every moment, every touch, no matter what happened tomorrow.
Torrin let out a breath in relief as her armor was finally removed.
Slapping Luna's hands away she turned her attention to Luna's armor and returned the favor.
Getting rid of the heavy metal armor was nearly a sexual experience in itself. Luna groaned in delight as Torrin removed it, and then pounced on the smaller woman, sending them both tumbling into the bed. "Much better," Luna murmured, investigating Torrin's neck with her lips.
Torrin yelped in surprised. The yelp turned into a moan as she felt Luna's lips on the now sensitive skin on her neck.
Pulling back, the blonde tugged on Torrin's undershirt, pulling it upward. She didn't want to be held back by ghosts of the past anymore. She wasn't certain she was ready for this, but there might not be a tomorrow for them.
Torrin slowly realized what Luna wanted and quickly raised her arms up over her head so her undershirt could be pulled off.
Then, locking gazes with Torrin, Luna tugged off the other woman's pants, tossing them aside to join the growing pile of clothes on the floor. She paused, drinking in the sight in front of her. Her fingers trembled as she slid them along newly bared flesh, tracing the contour of Torrin's body.
Torrin sighed softly in her throat as Luna touched her. She didn't move for fear of scaring Luna off and ruining the moment.
Biting her lip, Luna drew off her own undershirt, and then leaned forward, pressing their bodies together. Groaning at the feel of the other woman's body against hers. "I want..." she didn't have the words for what she wanted.
A hiss of breath came shooting out of Torrin's lungs as Luna pressed their bodies together. She kissed the flesh of Luna's neck and then moving up to her lips. "What do you want?" she breathed.
The answer, when it came to her, caused her to smile, her blue eyes lighting with the simple joy of it. "You," she said.
Torrin blinked back tears, "Really?" There was a certain raw grasping for hope that she couldn't keep out of her voice.
"Really," Luna agreed. Pressing herself against Torrin, she kissed her, slowly and thoroughly. Gone was the hurried frenzy of their earlier meeting. Now it was as if they had all the time in the world.
A band seemed to loosen around Torrin's heart at Luna's response. Somebody wanted her not for the skills she had been taught in the temple but for herself. She and Luna had danced around it, but to have her say it out loud... If she had been standing up, the words probably would have brought her to her knees.
Breaking the kiss off, Torrin hugged Luna fiercely until she could get her emotions back under control.
Luna took her time, luxuriating in Torrin's body and the other woman's response's to her touch. She was still uncertain about being touched, but she decided she loved touching Torrin, stroking her skin, tasting it, and feeling Torrin shudder in response.
The pounding on the door was a sudden and unpleasant call back to reality. "Luna!" an indistinct voice called from the hallway beyond.
Torrin groaned and yelled out. "If you don't want to die a slow painful death, you'll go away!"
"This can't be happening," Luna muttered, burying her face in Torrin's neck.
"Torrin?" Another voice called out, this one belonging to Tasha.
"Well, that's a mood killer," Torrin mumbled out. "The only thing worse would be if my mother was out there as well."
"Go away and don't come back for..." Torrin trailed off. Then after considering she'd been worked up for what felt like almost a year she finished with, "at least 20 minutes."
"Torrin?" The third voice caused Luna to freeze with horror, and then nearly fall out of the bed scrambling for her clothing. "That's your mother!" she hissed, frantically pulling on her shirt. "Your mother is on the other side of that door!" Blue eyes wide, she searched for their clothes.
Torrin threw her hands over her face and groaned in misery.
"I'm naked, give me two minutes!" she snarled out.
There was what could only be described as stunned silence on the other side of the door. Luna groaned, closing her eyes and holding her face in her hands. "By the Goddess, this can't be happening."
Scowling, Torrin sat up looking for her pants and a shirt. Angrily she thrust her feet into her pants and pulled them up. Then finding the undershirt she pulled it up over her head. Looking to make sure Luna was dressed, she put her best 'You are so dead look' on her face and opened the door.
There was a crowd outside the door. The leaders of each clan were there along with their partners and several priestesses. Tasha stood just outside the arch, and in front of everyone, stood Tyra. The Wind Walker smiled as she saw her daughter, drawing her into a hug. Luna, peering over Torrin's shoulder at the crowd, groaned again.
Torrin huffed unable to keep the look of death on her face as her mother hugged her. "Mom, why are you here?"
As Tyra released her, Torrin got a good look at everybody and frowned, she knew this could only mean an end to her naked time with Luna.
Tyra smacked Torrin on the shoulder. "My daughters are here. So why wouldn't I be here?"
Torrin gave a long-suffering sigh.
Luna shifted behind Torrin, wondering if Tyra had heard about Rhain.
The others began to file into the room past Tyra and Torrin, obviously intent on a meeting at that very instant. Tasha and Fyre both gave Luna significant looks, while Allysandra waggled her eyebrows at the increasingly flustered blonde.
"This is so not fair," Torrin mumbled.
"What isn't?" Tyra asked.
Servants came in afterwards, bringing in chairs for everyone to sit on, and platters of food along with bottles of wine and glasses. Luna watched it all pass with a bewildered look on her face. "What is all this?" she whispered to Torrin.
"I have no idea," Torrin replied, equally puzzled. She wrapped her arm around Luna's waist and gave her a quick kiss to her cheek.
"Not that I don't like having visitors in the middle of the night on the eve of another battle, but what are you all doing here?" Luna demanded of the group of women who had invited themselves into Torrin and her room.
Fyre bit her lip as her eyes darted from Torrin to Luna. Well, their timing certainly could have been better. She looked at Tasha who just squirmed and coughed nervously and then she looked at Eve.
Eve ducked her head, bit her lip, and then looked at Allysandra.
Luna followed the glance from one person to another, the uneasiness in her gut deepening as no one spoke.
"What?" Luna demanded, meeting the troubled eyes of the Wave Dancer leader.
"We can not survive those cannons for another day, Luna." Allysandra answered.
Luna frowned, not understanding yet. "I know. We talked about that earlier."
Fyre scowled, glanced at the confused look on Tyra's face and forged then ahead. "We thought there might be a way to silence them. Tonight."
Torrin felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and she held Luna tighter.
Tasha refused to meet her mother's eyes. "We need to disable those cannons if we are to stand any chance against Khelin's army.”
Blue eyes narrowed as she looked from face to face, then understanding dawned as none of them would meet her eyes. "No," she said, desperation in her voice. "No. There must be another way. No, no you can't ask that of her!"
Torrin frowned, confused. "Ask who to do what?"
"How dare you!" Trya screamed out and slapped Tasha on her bad arm before storming out.
Tasha yelped but said nothing.
Holding tighter to Torrin, Luna shook her head. "No! It's suicide! Don't you all understand?"
"What the hell did you do to Mother? And what are you people all talking about?" Torrin growled out.
"They want you to lead a party to disable the cannons," Luna whispered into the silence of the room.
"Oh." Torrin blinked, then shrugged. "Sure, no problem. Who's going with me?"
Luna whirled around to face her lover. "What?" she shouted. "Are you out of your mind!?"
"Um, could everybody leave?" Torrin asked quietly.
Glancing at one another, the group got up from their chairs and filed back out of the room, leaving Luna, with her arms crossed and scowling at Torrin.
Torrin sighed. "It needs to be done and I have to most experience in such... um... covert actions. It's what I've been trained to do. Plus, there's my unexpected gift from the Assassin to move through shadows. Not that I've been using it anymore, it makes me feel kind of dirty," she admitted.
"There are other ways," Luna said, even though she still could not think of one. "It's suicide, Torrin." Fear made her voice higher than usual.
"Maybe. But I can't think of any. Can you?"
"I don't care!" Luna said, turning her back to Torrin so the other woman wouldn't see the fear written on her face. "Haven't we done enough?" she whispered.
"I don't know," Torrin answered. She took a step forward and rested her hands on Luna's hip.
"Then, I'll go with you," Luna said, turning around in Torrin's arms and placing her own on the shorter woman's shoulders.
"You know you can't," Torrin said with a sad smile. "They need you here."
Luna shook her head, even though she knew Torrin was right. Closing her eyes against the tears that threatened, she leaned forward, long hair hiding her face as she pressed her forehead against Torrin's. "I can't lose you."
"You won't." Torrin said as she let her hands move around to Luna's back stroking slowly up and down.
"You can't promise that."
Torrin brought one hand up moving Luna's hair out of her face so she could place a tender kiss on her lips.
"Yes, I can. I'm that good, Luna. Plus, all those annoying Gods and ghosts owe me the right to come back to you."
Luna could do nothing but shake her head and draw Torrin in for a fierce hug. Silently she let go, swallowing against the ache in her throat. "You have to come back." Luna said quietly.
"I will," Torrin whispered back softly.
Luna decided that fate was conspiring against them as she went and opened the door. Outside, the crowd was still there, waiting silently.
Fyre had only to take one look at Luna's red-rimmed eyes to know the decision. "She'll have our best going with her," the Fire Clan leader said.
Luna did not believe Fyre's boast. No one would be good enough to guard her lover's back. Everything in her screamed that she must go with Torrin, yet she knew she could not. Not this time. "Show them to me," was all she said, her voice thick with sadness and fear for Torrin.
Fyre nodded. "Luna, if there was any other way, you have to know I would do it. Torrin is like a sister to me."
Luna made no answer to the warrior's words. Only reluctantly did she turn to follow Fyre, but then often turned around to meet Torrin's eyes.
Torrin followed close to Luna. This was her penance. Hopefully this mission would make up for putting this all in motion by her actions at Abnoa. She reached out and grabbed Luna's hand and held it tightly. If things went wrong, this would be a memory to help her come back. It was odd. She had fought many battles but never had anything to return to. Now it was important that, no matter what, she had to survive for Luna.
They made their way down the torch lit corridor out into the courtyard of the Abbey. Four women, one from each of the Clans, had volunteered to go with Torrin. Luna noticed that and felt a little better. It seemed right somehow.
Torrin squeezed Luna's hand one last time before going to inspect the women. She was impressed all the women were all whip-thin and on the small side like her. Although, she still was the shortest one by an inch or two. "You all know the risks?” she asked in a quiet voice.
Luna's old friend from their days of apprenticeship, Janece, answered for the other three women. "We do, and we go willingly."
Luna managed a thin smile for her old friend, clasping arms with her
"We will have to move silently and swiftly. If one of us should fall or be captured, the rest will not have time to stop and help. Disabling the cannons comes first," Torrin said bluntly.
Luna grapped her hand again at those words, though she still did not say a word. Torrin squeezed gently back. Then she said, "I give you all one last chance to change your mind."
None so much shifted their feet, and Luna closed her eyes, knowing for certain that Torrin would soon be going into the darkness.
Torrin smiled. "Okay, then. Do whatever you need to do. Then meet me by the south wall in an hour. No armor, leather is okay as long as it's old and well worn. No large crossbows and nothing heavy, we move swift and fast."
They each went to finish their preparations according to the customs of their Clan. Janece stopped at Luna's side, whispering, "We will watch her back, I swear it."
Then, as the crowd left them, they were alone once again.
Torrin hugged Luna. "There is so much I would like to do in an hour, but I'm afraid I need to prepare some tricks for my big adventure."
Luna said nothing, her voice held in her throat by a heart that trembled with dread. Instead, she hugged Torrin fiercely in return, and only grudgingly letting her go. "I"ll keep you company," she managed to say at length, her voice quiet and sad.
"I'd like that," Torrin said. She pulled away and gave a grin. "I can show you how to make a powerful sleeping potion. It can knock the biggest women on their ass."
Torrin stood near the south wall dressed in her black leathers and a small pack tied to her back. She had about 20 needle thin darts that had been dipped into a powerful sleeping potion as well as a little used blowgun she had picked up years ago. She had no other weapons other than a few hidden throwing knives.
Luna, with one last measuring look at the four other women, drew Torrin close and kissed her slowly, as if to imprint the memory upon her mind forever. Then she let her hands dropped, whispered, "Remember, you promised to come back to me" and then fled. She could not watch Torrin go over the wall.
Torrin, stunned by the intensity of Luna's kiss, just watched her go. Then she licked her lips, savoring the taste Luna had left there. A cough reminded her that she wasn't alone. She blushed slightly. "Oh, um, I guess we should get going."
The other four shared smiles and hoisted their gear.
Torrin was happy to see the moonlight being blocked out by clouds. Going over to the newly tied rope, she started her descent down the wall.
The other women were not so pleased however. The hiding of the moon was considered a bad omen. But each was sworn to the task and they were grimly determined to see it through.
In Torrin's mind, a little voice nagged her. 'What if' she couldn't keep her promise to come back? Finally she was able to push it away. Standing on the ground, she moved back to the stonewall and waited for the others.
One by one they dropped down next to Torrin, landing almost as quietly. These were women who all had skill hiding in shadows or moving silently.
Torrin motioned for them to follow her. She led them on a wide path around the battlefield not wanting to get tripped up on things she couldn't see or lose someone to a crater created by a cannonball.
The others followed her as quietly as they could. Yet it seemed to them that she moved with the shadows and that if she had wished to, she could have lost them, although they followed only a few feet behind her.
Torrin moved silently in the dark, pleased that the women following her were keeping up easily. Half way to Khelin's camp, she motioned for them to stop. Turning, she looked at them and then whispered, “We need to find the cannons fast. Therefore, we need to split into two teams.”
They did not like the idea and it showed on their faces, but the women decided the quicker they finished this task, the quicker they could start back toward their own side. Janece would not leave Torrin's side, for she had sworn so to Luna. So the other three went off together, taking the small vials of acid that Torrin handed them.
Torrin grinned evilly as they came to the outskirts of Khelin's camp. It smelled of wood smoke, sweat, blood and alcohol. Looking around, she wondered where one would put a cannon. Then she froze for a moment she felt like she was being watched. She turned her head slowly to the side but didn't see anything.
Janece crouched behind her, going still the second that Torrin had frozen. She waited for the smaller woman in front of her to move, not daring even turn her head in case a guard was nearby.
Torrin looked back at Janece and shrugged. She moved forward again searching for the cannons. They would need to be in a clear spot out of the trees so the women firing it would have a clear view of the Abbey. Reaching in her pouch she pulled out the blowgun and a smaller bag filled with darts.
Having neither, Janece pulled a long curved dagger from the sheath at her side and followed Torrin.
Stopping again, Torrin took a step back to make herself even with Janece so she could whisper in the other woman's ear. "Any clue where a cannon would be?"
Janece shrugged, peering into the night. "They were moving them at sunset." Beyond that, she knew nothing.
"Hmm. Well, they would probably move them closer not farther, so we look for fires away from the main body, which makes it easier for us." She grinned and started moving around the edge of the camp.
She froze once more and looked around. "I swear to the Goddess, we are being followed. Do you see anything?"
Janece once again shook her head, though she strained to catch a hint of movement near them. The only thing she could spot were the Southern warriors moving about the campfires but nothing closer.
Torrin nodded. Probably just her nerves. She continued moving and then stopped, giving a truly evil grin. "Jackpot." She pointed with the blowgun. Slightly farther away from the main camp was a smaller camp. The cannons had indeed been moved closer to the Abbey during the night. From the look of it, two of the cannons had been dragged toward the northern line, while the other two were closer to the Abbey walls. "Keep an eye out for guards moving between the two camps."
"No problem," Janece whispered in return, gripping the hilt of her dagger.
Torrin spotted a bored guard leaning on a spear, between her and the smaller camp. She carefully loaded her blowgun with a dart and then raised it to her lips. She gauged the wind and blew.
The guard felt a brief sting and swatted at her neck. "Damn bugs," the guard growled out before giving a yawn. Then she slumped to the ground snoring.
Torrin pulled the gun away grinning. "Neat."
Janece glanced at her with a raised eyebrow, shook her head and turned back to keeping watch for any patrolling guards.
Torrin loaded the gun again and took out a small woman fussing over some sort of black powder. The woman set the small barrel down yawning. Then she too was on the ground sound asleep.
"Nice toy," Janece whispered, keeping an arrow notched and ready to let fly at anyone who spotted them.
Torrin grinned evilly. "I like it."
After scanning the area, she motioned Janece to follow her. "Take out anybody who looks like a threat or who notices us. I'm going to give the South a surprise. When they try to use that thing in the morning they aren't going to get what they are expecting."
The ranger nodded in understanding. The flickering firelight from the camps fires dimly illuminated the dark clothing she wore. Most of the southerners appeared to be sleeping, though there were a few moving around, tending to the fires. Janece followed along behind Torrin, keeping an eye out for others as they crept toward the smaller camp's two cannons.
There was that feeling again. Torrin swore they were being watched.
With a shake of her head, she focused again on the task at hand. The cannons seemed to loom larger and larger as they crept toward them. Large metal tubes of death and destruction. She wondered why someone would make such a thing and then decided it must have been someone touched by Vladlin's hand.
A soft whisper of sound behind her signaled that Janece had let go of her first arrow. A guard had rounded a corner and spotted them just as Janece had been set to follow Torrin to the cannons. The Southern guard clawed at the arrow in her throat, the blood spurted black in the firelight and went down.
Without thinking, Torrin used a shadow to hide herself and then stepped out next to the cannon. Blinking as she tried to process what had just happened, she shuddered and pushed it away.
Janece had to scramble a bit to catch up to where Torrin was crouching next to the first of the two cannons. Janece hid in the shadow of the large metallic tube, refusing to touch the item that had brought such death to her sisters.
Inspecting the weapon carefully, Torrin quickly stowed the blowgun away and pulled out two different tools. Luckily, on the trek to Abnoa, she had plenty of time to listen to the Southern warriors brag about their new weapon.
"What are you doing?" Janece whispered, her back to Torrin as she searched the night for any other problems.
Torrin slid under the thick metal object and began making her trap.
She poked her head out while her hands kept the acid on the metal and not on her. "Um, I'm going to fix it so when they go to fire this thing in the morning it goes boom. Probably taking out this whole patch of ground in the process." She ducked her head back under checking the weakening metal. Then she looked back out at Janece. "Behind us a bit out of the way should be a large crate. In it will be small barrels of a red powder, could you bring me one?"
Feeling the metal weaken, she focused back on the task at hand not waiting for Janece's response.
The Earth Clan member glanced at the crate in question suspiciously, but did as Torrin asked.
Lowering a leather-covered hand, Torrin eyed the faint white acid on the belly of the cannon. For some reason, the acid loved breaking down metal but wasn't fond of leather. However it still could be very uncomfortable if it hit her exposed flesh.
She had used it before. Sneaking into one of Khelin's Manor houses and sabotaging all the weapons in the barracks had been one of her lessons.
"Here," Janece whispered, ducking down to slide the pouch of powder to Torrin. Then she got back up to resume her guard.
"Thanks," Torrin whispered back. She grabbed the powder and then turned her attention back to the hole. Making her hand small, she reached up into the cannon just barely making it through the hole the acid had created.
After a moment of fumbling around she found the priming coil. "Janece, look at the back of the cannon. Is there a long piece of rope there?"
Moving around the large object, the ranger found what Torrin was talking about. "Yes." She glanced around nervously, hoping all the whispering wouldn't attract attention.
"Tell me if disappears completely."
Fearing more magic, Janece took a small step backward.
Torrin yanked the coil loose from the firing mechanism and started pulling it out of the cannon through the small hole she had made.
Blinking, Janece shook her head at her own reaction and moved back next to the cannon. "Yes, it's gone."
"Alcen balls." Torrin didn't want it to run out completely. "Is there more rope in the crate?"
With another quick glance around, Janece ducked down and scurried over to the crate, returning with another length of rope.
"Good, now feed it down the slot where the other disappeared."
The ranger did so as quickly as possible, taking up her bow and arrows again as soon as she was finished.
Torrin smiled as she popped the pouring cork out of the small barrel and slid the priming coil inside and into the destructive red powder that gave life to the cannons.
The coil was a stiff rope dipped in some flammable liquid and then dried. When they lit the rope tomorrow, the coil would burn down to the barrel blowing everything up.
Janece tensed as another guard began to make her way through the camp. On the Southerner's current course, it would only be a matter of time before she literally tripped over the woman she had killed earlier. "Hurry up," she hissed.
"Done," Torrin said putting the small vile and gloves away and then slid out from under the cannon.
Janece brought up her bow and drew back an arrow as the Southerner continued on her rounds. With a muttered curse she loosed the arrow, dropping the guard just as she reached the first dead woman. Someone was bound to notice before too long that there were a lot of guards missing. "What about the second cannon?" she whispered.
Torrin shrugged "I'm just dropping the acid down it and letting it eat a huge hole in it. I know we don't have time for two traps but I want the South to feel just a little bit of our pain."
Janece glanced at the two cannons, shivering in dread at the mere sight of them, and the destruction they represented. They seemed evil and foreboding, the firelight reflected along the length of their barrels.
"Come on. Right now it's just a sleeping beast with no one to feed and clean up after it. No need to be scared." Torrin crept forward towards the next target. She hoped the other three were doing as well.
"I'm not scared," Janece hissed after the other woman, but her steps were slower than Torrin's toward the other cannon. She waited as Torrin poured acid down the barrel of the second cannon and watched the shadows. Torrin was getting to her, she decided. Now she thought she could feel someone watching them.
Rhain squinted trying to figure out what was being done. Was Torrin really disabling the cannons? If so that meant... meant that she had been wrong. Wrong about everything.
"Did you see her do anything? It was all just a trick any moment now she's going to blow the whistle on those poor women and show her true colors," a smug voice whispered in her ear.
Rhain turned and saw her Muanya, but something seemed off in the smoky shadows of the Southern camp. Quinn's form seemed smaller and darker.
Rhain crept closer to the two women. "I don't see anything suspicious.” Rhain voice was without emotion. “She's... she's disabling the cannon just like she said she would." It struck her how it was very possible the stress of the war, loosing her Muanya, and the flight to the Queen's City might have been too much. She just may have snapped somewhere along the way, and just now she was coming to her senses.
She turned on the ghost next to her. "Who are you? My Muanya would never undermine her people, and that's what you've been doing all this time...just using me."
The ghost laughed. "Ah, ah, watch the tone of your voice. You are in a war camp, after all."
The ghost looked around. "You were always so weak, needing approval. Real warriors don't need to look for approval. They just do it. You were never a real warrior, Rhain. You're only a second best child who should have gone into the service of the Goddess like I had originally intended. But to answer your question, I'm the dark part of Quinn, the part she gave to the Mistress of Shadows so she could have revenge on Jinete for making her look like a fool. Even in death, I must serve the Goddess." Quinn's dark ghost gave a wink and disappeared just in time for Rhain to see a guard come around a tent corner and spot her.
The southern guard yelled out a warning as she spotted Rhain. The yell woke every sleeping woman in the small camp, and almost immediately another yell was raised as the dead guards were found.
Janece didn't know what had just happened, but she swore. "Come on! Time to go! Someone sounded the alarm." Janece ducked behind a bush as a group of guards went running past. Further back toward the main southern camp a horn blew and all at once the alarm spread to the entire southern line. "Vladlin's balls!" Janece swore.
"Frak! I hope the other team got finished." Torrin dropped the bottle down the cannon tube. She grabbed two knives from somewhere on her body.
A lot of shouting was coming from the direction of the two guards that Torrin had dropped with her blowgun. Janece looked towards the other woman, waiting for her to point out a direction to head in.
Torrin eyes flickered over the ever-growing chaos. "Back to the Abbey. Follow the way we came and stick to shadows."
As she started back into the night skirting the Southern camp, her eyes caught a figure fleeing the guards. She gave a groan. Rhain. What the frak was Rhain doing here? Ah, but she knew why. Rhain was trying to prove yet again that she was out to destroy the North. "Go on," she whispered to Janece. "Find the others if you can and get back to the Abbey."
"Luna wants me to stay by your side," Janece hissed back, drawing an arrow and sending it hurtling into a nearby guard before she could summon reinforcements.
Torrin looked back at her. "I need you to go back and let Luna know what has happened. Besides you can't keep up with me and I don't want to worry about you" and with that said, she stepped into shadow and disappeared.
"Luna's going to kill me," Janece said with a grimace as she did her best to make her way back to the northern lines unseen.
Rhain found herself at sword point. A burly Southern warrior glared back at her. "Looky what I caught," the warrior grunted.
Rhain closed her eyes and waited. How pathetic had her life ended up? Her braids were cut and her illusions about her wonderful Muanya were gone as well. Ready for her death, Rhain opened her eyes to face it head on like the warrior she had tried to be.
The Swordswoman's eyes widened in surprise and then her neck opened in a gush of red blood. The sword fell from nerveless fingers and the body soon followed.
Torrin stood behind the fallen woman holding a knife bathed in red. Rhain felt relief for the first time upon seeing her half-sister.
Torrin scowled as she looked back at her sister. "Do you know what you've done?" she hissed out. "You better hope the other team was able to disable their cannons or tomorrow the Abbey will fall and it will be your fault."
Rhain's face fell. "I'm sorry. In my head everything seemed so clear but now..." She trailed off realize anything she said just seemed weak.
Bugles behind them took up the call and the sound of horses could be heard nearby as the Southern cavalry started to sweep the area. There were loud shouts from everywhere along the southern line now.
Torrin's expression never changed. "Let's get out of here." She pulled Rhain along, dodging troops in the chaos.
A large amount of torches seemed to knot together back by the cannons, as warriors gathered together around something.
"Frak!" Torrin's eyes could see that a faction of troops had found something. "Get out of here. I'm going to cause a distraction."
Rhain gaped for a moment and took a step to follow, then stopped. No, she had done enough damage. Now she would listen and take orders. She took off sprinting across the night-covered battlefield.
Stepping into a shadow, Torrin popped out behind a cannon. Reaching into the crate she pulled out a small barrel of red firing powder and then disappeared into another shadow. A part of Torrin's mind noted that the darker her feelings became, the easier it was to use the shadows.
One of the figures on horseback stiffened the moment Torrin disappeared, spinning her horse around. Dark eyes searched the darkness and her teeth flashed white as Khelin urged her horse into a gallop.
Stepping out next to a campfire, Torrin grinned, popped the pour cap and dropped it into the fire and then with a small wave at the several women gaping at her in surprise, stepped into a shadow and vanished.
A few women blinked then stared in horror at the fire when their brains caught up with what she had done. Before any could get up to flee, the fire exploded in a huge red fireball scaring the women and horses throughout the camp.
Ignoring the growing confusion and chaos, Khelin galloped through the darkness unerringly headed toward a specific destination.
Torrin stepped out behind a guard, her eyes black and an evil grin on her face. As the guard pulled her bowstring back to fire, Torrin reached across her throat and with a quick moment split the flesh open. The woman fell gagging on her blood.
Pivoting, she threw the knife at a woman who was charging her. It speared deeply into the woman's eye. Torrin's grin got larger. She loved it that with this power, her eye was healed and she was at the peak of her performance. She almost never wanted to go back and be just Torrin again.
As three women advanced on her swords drawn Torrin winked and disappeared into a shadow, laughing at the surprised looks on their faces.
Khelin ran the woman in the center down as she galloped to the spot where Torrin had just vanished. With a sneer she leapt from the saddle and reached her hand into the shadows. "You think you can escape me?" the Southern Queen demanded. Her fingers curled around something and she heaved backwards, yanking Torrin out of the shadow realm.
Torrin was stunned for a moment as she was ripped out of the embrace of a shadow. Regaining her senses she twisted out of the woman's grasp and stared back at the Southern Queen with black eyes. "Well, that was my plan." Her eyes darted around taking in her surroundings and her options. She was in the middle of the Southern camp, facing down the Southern leader with only a knife and a blowgun. Things weren't looking good.
Khelin laughed, "You are so pitiful. You are not one of my Mother's Chosen." Then her face twisted into a mask of rage as she grabbed Torrin's face. "I think this belongs to me!" Curling her fingers, Khelin began to draw the darkness out of Torrin. It seeped from her eyes and mouth and oozed out her nostrils.
Torrin choked on the exiting darkness. It tasted like ash. She thrashed around trying to get free.
Khelin's hands were like iron as they gripped the struggling woman, keeping her upright. The darkness seeped from Torrin and onto Khelin's skin, shimmering there for a second like an oily sheen before disappearing. With contempt, Khelin tossed Torrin to the ground. "Fool."
Torrin lay limply, looking up at the insane woman and laughed. "I'm pitiful for not being one of your Mother's Chosen? I think that makes me pretty darn special. I mean, after all, they're so easy to kill. Yep, pretty worthless to have around, if you ask me." She gave a weak grin. "I've only killed, what? 4 or 5 of them?"
Insane rage glittered in the Southern Queen's eyes. "Take her." Khelin screamed.
The soldiers close to Khelin looked around nervously. Here was one who could kill the Mistress' Chosen. They weren't sure if they wanted attack her.
When they hesitated she drew her sword, the dark blade absorbing the firelight. "I said take her!" she shrieked.
The circle of warriors rushed Torrin.
Torrin rolled out of the way of the first oncoming woman and then lashed out with a foot tripping the next.
The first few went down, but there were a lot of warriors and they simply bore her down because of sheer numbers. Without her ability to escape in shadows, they could grab onto her, and there were many hands grabbing for the ex-mercenary.
Breathing heavily, her arms pinned behind her back, Torrin just stared calmly at Khelin. "Well, I suppose asking you to make it quick is out of the question?" Torrin had very little illusions about what was going to happen. She gave a quick prayer to the Goddess and Armando that she would survive it somehow and get back safely to Luna.
Khelin simply smiled and darkness flowed across her eyes. "Oh no, it won't be quick at all." The women holding Torrin shivered at their Queen's tone. Khelin stepped toward the held woman, tracing a finger down Torrin's jaw. "I wonder if you will be as good as Luna was?"
Torrin face grew dark and in a quick movement did the only thing she could, she opened her mouth and bit down on the finger that had been touching her. The muscles in her jaw grew tense and she kept biting down until she tasted blood and then kept biting.
Khelin screamed in pain as Torrin bit her. Belatedly, one of the warriors holding Torrin slammed the pommel of her blade down on the back of Torrin's head.
Startled, Torrin's jaw went slack and she nearly blacked out from the blow. Blinking at the stars that swam in front of her eyes, she went limp.
Clutching what was left of her finger, Khelin stepped back away from Torrin. "Take her to my tent, and shackle her well. I'm going to have fun breaking this one."
He studied the dimly lit figure nestled in the tall, unkempt grass. Her hands pressed together palm to palm. He snorted in amusement. "She doesn't care, you know. She only helped your ancestors out of pity, not out of any really fondness for humans of her own to worship her."
He gave a frown as she said nothing and made no move to acknowledge him in anyway.
Only when she had finished her prayer to the Moon Goddess did Luna lower her hands and slowly stand up. "Didn't I already tell you no, Vladlin?" The blonde didn't turn around to face him. She didn't want to show him any weaknesses.
He gave a small grin. "So you did, but it only makes me want you more." Absently he reached down patting the gaunt head of his hound, Disease. "You're about to get some bad news. I can help you. I can give you the strength and the power to march down into Khelin's camp and destroy it."
Vladlin wasn't sure what it was about Luna he wanted so much. Maybe it was that seed of darkness that festered in her heart. Maybe it was the fact she was nearly the ideal leader and he could make her perfect. All she had to do was accept him and his favor.
Luna shivered at his voice, closing her eyes against the words. Dreading his answer, she asked, "What bad news?"
He grinned. "That depends. Do you accept me and my help?" Reaching down with his other hand he petted his hound Death, while the large red hound, Fear lay at his feet and just stared at Luna.
He looked up at her, his red eyes finding hers. "Trust me, it's bad."
Despite herself, Luna turned until she was facing him, her knees going weak at the sight of him and the hounds at his feet. The horror was as strong as it had been the last time. "I'm not yours." she managed to say, her voice shaking.
He could feel her hesitation, her warring within herself. His eyes never left hers as he took a step forward. Such will, even now as she tried to defy him.
"But you could be mine," he whispered. "I could make you a Queen. With my help you could destroy Khelin and then sweep down to South and teach them a lesson once and for all. No one would dare march against the North and her people again."
Luna gasped, the vision soaring in front of her eyes at his words. She could see it, the north sweeping through the south and crushing them. Never again would they rise against the north, she would be a queen feared and loved by all.
"I..." her voice was barely a whisper.
She was tempted. More than she had ever been tempted in her life. One word, that was all it would take, she knew that.
He took another step forward close enough he could reach out and touch her. He crouched down so he was face to face with her. "Tell me you don't want what I'm offering. Tell me it doesn't appeal to you." He breathed onto her face.
"Of course it appeals to her, Dog boy. Who wouldn't be tempted by such an offer?" A voice broke in suddenly, snapping the moment.
As if she were a puppet who's strings had just been cut, Luna sagged to the ground, her breathing harsh and jagged.
Vladlin stood up his lips pulled back in a snarl as he turned to face that would dare address him in such a manor. "How dare you..."
"Yeah, whatever, I'm dead so there is very little you can do to me that would scare me. So take your petulant attitude and your puppies and get out of my resting place."
Slowly, Luna drew herself up to her knees. Her fingers curled around the hilt of her sword, drawing strength from it even as she looked for the source of that other voice.
Vladlin's mouth snapped shut as he looked at the woman addressing him. She was short with long dark hair pulled back into a horsetail and slightly bowed legs. And she was transparent. "This is none of your business. This is between Luna and me. Go back to your resting place, ghost or perhaps I shall call on my sister Morana to retrieve your soul. Apparently, you've been lost too long in this world and she should guide you to the plain of the dead."
She glared back at Vladlin. "Your sister has no sway over me. My blood is of Armando's and here I shall stay until certain wrongs are righted. You, on the other hand, are no way a noble God of War. You are an underhanded Rock Wolf who waits until another wounds your prey before you pounce. My daughter loves this woman and since she cannot be here to give guidance, I shall step in. It's the least I can do. I have missed out on so much of my daughter's life, I do what I can to help her have a happy future."
As quietly as she could to avoid attracting attention, Luna stood up. Her fingers gripped the hilt of her sword so tightly it hurt. Who was this ghost that stood up to Vladlin and his hounds? Then slow understanding dawned. This was where Torrin had asked her about ghosts that lifetime ago when they had been heading to the Queen's City.
"Jinete?" she called out questioningly. Was this Torrin's other mother?
Jinete cocked her head and gave Luna a small grin before confronting Vladlin again. "You are nothing but a spoiled child. Khelin worships her mother and the women of the North have no temples for you, just their Moon Goddess. You're being left out of this fighting, you poor excuse of a war God."
He glared back. "This isn't over. I will get a foothold in the North. Perhaps I should have gone after Torrin, but she's too tuned into chaos to follow me." He glared at the two women for a moment. Then, with a wicked grin, he said, "Oh, I'm sorry for both of your losses" and vanished.
Fear gripped Luna again after the disappearance of Vladlin. "Did he mean, is..." she forced herself to ask the ghost, "is Torrin dead?"
Jinete slowly came over to the upset woman. "No need to worry. This is Torrin after all, she has more lives than a striped, skunk cat." Jinete reached out to tenuous connection she had with those of her blood. She frowned, not good but not bad.
Vladin's lingering dread slowly faded and Luna nodded, loosening her hold upon the sword at her side. "Are you Jinete? Torrin's Muyana?"
Jinete gave a roguish grin and then a small bow. "Why, yes I am. Jinete, daughter of Jinn, at your service."
"I am Luna, daughter of Mezzarna and Fengold," she answered, bowing to the ghost of the woman who bore such a strong resemblance to Torrin. Straightening, she met the ghost's eyes. "Thank you, for what you did. He nearly convinced me, I think."
Jinete smiled warmly. "Well met, Luna. I'd shake your hand but you know being dead and all.” She laughed. “He has that effect with his pretty words and his promises of power. They tempt me little. What use do I have for power?" Her eyes got a far off look, "All I want is to go home. Feel the hoof beats of the horses on the plains and smell the long grass."
Luna struggled not to shiver. The laugh of a ghost was not something that the ears of the living were supposed to hear. Still, it was infinitely better than His words whispered in her ear. "If we survive this, we will do our best to make certain you go home." Luna thought a moment then licked her lips. "I don't know if you know this, but Tyra is here."
Jinete sighed sadly and nodded. "I know. I've looked on her several times. Quinn's presence prevented me at first, but now it seems best not to open old wounds and show myself. It wasn't a noble path we took, but sometimes love is messy and hurtful. I paid for it. Tyra paid for it and sadly, our innocent daughter paid for it. Thankfully, Torrin found the path she was supposed to follow." Then the Horsewoman grimaced in pain. "I have to go. It's hard to show myself to those of my blood let alone those not of it. But know this. Torrin loves you so. I could not but help my daughter where I could."
The ghost winked at her and slowly vanished into the dark.
Luna stood alone in the quiet of the garden for a while longer. She was thankful for Jinete's interference. She felt Vladlin's presence melt away from her. But there would be no rest for her this night. Not until she was certain that Torrin was safe.
A noise from the hallway caught her attention and her heart started to pound as Fyre emerged from the doorway. "Luna, you better come." The Fire Warrior's tone chilled the blood in her veins as she hurried after her.
Rhain crouched down, hiding in the night. The heaving of her chest would have easily given her away had anyone been nearby to hear her panting breaths. She could kick herself. What a fool she had been, a mindless fool, unfit to wear any badge of honor. Bent over hands on her knees she looked up just in time to see four women let into the Abbey. There should have been five, and with a sinking feeling in her gut, she knew who the missing person was. Looking over her shoulder, she spied the fires of the Southern camp and swallowed, her throat feeling dry and rough.
Standing up, she squared her shoulders and started walking back. It was time to show that she was truly Quinn's daughter. Not the twisted dark-sided Quinn, but the proud and noble woman she had remembered and loved.
Khelin drew a dagger down the length of the chained woman's torso, humming merrily to herself. Torrin was stretched out on a large wooden table, arms and legs chained. "Time to wake up, little shadow," the Southern Queen crooned, then backhanded Torrin across the face. "Wake up, I said!"
Torrin groggily opened her eyes. After taking a look at Khelin, she decided she didn't like reality much and would rather be unconscious
Khelin grinned down at her captive. "Good morning." She sounded positively elated. "I'm so glad you could join us this morning." Using the dagger, Khelin slowly cut away Torrin's shirt. "Now why, I wonder, were you doing sneaking around my camps?"
Taking a breath, Torrin tried to center herself. Pain and humiliation were dealt out on a regular basis at the temple. "Oh, come on, Khelin, you're a smart woman. It should be obvious, I was returning the favor you sent us, you know, with Rya's Hawks."
"You were trying to kill me?" Khelin was amused by the very notion. "Don't you know, you can't kill me?" she smiled, slicing away the last of Torrin's shirt and ripped it off the captive woman's body.
Torrin shrugged, seemingly uncaringly. "I guess I do now."
Khelin grinned; the light from the nearby-lit brazier giving her eyes an insane look. "You're mine now, Torrin," she said, reaching over and shifting something in the coals of the fire.
"I wonder, did Luna tell you what I do to those things I own?" the Southern Queen's voice dropped to an intimate whisper, "Did she show you what I did to her? How I branded her?"
Torrin laughed. "I already have a brand that you're familiar with. It's your Mother's after all."
That hadn't been the reaction Khelin had been expecting and she bared her teeth at Torrin in a mockery of a smile. Then she disappeared into the depths of her tent for a moment, and then returned with a long slim wooden box. Opening the polished box she showed Torrin the row upon row of silver needles inside. "Do you know what these are? The tips are coated with an excruciating toxin the far southern tribes use to kill traitors. The people die, they say, of sheer pain." The queen's smile was bloodthirsty. "Let's find out, shall we?" She drew a needle and drove it into Torrin's cheek.
Torrin twitched and tried desperately to move through the pain as she had been taught time and time again at the Temple. The pain kept building up. Like a smithy on her forge, it pumped through her body. Gritting her teeth, she just prevented herself from making a noise.
Khelin stroked the writhing girl's hair, smiling to herself. "There, there. That was good, wasn't it?" she drew another needle, the length of it glinting in the firelight except for the red coated tip. "Now, where too next?" she trailed the tip of it down Torrin's chest, along her right breast, circled the nipple, and then watching Torrin's eyes, stabbed downwards.
The shadows in the tent collected, focusing together in a swirling nexus behind the mad Southern Queen. Faster and faster they swirled until they formed the semblance of a human form. Features became clearer: eyes, white like hard diamonds, red lips, and hair so dark it shown blue in some places. The lips opened, "Stop." The word was breathed out yet it nearly froze the motion of the stars with its force.
The box of needles dropped from Khelin's fingers, scattering them across the floor. "Mother," Khelin ground out, frozen in place by the Mistress of Shadow's command.
"Daughter," the Mistress of Shadows responded. "I see you have retrieved the Betrayer. I am most pleased."
It was obvious from the expression on Khelin's face that she was anything but pleased at the interruption. "As you requested, Mother," she said, slowly released from the earlier command.
The Goddess smirked, not missing her child's petulance. "I wish to have a moment alone with dear Torrin. If she fails to give me the answers I desire, you may continue your games."
There was little room to argue with that command. With a lingering glance at the captive woman, Khelin stalked from the tent.
The Goddess moved over to the bound woman. "She reminds me so much of my brother, so moody...”
"Don't forget insane," Torrin croaked out.
The Goddess smiled darkly. "Look at you. The lessons of my Priestesses serve you well at this moment, don't they? You were so talented at all those things taught to you at the Temple. You only failed the final test. I was so disappointed, I had worked so hard to nurture your hatred and darkness at your homeland."
Torrin could have cared less what the Goddess was saying. All she wanted to do was scream in agony.
"You see, my sister foresaw my daughter's dark path of destruction and with the help of our brother, Armando, she set in motion a child to be born who could unite the North and the South and destroy my line... my baby. I, of course, couldn't let that happen, so I twisted her prophecy. I couldn't change it but I could put a fork in its road, a dark fork." The Goddess pouted, stroking the branded mark in Torrin's shoulder. "Things were going so well and then Luna came into the picture, a counter weight of light and honor. I told my daughter to break her, but alas, she failed and now our destiny is twisted and murky. Neither I or my sister can see the outcome."
Torrin faded back in at the mention of Luna. She was slowly losing her control of the pain.
"I can free you from this. All you need to do is accept me, love me above all others and I can still raise you up to the honor of being one of my Chosen."
Torrin laughed a harsh tormented sound. "Sorry, I've met a few of them. Bunch of pansies, if you ask me. And I will love no other in my heart than Luna, so I'm sorry, there's no more room in there."
The Goddess's face hardened in anger. "Very well. I could have spared you the pain to come." She turned to the door. "Daughter?"
Khelin slid through the tent flap immediately, proving she had not gone far. "Yes?" she purred, hoping for what was to come.
"It seems Torrin will not be joining the ranks of the Chosen. I had hoped to give you a new bodyguard, but oh well. Have fun, but she must never get loose." The Goddess began to vanish, the shadows pulling apart, "Oh, you must not get her blood on you, either," the Goddess breathed out before she left completely.
Khelin grinned at her fading Mother, and then turned her attention back to Torrin. "Let's pick up where we left off, shall we?"
Luna hurried after Fyre, her blood frozen by the look on the Fire Warrior's face. Quickly they passed through the halls of the Abbey, and those they passed stepped aside silently, as if aware something terrible had happened.
The outside walls were quiet when they reached them. Only the soft moonlight illuminated the women who were raggedly gathered together. The Fire Warriors and few remaining Earth Clan rangers hung back in a semi circle around the four who had gone with Torrin over the wall. None of them would meet Luna's eyes as she stepped forward.
Luna could feel the looks of pity and sadness given to her from the surrounding people. Still, licking lips gone dry, she clung to a last shred of hope.
“Where...” her voice failed her, “where is Torrin?”
The four shuffled their feet and glanced at each other silently. Finally it was Janece who stepped forward. The small ranger met Luna's eyes and Luna nearly collapsed as she realized her old friend had been crying.
“We disabled the cannons.”
Luna staggered forward.
“Where is Torrin?”
Her words were desperate.
Janece looked to the other three for help, but found none.
“Something set off the guards at the Southern camp. They realized we were there. Torrin ordered me to go, to tell you what had happened. I found the others.” She gestured to the other three women “and we made it back here. The Southerners were going crazy for a while, and I heard a lot of screaming. Then it stopped and... I think, I'm sorry Luna, I think they killed her.”
From behind her Luna could hear Tyra scream out something and burst out sobbing.
“No,” Luna said, not recognizing her own voice, “Jinete said she wasn't dead.”
More than a few people shared glances at that, and Tyra's sobbing abruptly stopped.
“Luna...” Tasha hesitantly approached the blonde.
“Don't,” Luna snapped angrily. “You all asked her to do this.”
Tasha face was somber. "I know we did. And don't think that doesn't weigh heavily on me. You think you're the only one who lost her? I-I-I just got her back, got another chance to know my little sister again..." Tasha trailed off the words, her emotions overwhelming her.
Luna closed her eyes and bowed her head. Tasha was right, no matter how much it hurt; she was not the only one to have lost Torrin. Squeezing back tears, Luna lifted her face. No, she refused to believe Torrin was dead. She confronted Janece. "You aren't certain she was killed, are you?"
Janece hesitated, and then slowly shook her head. "Luna, Torrin was captured by Khelin. You know what she does to prisoners... better than any of us."
"No, we're not." Fyre broke in, steady and calm. "We don't know that she was caught, and this is Torrin we are talking about." Fyre caught everyone's eye, daring them to counter her.
Something had happened to Torrin, Luna was certain of that, especially after the encounter with Vladlin. Otherwise, Torrin would have made her way back by now. Quietly she asked Janece, "Do they know the cannons are disabled? Does Khelin know her precious war machines won't work?"
The ranger glanced to the other three, all of which shook their head in silent answer to her question. "No. Well, at least they didn't know when we left. They'll realize it the first time they try to fire them though."
"At least there's some good news to come out of this crap," Fyre mumbled.
A plan began to form in Luna's mind, hastened by her desire to find out what had happened to Torrin. "We'll charge them," Luna said softly, staring at the southern lines through one of gaps caused by a cannon ball in the outer wall. She turned to face those behind her. "At daylight, before they realize their cannons no longer work." Luna met the eyes of the gathered Clan leaders. "Do what you want, but come morning, I will charge them, alone if necessary. I would rather die on my terms then waiting for them to attack here, or repair those cannons."
There is a point when the flesh becomes weak, a point where the body breaks and causes the soul to rebel against common sense and the greater good. A point when the line between good and bad ceases to be important. Torrin's body reached that point a few minutes ago when she wondered who was screaming and if somebody could please shut them up. Then she realized she was making the noise and she felt her hold on sanity slowly crumbling.
A group of slaves had placed Khelin's throne next to the table so that the Southern Queen could sit and enjoy her work. She'd long since done away with most of her armor, and her dark sword hung across the back of the chair. Leaning forward, she studied her artwork, the naked body in front of her covered with pins.
"Torrin?" She frowned when she got no answer. Picking up a nearby pitcher of water she dowsed the exposed woman with ice water. "Torrin?"
Torrin gasped from the water, and after a moment opened her mouth. After another moment she managed to croak out a word. "Y-y-yes?"
"Oh good, you're still with us." Khelin smiled and leaned back, crossing her legs. "I wanted to make certain you could still understand what was happening to you."
"Like I would miss all the fun," she sneered. Torrin was quite proud she still had some attitude to give but she had no illusions she would last much longer.
"Annoying to the end, I see," the Queen said contemptuously. She would have much preferred breaking Torrin's will, but dawn was rapidly approaching. Already the eastern sky was beginning to lighten. She needed to get the army ready for the final assault. "I just wanted you to know that Luna's going to be joining you in death soon."
Torrin looked up, her gray eyes meeting Khelin's black ones. "I still don't choose you," she spat. Then she closed her eyes, trying to ignore the pain. Suddenly the tune she had found transcribed on the crumbling parchment at the Castle came back to her and she began to play the song in her head, letting the music take her far away from the physical world and its pain.
"So be it," Khelin murmured, drawing a long slender ceremonial dagger from a nearby tabletop.
Rhain wandered around the camp in a stolen uniform. With some mud in her hair she looked Southern, kind of, she thought. At least nobody had tried to run her through yet. Looking around, she wondered where prisoners would be kept. After staring at a dirty tent with a couple of guards in front of it, she felt like smacking herself in the head.
One of the two guards yawned, struggling to stay awake until they were relieved at dawn.
Rhain looked around desperately trying to come up with a plan. It was hard without someone telling her what to do. Spying a bucket filled with water next to a smoldering campfire, she quickly snagged it and started walking toward the tent. Her brain kept telling her to run away, that her plan was stupid, and she had to agree, but it was the only thing she had.
The yawning guard stretched her arms over her head and glared at the approaching woman. "What do you want?" The other guard simply watched without comment, looking half asleep.
“Um, hi, I have some water to throw on... I mean give to the..." she trailed off. That had not gone well.
The guard snorted, stepped aside and jerked a finger toward the door. "Good, about time someone washed the stench of that one."
Rhain contemplated running away.
"What's wrong with you? You get hit in the head or something?" The guard peered closer at Rhain.
"Oh, good... I mean, glad I can help." She quickly ducked under the flap.
Inside the dark tent, an old woman lay curled up on the dirt floor. A single chain around her ankle shackled her to a large iron rod driven into the center of the tent. The old woman shifted as Rhain entered, holding up withered old hands to stave off another beating.
Rhain blinked letting her eyes adjust to the dim light. Sadly, she only saw the one woman in the tent. Bending down she spoke softly. "Shhh, I'm not here to hurt you. I... I guess I'm here to help you."
The old woman turned her face toward that voice. "Rhain?" the old Priestess whispered, recognizing the voice.
"Do I know you?" Rhain asked puzzled as she bent over to examine the chain on the woman's ankle.
The woman began to laugh softly, shaking her head, sightless eyes staring more or less toward Tyra's daughter. "Little Rhain, Tasha's sister. Yes, I know you," the Priestess laughed softly. "I Chanted for Tyra and Quinn when they were ready to have you."
"Oh." Rhain blushed not wanting to think about her parents having sex. "Well, I guess we have met then." Staring at the chain she wished she were Torrin. Torrin would know what to do or be able to pick the lock. All she could do was sit here and be a failure again. Rhain wondered if she could some how convince the guard to give her a key. Peeking through the gap in the tent flap, she looked at the guards.
The one on the right seemed to be asleep on her feet and the other one wasn't much better. If she could just get the keys without her waking up. Hesitantly, she reached her hand out. Her heart seemed to be in her throat and her hands shook no matter how hard she tried to get them to stop.
The guard shifted sleepily on her feet. It had been a long night on guard duty, with all the excitement halfway through it. Guarding the old woman wasn't that high a priority, and it always seemed that they were the last to be replaced during the change of the guard.
Leaning forward onto her toes, Rhain pressed her face into the fabric of the tent. She wrinkled her nose as the smell off the unwashed fabric traveled up into her nose; dirt, sweat, and other things she probably didn't want to know. She nearly cheered as her fingers wrapped around the cool metal keys. Her hand slick with sweat, she nearly lost her grasp. As quietly as she could, she lifted them off the hook on the guard's belt.
By a small miracle, neither guard noticed the loss of the keys. Indeed, if anything, they both seemed to be even more oblivious to what was going on around them. Behind her, the priestess quietly continued to murmur a prayer.
As the keys slid off the hook, Rhain cheered mentally. Torrin wasn't the only one with skills. With a large grin she brought her hand with the keys into the safety of the tent.The grin fell slightly as she saw how many keys were on the ring. How many prisoners do they have, she wondered. She returned to the Priestess' side. "I got the keys," she whispered as she began trying one key after another.
"Good, child." The priestess whispered, reaching one trembling hand out to touch Rhain's shoulder. "We must hurry, I fear."
"How did you get here? Have you seen Torrin?" Rhain stopped questioning her when she found the right key. With a small groan the metal separated.
"I met Torrin and Luna at the Abbey, back before the winter," the Priestess whispered, her head turning back and forth as if she were trying to see something through her ruined eyes. "She is near. We must go soon, or I fear She may take your sister."
Rhain felt her spirits fall. "She? She who? Oh, Goddess, this is all my fault."
"Hurry, child," the Priestess urged, not answering her question.
Rhain looked around. It was obvious they couldn't go out the way she'd come in. "Don't rush me. I'm thinking as fast as I can." Then with a sheepish look, Rhain reached down to her boot and pulled out a small knife she had forgotten was there. Going to the back of the tent she made a small cut at eye level and peeked out.
Not seeing anyone nearby, she slit the back of the tent and went back to the old woman. She bent over and wrapped an arm around the Priestess and helped her up. Once at eye-level she cringed. "Oh, Goddess. What did they do your eyes?"
The Priestess patted Rhain's cheek with a thin, emaciated hand. "Shh, it is all right child. Quickly now, you will have to lead me. Now I understand why the Goddess sent me south."
O-o-okay," Rhain stuttered, not able to really focus for a moment. Finally she looked somewhere else rather than at the blood-caked holes where the Priestess's eyes had been.
Taking the younger woman's hand again, the Priestess waited for Rhain to lead the way. "You must look for the largest tent."
Rhain nodded and then realized how stupid that was. "Okay."
She led her outside and stopped once they were clear of the foul prisoners' tent. She looked around for a place to leave the Priestess while she searched for the other tent.
The Priestess tugged on Rhain's hand, drawing the warrior's attention. "Quickly, hide us," she hissed.
Frantically, Rhain searched for a place to hide. Not seeing much she pulled them behind some hay bales that were used for the oxen and horses.
A group of Southern warriors passed by the place they had just been standing, The Priestess relaxed her claw-like grip on Rhain's arm. "Now we can go."
"Wow, that was close," Rhain breathed out. "Can you stay here while I go looking for Torrin and that big tent?"
"No child, my destiny is with you," the Priestess whispered.
Rhain bit her lip but finally shrugged. "Okay then." She took the old woman's hand and helped her up. She scanned the camp. "Well, that looks like the big tent over there." Rhain started walking as carefully as she could so not to trip her companion or attract attention.
Khelin looked at the black serpentine blade glinting in the candlelight. "Goodbye, Torrin,” the Southern Queen whispered, a smile on her face as she drew the dagger up, ready to plunge it into the chest of the woman tied to the table top.
The blade tip glinted as the Southern Queen drove it downward. The tip scraped through Torrin's right shoulder and buried itself into the tabletop. Khelin laughed at the expression on Torrin's face. “What? You thought I would kill you without having more fun?” With a yank she pulled the dagger free, grinned and sliced Torrin's other shoulder, letting the blood flow freely.
The music inside Torrin's head faltered, becoming discordant. Her face twisted into agony and she screamed out, thrashing in her restraints.
Khelin laughed again, loving the feeling of power she had over the other woman. This was what she had been missing ever since Luna had escaped her clutches. Idly, she traced the tip of the blade along smooth skin. “Now, where should I bleed you next?”
Panting, Torrin pushed the pain away again as she delved into another musical score in her head. She was far from Khelin and her torture. She was in a safe place where the pain of the real world couldn't touch her.
The smile slipped from Khelin's face as Torrin mastered her pain. Dark eyes narrowed as the Southern Queen studied the relaxed form on the tabletop in front of her. “Well, this is no fun,” she muttered, pondering her next slice.
With a sneer at the woman stretched out in front of her, Khelin dug her finger into the cut on Torrin's shoulder. “Torrin, can you feel that?”
Torrin blinked, coming out of her safe place for a moment. Oddly, she didn't feel any pain. "No," she mumbled. "Are you doing something?"
Khelin blinked in surprise. In all the times she'd done this, no one had ever answered her by saying no. Then the burning started, seeping into the bite wound that Torrin had given her earlier. Swearing, Khelin yanked her finger free, shaking it. Then when that did nothing, she plunged her hand into a pitcher of water, washing the blood from it. Still the burning grew, spreading through her veins.
Torrin drifted away back to her music that made her feel safe and free of pain. She hummed a southern jig very softly.
“You bitch, what did you do?” Khelin swore, grabbing at the ceremonial dagger. The pain radiating from her hand was a constant distraction and she nearly dropped the dagger. Her face a mask of rage she drew the dagger upward. This time she was aiming for Torrin's heart.
A blur streaked from the back of the tent, a tall body running right for the Southern Queen.
Any other time Khelin would have cut the interloper down long before she had reached her. Now though, confused and distracted by the pain in her hand, and focused on killing the one who had caused it, Khelin didn't realize the invader was there until too late.
Rhain felt her heart lurch as she peeked inside the tent. She was going to be too late. Seeing what to her seemed to be the biggest knife she'd ever seen being aimed at her half-sister's heart, gave her feet movement. She burst from her frozen stance running directly at the Southern Queen. 'Faster' she told herself over and over. She had to make it in time.
Driving her body into Khelin's, she reached with a long arm for the knife.
The force of the impact sent them both tumbling backward over throne. Even caught unaware and distracted by the fire in her veins, Khelin was still a warrior. With a wrench, she sent Rhain flipping over, slamming the taller woman into the floor.
The Priestess felt her way into the tent, following the sounds of the fight, whispering under her breath as she prayed they were not too late.
Khelin grunted as she took the kick to the stomach. The dagger went flying to the side, skittering under the table that Torrin was still tied to.
Rhain got to her feet sizing up her opponent. While she was taller, the Southern Queen's eyes seemed to dance with an unholy darkness that made Rhain shudder. She knew the odds weren't in her favor but she had to keep going, she had to make things right. Pulling out her own small knife she lunged at the mad Queen, slicing at the unprotected stomach.
Khelin, her lips curled back in what was a smile only in name, exclaimed, “Oh, how nice, someone's trying to save you, Torrin.” Fumbling behind her, the Southern Queen picked up the first thing she touched, a second ceremonial dagger. This one was unlike the first one. This one was long and curved. With a snarl she met Rhain halfway, the clash of metal on metal ringing out in the tent.
Rhain tried to power the smaller woman back, using her height as leverage, but felt her panic rise, the woman was unmovable.
Khelin's smile turned nasty. “I hope you love that Moon Goddess of yours, you are about to meet her,” Khelin purred, switching to the attack, driving Rhain backward.
Rhain tried to push back and keep her ground. Finally she had to take
a step back and then another.
While they fought, the Priestess, staying low, fumbled her way across the floor and bumped up against the tabletop. “Torrin?” she whispered. “Torrin?” the Priestess called urgently, and then felt the warm body on the tabletop. She inadvertently ripped a few of the slender needles from the body. “Torrin, please, is that you?” the Priestess begged.
Torrin stopped humming and gave a small moan. Her glazed-over eyes blinked and she stared at the sightless woman in front of her.
“It isn't your time yet, child.” the Priestess whispered, fumbling with the ropes that held Torrin captive. “Quickly, you must go.” Grabbing Torrin's arm, she half dragged the wounded woman off the tabletop.
Torrin moaned in pain as her arm was pulled and the wounds wept more blood. She sat up blinking and jerked her arm away. She pulled the rest of the torturous needles out of her flesh. With the needles gone, she shifted until she slid off the table. She grimaced as the world spun and her stomach lurched.
The clang of metal on metal was reaching a crescendo as Khelin and Rhain spared, blades flashing. Khelin pressed Rhain back step by step, the smile on the Southern Queen's face growing as she gained the advantage.
Rhain saw her sister fall off the table and knew she just needed to keep Khelin occupied long enough for Torrin to escape. Feeling somewhat renewed, Rhain pressed back and lashed out with a punch to the Queen's face.
Khelin's head whipped backward as Rhain landed the punch. Grabbing the wrist of the hand that Rhain held the dagger in, Khelin drove her own dagger upward, plunging it up into Rhain's stomach and angling under the ribs. “Fool,” Khelin spat.
Rhain's eyes widened and her hands fell to the blood gushing from her stomach. She staggered back and fell to her knees. Closing her eyes, she hoped what she had done had been enough.
Planting her foot on the fallen woman's chest, Khelin shoved Rhain's body aside. Reaching under the tabletop, she grabbed the first ceremonial dagger. “Now, where were we?” she asked, spinning around, only to find that Torrin was gone.
“What?” Jerking her gaze upwards she spotted Torrin and the fool of a Priestess hobbling toward the door. “No!”
The Priestess shoved Torrin forward, sending her tumbling out of the tent. “Run!”
Still in the tent, the Priestess turned and faced in the direction of the Southern Queen.
Khelin advanced on the sightless Priestess, blade in hand. “I should have killed you earlier.”
The Priestess smiled, raising her hands as if in offering to the sky above. “But you didn't.”
Khelin drove the blade home.
Psst... coming next, the last chapter.
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