Fire Ch. 11byEnithermon©
The thrum of the ram echoed like a drum, and vibrated through her as she stood still and silent in the last fragments of a rose coloured dusk. Cries of pain rose up over the panicked shouts as the first men breached the walls.
The ringing of metal grinding against metal made her spine twitch. She blinked and started, feeling as though her mind had been thrust suddenly and violently back into her body after a long absence. That shiver of nervous energy was back, and it shot through her in a way that made her think she might very well come apart at the seems. They were coming, and they were going to kill her.
Inevitable. Death was inevitable.
"Maybe" she whispered to herself hoarsely as a tight coil of anger twisted stiffly around her spine, "but not yet...not now." Her death wasn't theirs to take, and she'd be damned if she'd let them have it without a fight. If death was her fate, then she would have it her way...and on her terms damn it!
The clothes she'd worn the night she'd arrived were tucked in the back of the wardrobe. She'd tucked them there herself after she insisted she keep them, despite their being men's clothes.
They'd been cleaned, but the scent of smoke and blood lingered. For some reason, the scent made her pensive, but didn't send her into a fit of tears as she had half expected it to. She stared at them a moment, the din of war fading into a distant hum as she focused, but she saw only rough, worn cloth.
With a nod Thea dismissed her heaviness and stripped, carelessly tossing the ladies gown into the bottom of the closet and donned her old weeds, adding to them a dark hooded cloak.
She glanced out the window as she headed for the door, deciding to pick up an iron from the fire place on her way as well.
Something caught her eye as she gripped the handle and pulled the cloak tight around her. There was a shield, highly polished and bearing the markings of the...her...house. There was a figure looking back at her, tall and dark, its eyes shining out from the darkness of its black hood, and it made her breath catch in her throat.
She pulled her hood back slightly with one trembling hand, revealing long auburn hair reflected back to her in the glossy shield. Thea released the breath she'd been holding and turned away.
Outside the cries became desperate, and the sun vanished completely, throwing the room into grey shadow. She rested the iron by the door and gathered the knotted bed sheets she'd tied together earlier into her arms, testing the end tied to the foot of the bed before leaning to look back outside the window.
The battle ranged over the walls now, and a thunderous, splintering explosion told her the courtyard would soon also be swarmed. That didn't give her many options, or much time. She tossed the makeshift rope out the window, strode back to the door, this time acknowledging but not wondering at the dark figure reflected back at her in the shield. Instead she wrapped the image around herself and sunk into it. She lengthened her purposeful stride and caught the iron back up in her hand as she flattened herself against the wall.
She paused a silent moment, holding her breath to better hear the voices outside. The guard in front of her door shifted, anxiously she surmised, as the others ran past to the proper fight. Her lip twitched...it must be killing him to be left behind.
She waited until the others had left and screamed.
The door crashed open almost immediately and a huge and powerful figure lunged into the room, sword drawn and body ready for action. He swore when he caught sight of the white sheet, gleaming as it streamed tellingly out the window, and ran toward it.
Thea slipped from the room and pushed the door shut behind her with her shoulder, sliding the poker into the door hooks the moment it closed. Another curse resonated within and Thea jumped back as the door vibrated with a dull thud. Then she ran.
She moved through the halls as quickly as she could, far more concerned with speed than stealth, and prayed to anyone who was listening that she was moving in the direction of the barracks. Luck was with her and she realized quickly that she recognized the rooms as those she'd passed through with Othwyn on the way in. She ducked into one of the rooms as voices raised loudly down the hall.
She closed the door softly behind her and glanced around the room, taking in as much as she could with her rapid glance. There were bunks and tables, chests and wardrobes, all indicating that she'd found the soldiers' living quarters. She snatched up a dagger left on one of the tables and tucked it into her belt for lack of a sheath. She also picked up a sword from one of the racks which lined the wall, then instantly thought better of it. It made her shoulders tire just to lift the damn thing. The dagger would have to do.
There were no windows, but she spotted a side door. The door led to what looked like a bathing room. This room was small and would be a sad place to be trapped in, but it did have what looked like a small window, set high in the wall for ventilation. She pulled a stool beneath it and found it to be little more than a ventilation shaft...though it did look fairly wide and accommodating on closer inspection, and on a fairly shallow angle. At least it wouldn't be impossible to climb into. Probably not big enough for your average Huroth man, but certainly enough for her.
The iron vent opened fairly easily and she gripped the edges of the narrow passage carefully, hefting upwards and scrambling her feet against the rough stone to push herself into the shaft. She managed to wedge herself in only to find the second vent not as easy to push open. She winced and shifted so that one of her knees bent out against the vent wall and her foot the other. Her legs shook slightly with the effort of keeping enough tension to hold her up as she pushed against the vent with both hands. It popped and she grabbed the outer edge immediately to take the strain off of her legs, once again pushing and pulling as she wriggled upwards.
She peeked quickly outside. The vent opened up high on the wall. Beneath her were a set of stairs leading back up into the keep and flattening out to run along into the walkway of the battlements. There was no fighting here...yet, and what had been there had moved on, so she shuffled out, clinging to one of the old iron hooks jutting out of the wall. The metal bit into her palm, reminding her of the last time she was forced to climb out a window, and she grit her teeth to push past the pain. Somehow she pulled herself out of the shaft and dropped to the walkway below with little more than the few scratches, and none very deep.
The night was dark and moonless, the only light from the still sputtering of torches. She headed towards the place where the shadows lay the heaviest along the walls. There were no ladders here, but a few ropes still dangled loosely from the pockmarked stonework. She found one likely looking rope and secured it more soundly to one of the less rotten looking bits of masonry. The ground was lost somewhere below in the darkness, and gazing down into it she nearly lost her resolve, but the pounding of booted feet and hoarse cries of alarm seemed suddenly too close for comfort.
Thea breathed deeply and gripped the rope, twisting part of it around her leg as she slid herself over the ledge. The voices were upon her and she feared to move, lest her twitching rope alert the passersby to her presence. Instead she clung to both rope and wall and shut her eyes tight, willing the soldiers past, and trying not to think about the expanse of darkness below her.
The noise passed, but she made the mistake of opening her eyes and the void beneath her seemed to open up as if it were a gaping maw threatening to devour her. She whimpered and shut her eyes again, sucking in short sharp breathes as she desperately tried to keep herself from panicking. Her arms were already starting to tire and she let out a low groan of frustration. She wasn't doing herself any favours just dangling there, she needed to move. With a deep breath and a terrified whimper, she loosened her grip and moved one of her hands down. She repeated the process. Then again.
Before long her hands burned and her arms shook. They were unused to the strain and already worn from pulling her through the air shaft in the bathing room. Again....and again...and again she grasped the rope, wrapping her fist around it before sliding the next down. Thea tried to focus on the grey stone before her, feeling out foot holds so she could to ease the strain on her arms...but it did her little good. The burn increased until it was almost unbearable. A steady whimper shook her and she squeezed shut her eyes to block out the terrifying nothingness below her. Still her hands moved, one over the other, but the ground never seemed to come.
And then her hand, smeared with sweat and blood, slipped.
The ground came quickly, somewhere between her heart lurching into her throat and the escape of the scream which was also lodged there. She let out a surprised grunt instead of the still-born cry, and another small gasp of pain as she fumbled her landing, twisting her ankle on the uneven ground. By some miracle she kept her feet under her, though she'd nearly tripped over a fallen body which lay on the ground next to her.
She swallowed hard and tried not to look at it.
She tested her ankle. It was sore but still functional. She would have to move quickly, and the ankle wasn't going to help.
Just as she thought this, a light filled her enclave of shadow and she looked up, startled. A Huroth warrior looked back, the surprise on his face telling her that her hood had probably fallen back. His wide eyes took in her face and began to narrow with what she feared was recognition. She looked about in a panic and caught the body she'd avoided looking at before. His sword had fallen nearby.
She turned and went for it, grasping it with both of her aching hands and swinging it up towards the soldier. The sword was even heavier than the one she'd left in the barracks and it was by sheer force of will alone that she held it aloft, and her already tired arms trembled with the effort.
He lunged forward, swinging, and she was able to pull back just enough to let the tip whistle through the air before her and breeze past, just a hairs breadth from her face. The sensation made her sick to her stomach. She realized that there was no way she could defend herself against his next attack and so did the only thing she could do.
Thea twisted and hurled the sword toward him and flew in the other direction, jumping over the prone body on the ground and swallowing the stabs of pain that shot up from her sore ankle.
She heard him curse as he batted away the sword with his own before shouting out to his fellows somewhere in the darkness. She didn't dare turn back to see how close he was as he followed in pursuit.
She let out her own curse as well as she stumbled blindly into the heavy woods, pushing through the thick, close growing pine. The darkness here was nearly total as the branches weaved tightly around her, forcing her to run sightlessly, trusting to luck and desperation to see her through.
Thea whispered silent thanks that the ground had remained flat and unencumbered with boulders or logs, none of which she would have seen, not in this smokey darkness, not the way she was moving.
Somewhere behind her another shout went up, and there followed the reassuring sound of combat. She hoped that one group of combatants were those following her, and that they didn't win.
Her fumbling finally brought her out of the thicket. The smoke and clouds obscured the night sky leaving the clearing swimming in heavy shadow, but Thea made out the evidence of a creek, some of the smooth stones still jutting out of the ice and snow to mark its path. She looked back at her footsteps. They were painfully obvious in the snow, even if it was less than a few fingers deep.
The creek gave her an idea. She ran across it, letting her footsteps trail into the woods before she retraced her steps to the icy creek, using the exposed stones as steps to try and obscure her true path. She was slowed by her ankle, but if they were still on her track, this would at least buy her a few precious minutes. At least she hoped it would.
She slipped once in her hast, but only winced as her foot broke the thin ice and the frigid water soaked her boot. The sounds of fighting behind her were over, and she allowed herself to shudder once in speculation before pushing herself forward, not knowing where she was headed or in what direction, only following that instinctive, animal directive of 'away' once more.
Othwyn swore loudly as another group surged forward on his right.
"Why the fuck isn't the postern covered?" He hollered, his question only semi-rhetorical.
"It was!" Came a panting response from his left as one of his captains hauled his sword out of another man's body, wrenching it loose from a narrow gap in the armor's joint.
"Well it ain't bloody well covered now. " He shouted angrily as he stormed toward the newest onslaught, motioning for his captain and two others to accompany him. A glance at the main portal told him the newest barrier was yet holding, so he focused on the group cutting their way through his men in front of him. His heart was in his throat. It didn't look good. In fact it was looking progressively worse as the seconds ticked by and the steady stream of combatants only seemed to build as the enemy flooded the yard, their numbers easily overwhelming his own.
Well, if he was going down...he wasn't going to make it easy.
He broke into a run and didn't bother with preliminaries, bringing his sword down hard on the nearest shoulder. The scaled armor caused the blade to glance off, but not harmlessly, and the man buckled from the force, opening his side up for a more serious blow from one of Othwyn's fellows.
He brought his sword up immediately to fend off a blow from another direction and it was Othwyn who nearly fumbled this time as he was pushed back by a fierce warrior who rained down fast and heavy blows and forced him into the defensive.
The noise was terrible, and the din of sword against sword made his ears ring. In a final fit of frustration he pivoted, letting his sword tip down and watched as the next blow missed him and dug into the hard earth of the courtyard instead.
The warrior sacrificed just enough forward momentum that Othwyn was able to throw him off balance with a solid kick. As he stumbled, Othwyn brought his own sword around aiming for just beneath the helm, but the bastard blocked and rolled away, leaving Othwyn cursing in frustration.
A shrill and terrible scream sounded off to his left and he hoped in passing that it wasn't one of his own men. For a moment he thought the chaos grew more muddled and the voices more frightened and confused, but it was probably just the blended streams of fear and blood lust flooding his body, surging through him and keeping his nerves screaming and his senses sharp.
The warrior came at him again, but faltered slightly, this time without help, letting Othwyn twist to let him stumble by. As he twisted he understood the man's sudden and careless hesitation. He himself was struck to stillness by the image of one of the enemy combatants having his own sword wrenched from his grip and shoved deliberately through the opening of his helm in one swift, savage movement even as another found himself on the wrong end of his own shattered halberd.
Othwyn's men were stumbling back from the spectacle and watching in surprise as a man in nothing but leathers and a dark cloak, a stranger to them, strode froward, cutting his way through Darius's men as if they were but minor irritations to be swiftly disposed of and forgotten.
Othwyn almost shouted out to the stranger as a warrior came at him from behind, but before he could the man twisted to avoid the blade before capturing the warrior's sword arm and snapping it at the joint with a terrific cracking sound, then lifted him and did the same to the his neck before letting the hulking mass drop from one hand as if its weight were nothing.
In almost the same breath he snatched a lance from one of Othwyn's startled men and hurled it toward Othwyn himself.
He gasped, expecting to find himself suddenly skewered, but the lance missed and sailed past him instead. A clatter behind him made him whirl, and brought his senses back to their surroundings. His forgotten opponent lay on his back behind him, the lance protruding from the helm and keeping his head bent back at a disturbing angle.
Othwyn turned back to find the stranger inches from his face and a blade point at his throat. It was then that he recognized the face. It was difficult considering he'd only seen the assassin once and his face had been a icy mask, unnaturally devoid of any emotion save, perhaps, boredom. Now it was a mask of rage, replete with burning embers in the eyes and a snarl which Othwyn could only honestly describe as that of an enraged wolf, vicious and fanged. What sort of man sharpened his teeth to fangs?
Othwyn briefly wondered if he'd live long enough to discover what could have accounted for the assassins presence, or why and how he'd single-handedly cut through a good portion of Darius's forces. The stranger, however, didn't make him wonder long.
"Where's the girl, Thea."
Othwyn's men surged forward, finally spurred into action be the sight of their leader at knife point, but Othwyn held up a stalling hand.
"She's up in the keep, in one of the rooms...under guard. I can take you to her."
The assassin gave him a long hard look, clearly weighing Othwyn's words and, finding them true, released him.
"Then move." The man spit out in a dangerous gravel. Othwyn cleared his throat and nodded toward the postern and the main portal.
"We can't yet, if we lose the yard and the entrances then we'll have no way to defend the keep proper. We'll all be in danger." He paused trying to get a feel on the situation and took a risk. "Including the girl."
The man narrowed his eyes at him and let out a low predatory sound that made the hairs at the back of Othwyn's neck stand on end. The assassin turned away, and marched towards the barricaded portal.
To their collective shock he pushed past the the men who stood still holding the entry, ripping a sword from one of their unsuspecting hands, and literally catapulted himself over the barricade and into the fray on the other side. The sound of battle reached them immediately, and they all listened in stunned silence to the cacophony of cries and shouts punctuated occasionally by the singing clatter of swords.
And then there was nothing. The men exchanged glances, but Othwyn couldn't tear his eyes from the barricade.
When the man...if he could be called that, dropped from over the barricade, Othwyn's own men shifted away, brandishing their swords halfheartedly and casting anxious looks in Othwyn's direction. No doubt, he thought, fearing he would order them to charge. No man could have done that. So the silent consensus seemed to be that this was perhaps no man at all and that it would be foolishness to stand in his path. Othwyn wasn't yet prepared to admit to superstition...but some ancient fear was coiling about in the very pit of his being and screamed out for him to stand aside and let the demon pass. The feeling was too strong to ignore and he decided that instinct would prevail.
The...man finally came to a stop in front of him, his dark, burning eyes offering him a silent challenge. Like a defeated hound, Othwyn glanced away and nodded to the keep.