Not By My Hands...
Not By My Hands...
"Whose arse did we neglect to kiss to draw this duty?" Viator asked. The castanic archer tossed his long white hair in a futile effort to shake out the grit.
Makar, the gray-skinned baraka priest, thumped Viator on the shoulder in a gesture meant to be a pat, eager to make friends with his new squadmates. "A small kindness may reap a great reward, my friend. The exarch asked us to rescue his daughter. One cannot refuse, wouldn't you agree? Should we save Sabia, the rewards could be great."
“Uh, huh.” Viator winced as he rubbed his shoulder. "I don’t remember anyone asking you, priest."
Makar was taken aback. This was his first mission with the squad, so he expected to earn his place among them. He’d not expected rejection, particularly as he was there to serve others. Did no one value a priest’s contributions?
"Quiet, you two," Nerys hissed. "You're going to draw attention to us."
"Halwyn, your eyes are the best. Climb up that rock face and find us a clear path," Shirin ordered. The amani lancer's face was beautiful but stern. Makar found no solace in her violet eyes.
"Done." The slayer hefted his greatsword and dashed off.
Viator frowned as he looked around. "I thought we had orders for southern Shara. What are we doing here?”
Nerys rolled her eyes and pointed northwest. "It's a few thousand leagues that way. Get marching or shut up."
Viator smirked. "You're cute when you're mad. We should go find an oasis, get comfortable—"
Shirin wheeled on him. "That's enough! We have a mission. Your dalliances can wait."
"I would never! Not with him!" Nerys was apoplectic.
Makar smiled. He enjoyed the interplay between sexes, the dynamic energy not experienced among the single-gendered baraka. To his eyes, Nerys’s protests didn’t ring true, but as his words weren’t particularly welcome, he held his tongue.
Halwyn returned and reported the way clear. The heavily-whiskered human took a long pull from a waterskin. Makar was grateful not to feel the effects of heat as keenly as the others.
Shirin led her squad deeper into the desert. The sand was hot beneath their feet, but there were no sentries or patrols, so the group relaxed a little bit.
"We could rest beneath the shade of that tree." Viator pointed to a short tree with broad, overhanging leaves.
"We just rested," Shirin growled.
"I mean, we could wait while Halwyn scouts a back way into the kulkari village."
"Viator's motivations are suspect, but the truth in his words is clear," Makar observed. "This is a rescue mission, not a frontal assault."
The amani lancer stared at him for a long moment, her eyes narrowed. "Fine," Shirin said.
The soldiers settled around the base of the trunk, groaning audibly at the cooler temperatures. Makar unslung his pack and held Shirin’s lance while she did the same. Viator hung his waterskins from the handle of his dagger, which he drove into the tree trunk.
The “tree” convulsed and the sand seemed to shriek as it exploded all around them. Halwyn cried out in pain, clenching his eyes shut. Nerys and Viator, too far back to be harmed, leapt away from the eruption.
"Ishara's twisted tongue! What is that?" Viator said.
"Doesn't matter," Shirin said. "It's not gonna stab itself." Shirin's lance gleamed in the sunlight as she charged the enormous reptilian monster.
Makar acted without thought. A word and a gesture surrounded the baraka and his allies with a powerful, though temporary, shield. Makar hurled a pair of magical bolts at the beast just as the glittering stream of Viator's magical arrows struck it. Nerys's fiery blasts seared the scaly flesh, but the beast charged, knocking Shirin off of her feet and tossing Nerys and Viator aside like toys. Halwyn leaped past the attack and swung his greatsword with a roaring shout. The blade cut deep into the monster's flank, and it bellowed before wheeling on the slayer.
Makar murmured a brief incantation and brought his friends back to their feet. As they moved to reengage the beast, he threw out a ring of healing energy, then raced back into range. Makar unleashed a stream of divine arrows and powerful magical blasts at his foe.
The beast whirled, its massive tail struck Shirin, Nerys, and Halwyn. Halwyn flew backward and landed in a stunned heap. Shirin bled from a gash on her forehead, but she covered Nerys. The sorcerer coughed up blood and swayed on her feet. Makar calmly channeled another circle of healing around the lancer and sorcerer, then quickly focused a different healing spell on Halwyn as the slayer scrambled to his feet.
A massive paw landed in front of Makar, and the priest found himself eye to eye with the furious creature. Before the gaping jaws could clench around him, he cast a fiery blast and leaped back out of range.
The reptilian monster groaned in anguish, but the cry was cut short when Nerys’s arcane pulse struck it just as Shirin's lance stabbed through its throat. The ground quaked as the beast fell dead.
Panting with exertion, Shirin studied Makar, then nodded. The priest smiled back shyly and gave her a salute.
As everyone took stock, their eyes came to rest on the castanic. "So...no more rests," Viator said sheepishly. "Got it."
To be continued…