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Righteous fury, p.10
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       Righteous Fury, p.10

           Markus Heitz
 

  “That won’t be possible,” he said sharply, getting to his feet. She was getting above herself, and he had probably encouraged her. He tightened the buckles on the slave collar so that she might realize that the friendly interlude was over. “Lie down, we meet the fflecx in the morning.”

  Raleeha sank down next to the warmth of the campfire, covering herself with the horse blanket Caphalor had given her. “There’s something I must tell you, noble lord, about Sinthoras.”

  “What is it?”

  Caphalor turned to Sardaî, who was settled and still. The night-mare would warn them if anyone approached, but something about the stallion’s stillness worried him. He watched the night-mare, standing immobile with closed eyes, a perfect model for a statue. “Sardaî?”

  The stallion did not move.

  There was a rustle behind him. He whipped round to see the slave girl slump forward, a tiny arrow piercing her temple.

  Fflecx! Caphalor jumped up, grabbed his bow and quiver, and ducked down behind a rock. He sent out black waves of magic to extinguish the flames.

  The darkness enveloped him. He listened intently, letting his eyes were grow accustomed to the starlight.

  He heard a low giggle, then a screech of laughter. Something clinked against the rock next to his ear and liquid sprayed against his neck. A dart had narrowly missed his neck.

  Caphalor put an arrow to his bow and drew it. When he saw a silhouette the size of a child, he loosed two arrows in quick succession. The attacker was felled and loud shouts of dismay rang out from his companions. This enabled the älf to work out where the other fflecx were located and he dispatched a second as quickly as he had done the first.

  This is all due to Sinthoras, he’s set them on to me—why else would they leave their territory?

  Caphalor reckoned he had about thirty fflecx to contend with. He would have to change his position—he’d be trapped if he remained behind this rock.

  He reversed his journey and crept along past his night-mare. He heard a swift patter of footsteps coming from the bushes: a fflecx was trying to outrun him.

  Caphalor’s ability to move silently was his greatest advantage in the dark. Unobserved, he slipped into the thicket behind the fflecx and delivered a kick to the back of his neck. There was a crack and the gnomoid lay still. He had not even been able to shout a warning.

  The älf followed tracks leading straight to a group of three fflecx hidden behind a rock; they had their blowpipes at the ready. Luckily for him they were aiming in the wrong direction.

  Loosing a long arrow, he transfixed the ugly skulls of all three at once and they tumbled to the ground in a heap, anchored together. He grinned. How had they thought they could defeat him?

  A sound so slight that only his älf ears could hear it warned him of an attacker approaching him from behind.

  Caphalor spun and hurled a dagger. He heard his blade enter the fflecx and saw the small body fall. Swift as lightning, he had his second dagger in his hand and had turned up to the left, where more rustling had caught his attention. Another fflecx was staring down at him from a tree, his cheeks puffed out to send a dart.

  The dagger hit home . . .

  . . . and Caphalor felt a prick in the back of his right hand. He went numb all over; it was like being drenched in the icy water of a mountain waterfall. Even his thoughts began to freeze as a milky glaze covered his eyes.

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), territory of the fflecx,

  4370th division of unendingness (5198th solar cycle),

  summer.

  Sinthoras came to his senses but kept his eyes shut. He wanted to listen to what was happening around him.

  He was lying on his back and the floor beneath him was cold. In the distance he could hear a rushing sound and the echoing voices of a large number of the fflecx. There was a draft playing round his face carrying the smell of damp, moss and iron.

  What was that he could hear? Stringed instruments, strange melodies; it sounded odd and foreign to his ears, plonky and foolish, like children making a deliberate hash of their music practice.

  He tried to work out what had happened to his body. Nothing felt particularly unusual. There were no pins and needles or anything indicating paralysis. He opened his eyes and looked around.

  The floor was a brightly colored mosaic, which had been laid chaotically and contained mirrored stones. Some fflecx in full armor stood to one side, watching him with grins on their faces. The wall behind them was as bright as the floor.

  The rushing sound came from artificial waterfalls cascading down from the ceiling and splashing into a wide moat that surrounded the mosaic floor.

  When he turned his head in the other direction he saw Raleeha next to him, and next to her was Caphalor, sitting up and watching him. The look in his eyes promised death. He sat up, then realized their weapons and armor had been taken away.

  “So, the black-eyes have awakened,” said one of the fflecx in a mocking tone, to be met with delighted and raucous laughter from the rest of them.

  Five paces in front of them sat a fflecx wearing a robe that would have suited a barbarian court jester: it displayed a wild mix of colors and patterns. On his black hair he wore a crown of yellow gold with little silver bells attached. His face was chubby and he had a clownish beard on his chin. The contrast between his bright clothing and his black skin was so strong that the clothes overwhelmed him.

  He was sitting on a throne that had been fashioned in the shape of a hand, with the thumb and little finger forming the armrests and the other fingers standing upright to make the back. He was flanked by two ugly, scantily clad fflecx females, their buxom breasts nearly bursting out of the thin dress material. This must be their king. Sinthoras’ disgust showed in his face.

  “You are lucky,” Caphalor said. “I thought at first it was your fault I’d been captured, but I can see you’re no better off yourself.”

  “What is Raleeha doing here?” Sinthoras retorted. “Who gave you permission to take my slave?”

  “You discourteous oafs,” hissed the female on the left, spitting at them. “Hold your tongues and listen to what the great Munumon has to say.”

  The king crowed with laughter. “You tell ’em, Jufula. These black-eyes have no manners. First one kills my wonderful wuzack, then the other one shoots a bunch of my soldiers.”

  Sinthoras was keen to say more to Caphalor, but their mission for the Inextinguishables had priority: they had to get safely out of this interrogation and back on the northwest road. “They set the creature on me. I acted in self-defense, great Munumon,” he responded, standing up. Caphalor also got to his feet.

  “Who said you had to kill him? Have you any idea how long it takes to make a wuzack?” shrieked the king in a high voice. “Seven moon-courses. Seven! And that’s not even counting the time you need for the serum.”

  Caphalor kept his counsel and waited; he glanced swiftly at Raleeha who was still lying on the floor. He was relieved to note she was still alive. He might have a use for Farron Lotor’s sister.

  Sinthoras understood what the fflecx king had been driving at. He gritted his teeth, “What recompense do you demand, great Munumon?”

  His large eyes narrowed. “It’s strange to find two black-eyes and a human wanting entry to my kingdom. Are you here to spy? What do your Incest Siblings have planned?” The other fflecx round the throne started to giggle. “The truth, now!”

  “We are to bring you their greetings and ask about new poisons.” Sinthoras could lie extremely convincingly. “Your reputation as alchemancers is well known, and—” He fell silent as Munumon raised his little arm.

  “We haven’t supplied the Incest Siblings and their breed since we stopped trading with them: nobody else gets to use our poisons and that’s final,” he announced, to applause from his two female companions. “If that’s what you want you’ve had a wasted journey. Now, you’ve caused damage here—I therefore command the three of you to travel to the northeaster
n frontier, where you will find a gålran zhadar sky fortress. They got my favorite crown and an important parchment from me with trickery, you will bring it back.”

  Sinthoras was struggling to stay calm; to be forced to be the fflecx king’s henchman was intolerable, but he had no choice for the present. “How will I know these items?”

  “For that,” Munumon giggled, “you will have to ask the gålran zhadar who rules the fortress. One more thing; when he has given you both those items you are to cut his head off and bring it back.” He jumped up and struck an attitude, the little bells on his crown jingling away. “I want his head by the toe of my boot. If you bring me these three things, I will forgive you for killing the wuzack and my soldiers.” Munumon threw up his arms and in response his courtiers howled their approval, screaming and clapping so loudly that it echoed from the walls and drowned out the noise of the fountains.

  Sinthoras did not have the slightest intention of doing this royal idiot any favors. As soon as they had left the hall, their road lay northwest. Time was not on their side.

  A soft moan came from Raleeha as she tried to sit up. She said nothing, listening.

  Munumon skipped down the steps toward them. He had to throw back his head to look the älfar in the face and as he did so his crown slipped; he caught it before it fell. “I know what you are thinking, black-eyes,” he said, hands on hips. He gave a nod and a dart flew from nowhere, burying itself in Sinthoras’ throat. Where the poisoned tip touched him there was a burning sensation.

  Caphalor got the same treatment. Only Raleeha was spared as she struggled to her feet. She felt around to get her bearings, grabbing Caphalor’s arm to steady herself. He brushed her off and hissed at her to keep still.

  Munumon rubbed his skinny hands with glee and stamped his right foot; the little bells on his crown jingled again. “It’s a slow-working toxin. You’ll both be dead within the moon-course. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I’m the only one with the antidote.” Giggling, he bit his own fist with excitement and hopped back up on to his throne. “Be off with you! Get going!” He shooed them off.

  Waves of hatred rose in Sinthoras and he felt a hot spasm in his temple where the black lines of anger were starting to spread. These oafish, inferior beings all deserved to die. They painted their strongholds ridiculous, childish colors and their only function was to mix these infernal poisons. Why let such useless creatures live? The älfar would not even have to run a prolonged battle campaign, sacrificing their own troops: all it needed was to burn the warty freaks’ whole kingdom down. The thought calmed him and he reined in the anger that was urging him to kill Munumon on the spot.

  Glancing at Caphalor, he was pleased to see the anger lines on his face, too. At least in their fury they were united.

  Munumon gave a shrill laugh and pointed at them both. “Look how upset I’ve made them, our terrifying älfar!” he chortled. “We’ve got the better of them now. Defeated by Munumon, ruler of the fflecx!”

  His court fell about laughing, a further humiliation for Sinthoras. He was worried that Caphalor would not be able to keep his temper. “Do nothing,” he whispered in the Dark Language. “I’ve a plan for making them pay for this as soon as we’ve completed our mission.”

  A piece of purple fruit came flying over and hit Raleeha on the breast. She cried out in shock. This was the overture to a veritable hail of leftovers raining down on the three of them.

  Sinthoras took off his belt and fastened it around Raleeha’s neck to lead her to the door. Caphalor strode at his side, trying to keep his dignity in the face of such insult. Even he was powerless against both the poison and an enemy outnumbering them a hundred to one.

  As they left the hall, their armor and weapons were flung at their feet by two of the fflecx guards. “Here you are, black-eyes, here’s your stuff,” one of them scoffed. “Off you go, to the northeast. You’ll have no problem finding what the gålran zhadar has built.”

  While the älfar picked up their gear in silence, a dozen extra soldiers approached to march them out, the poisoned tips of their spears held threateningly in their direction.

  When they had left the confines of the building, Sinthoras could see that it had been built into a stone hillock hewn roughly into the shape of a fflecx head. Its eyes stared toward the east, and the rock had been painted black and covered in green, blue, yellow and white fflecx signs. Wonky huts of various sizes plastered in loud, clashing colors encircled the hillock.

  “This place is a nightmare,” Caphalor muttered, moving over to a fountain to remove the dirt from his clothing. He scooped up some water and poured it over his head. He stayed like that for a short while. “Thank you,” he said to Sinthoras.

  “It was vital to stop you,” Sinthoras said, washing his hands. Raleeha waited behind them, until they gave her permission to use the water. “We’d never have got out of there alive otherwise. Our mission is paramount.”

  “Our mission,” Caphalor repeated with emphasis as he wiped the water from his refined features.

  “You are angry because I left Dsôn before we had arranged. Let me explain.” Sinthoras stepped away from the fountain and allowed Raleeha to wash. “It was a mistake.”

  “A mistake?”

  “I think I must have misheard you when you told me the meeting time. I was at the rendezvous and there was no sign of you, so I set off; I thought you must have been trying to trick me.” He smiled, hoping to appease the other älf. “Until I remembered what you had actually said.”

  Caphalor snorted. “Obviously you had no opportunity to stop and wait, or even to turn round and ride to meet me?”

  “It was too much of a risk.” Sinthoras examined his spear—the thin blades had bent slightly out of their true lines, but they had not broken off. The dwarves thought their weapons high quality, but älfar weapons were vastly superior to the kind of trash those mine maggots produced. “We might have missed each other.” He ordered Raleeha to clean his armor. “Samusin has brought us together, but I still do not understand why you ran off with my slave girl.”

  “That’s such a bad excuse that I’m embarrassed to know how stupid you must think me: you wanted to find the mist-demon before me,” Caphalor retorted. “I am neither a thief nor a kidnapper. I found your slave girl following your tracks. She set out after you in secret—she wanted to put things right after her mistake with the pirogand yellow. She had lost her way and I took her with me.”

  “Is that right?” he asked the woman, astonished at what he had heard.

  “Yes, master.” She stopped drying her hands on her dress and bowed her head. “If your life had been in danger, I would have given mine instantly to save you.”

  It amused him to hear what she gone through to be near him. He was aware she was besotted with him; she thought of it as love rather than admiration or infatuation. He would never have thought her capable of completing such a dangerous long journey on foot. The girl had stamina, indeed.

  “Will you look at that, Caphalor? My slave follows me into the wildest regions, far from home. And blind, at that!”

  “And she’d have drowned in the marshes if it had not been for me,” his rival added, savoring his victory. “You would have lost a brave and loyal slave if I hadn’t saved her.”

  Raleeha thanked him with a bow in his direction.

  “So awfully gracious of you,” Sinthoras said, looking ahead now. “It would not have been any real loss. Did you enjoy her? Was she suitably grateful?” He leaned back taking his weight on his spear, keen to see how his traveling companion would react.

  “She is a human and nothing but a slave. Moreover, she is your slave: two insuperable barriers to my ever being tempted to touch her, let alone take her to my bed.”

  Sinthoras gave a mild smile. “I know some of your Constellation friends are not above taking up with their slaves . . .”

  “This discussion has nothing to do with our mission, Sinthoras,” came the reprimand.

  The p
rovocation continued: “I understood it was the Constellations’ custom to consort with inferiors—probably because they are too weak to get themselves an älf-woman.”

  Caphalor was not prepared to give a response, thereby giving Sinthoras satisfaction. Instead he asked, “What did you mean about making Munumon pay?”

  “You’ll see, as soon as we are on our way back.” Sinthoras saw two fflecx leading a night-mare along the road. They were guiding it using two long, hooked poles attached to its harness, keeping a safe distance from the stallion’s vicious teeth. “What a fine creature,” he said. “I’ve never seen such a splendid specimen, no wonder you were able to catch me up so quickly! Where did you get it?”

  “A friend of mine, now dead. It was a gift.” Caphalor did not go into detail, but he was relieved to see it again, having secretly feared the fflecx would have killed the animal. “Where is yours?”

  “Killed when I fought the wuzack.” Sinthoras assembled his spear, fixing the two halves firmly together.

  “Then you’ll have to walk,” Caphalor decided, a certain satisfaction audible in his tone. “Sardaî would never accept an extra älf rider.”

  The fflecx released the animal, which trotted up to its master whinnying with joy.

  Caphalor held the muzzle and stroked the stallion’s powerful neck, where he could see several bloodied abrasions. The fflecx must have had their work cut out controlling it.

  “Hey, you lot!” Sinthoras shouted at the fflecx. “Get me a horse, Munumon’s orders.” He pointed to the night-mare. “As big as this, if you’ve get anything that size in your kingdom.”

  The fflecx gave him a startled look and hurried off.

  “Is that a yes or a no?” wondered Caphalor aloud, adjusting saddle bags, bow and arrows, before swinging himself up onto the night-mare’s back.

  Raleeha handed Sinthoras his clean, but still damp, armor. “I expect they’ll give me a horse so I can get to the gålran zhadar quicker than I would walking. That little swine on the throne won’t want us dying from the poison before we get there.”

 
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