Vigilante: Curse of the Sword, An Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

 

Briksan Sarkson was cursed by the goddess, Arashani. At first, he had fought against it. But when he realized he couldn’t escape it—that it would follow him to his grave—he resigned himself to his fate. His only consolation was that he knew what he carried and the limits to his power, and he also knew he was doomed. But there were some people who were cursed with a more terrible fate than he was scourged with and didn’t know it. They weren’t just doomed, they were dead.

Briksan sneered in contempt as he watched Sam Lupest lumber around the busy pub. He carried a dreamy expression on his moist, milky face and sang about how his wife had left him for a rich man from the south. Sam was visibly under the influence of strong wine.

Sam was a big, muscular, pompous, good-for-nothing scoundrel. With that description, Briksan wondered little why his wife had left him for a rich man besides his wealth. Briksan knew he had no right to judge Sam because he wasn’t any better. Actually, he was worse. Still, he couldn’t resist the urge.

Sam wore a ratty cotton dress that matched the color of his skin and gave away the pale flesh beneath it. A drab brown trouser clung to his lower parts, few inches below his waistline, revealing the upper parts of his buttocks. There wasn’t any belt around his waist.

Briksan sneered again, this time louder. He wondered whether it was Sam’s thick legs that prevented his trousers from falling all the way to his feet, or whether it was Arashani holding up the trousers, having compassion on him.

The second thought seemed unlikely because it was the same goddess that had cursed him. Gods don’t turn over a new leaf. They get worse. Crueler.

Anger flashed through Briksan’s heart. The muscles in his face tightened under his skin. He hated her. She had made him into what he was now; a monster. She had turned him into a cruel beastly creature damned to roam the nights with blood thirsty eyes all because of a small mistake he had made years ago.

Briksan took another sip of the drink he had been nursing for the past hour at the corner of the pub. It calmed his nerves and the anger fizzled.

Briksan turned his attention back to Sam. Sam was his closest friend in the village—but only because they were both social outcasts and practically nobodies. Briksan sighed, silently hoping Sam’s trousers would stay up. There was only so much shame a man could take before he did something foolish. Then Briksan would have to put an arrow in his throat or thrust a sword through his heart or hack his waist with an axe.

Briksan could think of a number of ways to kill Sam, all of which would guarantee an excruciating death. He knew he would enjoy slaughtering Sam, friend or no friend. If Sam killed an innocent person, Briksan would haunt him down and kill him as if he were a rabid animal. It wasn’t Briksan’s fault that he was that way. It was what the goddess had turned him into—a compassionless and cruel killing maniac.

All around Briksan, no one seemed to pay any attention to Sam as he trudged around the pub, making his way between round tables. It was a normal evening in the most popular pub in Gyarunge. The pub was steamy hot and riotous with laughter, loud conversations and heated arguments. The eleven tables crammed into the small room were packed with at least five commoners per table, except his. At one corner of the bare, faded, purple walls was a bar. The bartender was occluded by the jammed bodies sitting at the bar.

In spite of the somewhat serene atmosphere, there was a haunting awareness in Briksan’s heart that the night was about to get murderous for him. He had to kill tonight. He couldn’t endure a night without snuffing out life from someone, almost anyone. He sneered. It was the gift of the curse.

The urge to kill would start the moment the moon cleared the western horizon, and would steadily grow stronger. If he didn’t kill early enough, the urge would become so overwhelming that it would take over. No one would survive in the entire village. He would slaughter everyone in sight until the urge lost its hold over his consciousness which was usually in the morning.

The urge had taken over only once. It had been a massacre. He had murdered every soul in the village—man, woman, child and beast. None had survived.

It pained Briksan to think of that bloody night. It was the darkest night for all of Lazul since the Tus wars. Shortly after, Briksan had moved to Gyarunge and had sworn never to spill innocent blood again. This was the reason why every night, Briksan hunted down criminals, and in Gyarunge, they seemed to be in endless supply.

Briksan took another swipe at his wine. He could feel the urge rise within him. He had to leave soon. If he stayed a while longer, he couldn’t trust himself not to butcher everyone in the pub.

Briksan tensed. Sirens exploded in his head. Something was wrong, he could sense it. It was also a part of the curse that he could sense danger before it came. He had an early warning system which manifested as sirens in his head.

Briksan shot to his feet, knocking over his chair.

The pub became grave silent, all eyes affixed on him.

Briksan’s heart raced. He considered several possibilities. Tonight was one night he didn’t want trouble. The four governors were present in Gyarunge for the governors’  council meeting. Over the past few months, tension had grown between the four territories of Lazul: the north, the south, the east, and the west. The governors had agreed to meet here in Gyarunge to diffuse the tension and plan to move Lazul forward. If any of the governors died, there would be war.

Briksan caught his breath. His mental sirens blared. His eyes widened a little—someone was running towards the pub. Briksan spun around and faced the door.

The wooden door swung open and a thin woman fell into the pub. An arrow stuck out of her left chest where blood had drenched her pale blue gown.

Men jumped to her aid. The pub owner, an elderly woman with grey frizzy hair like a bird’s nest, came around the bar barking orders to her workers behind the side door. She took charge of the situation immediately, tending to the wounded, young woman with the bowl of water and soft cloth one of her workers had provided her with.

“Help,” the woman muttered, “they took them.” She coughed and sputtered bright red blood over her caregiver.

“Quick,” the pub owner said. “Someone should go and get the physician.”

The two men farthest from the scene ran for the door.

“And warn the guards,” the bartender called after them.

It didn’t matter; Briksan knew that the threat was long gone. He also knew that the woman would die soon. The arrow had gone right through her heart and ruptured it. Time was running out, he had to find out as much as he could before she died.

Briksan pushed through the surrounding crowd. The young lady looked like death. Her skin was pale, almost lifeless. Her breathing was shallow and labored, and her heartbeat was faint. Her dilated pupils stared at the ceiling, unfocused. Death was only seconds away.

“Who took who?” Briksan asked strongly enough to get the dying woman’s attention.

The elderly woman shot him an evil look.

Briksan frowned, his anger building.

“Kaza,” the woman muttered between raspy breaths. “He took the children. He took Rachael.”

Murmur swept through the silent pub.

Briksan staggered backwards a little. His head swirled. The warlord had struck again, and this time he had taken the woman he loved. Shock quickly gave way to anger.

“Where?” Briksan asked, but he already knew the answer to the question. There was only one place Kaza could take his victims to and there was only one thing he did with his victims when they got there.

The woman raised her shaky hands and pointed north.

It was the only place Briksan dare not venture. Panic swept through him like a flood.

“The evil mountain.” The young woman’s violent coughs drowned the whisperings of fear at the mention of the mountain. “The children shall be sacrificed to the gods at the apex of the evil mountain…Those were Kaza’s words.” Her eyes rolled inwards as the young woman went slack with death.

The elderly woman shut the dead woman’s eyelids and sobbed, covering her mouth to stifle the sounds with her bloodied hand. Her workers, five teenage girls, gathered around her and wept with her. Some men cried too, but others were quiet like Briksan. The barbarian warlord had struck again. The last time he had struck, a whole village had been wiped out by his forces. Now Gyarunge had been marked. Who could stop him?

Briksan raised his head towards the north. Though all he saw was the peeled paint of the corner wall, he knew that the evil mountain stood somewhere in that direction.

Briksan could turn his eyes away and move on to the next village or better still go into one of the towns or cities, maybe the capital. He could walk away and not get involved, after all he wasn’t a soldier. He could meet Kaza on his own terms and deal out vengeance, but he wouldn’t. Kaza had made a mistake this time. He had taken Rachael, the only woman that knew who he was—what he was—and loved him the same.

The urge to kill poured into his body like molten iron into a metal cast. He could feel the curse of the sword get a hold of his body and his mental faculties. There were only two things to do; rescue Rachael and destroy Kaza once and for all.

One of the two men that had run out earlier came back in with the physician, a bent old man. “The council of governors is having an emergency meeting now,” he said and ran back out the door.

The physician thoroughly checked the woman for vital signs before he declared her dead. He spoke softly to two men standing around and they broke from the crowd, carried the dead body and followed the physician out the door.

There was no trace of blood where the woman had lain and died. No sign that she had been there or that death had transpired there. That was how life was, Briksan thought. You did all you did and then you went away without as much as a mark. Death was cruel, but time was even crueler. It didn’t matter if you were a great leader or a venerable army commander, all it took was time. Your deeds would be washed away in the ever churning, ever stormy seas of time.

Briksan left the pub and headed for the council hall where he knew the governors would meet for the emergency session. All the information he needed for his quest, he would get there. Briksan sighed once again that night. He hoped he wouldn’t kill anyone on the road. The only people that deserved to die this night were Kaza and his men.

CHAPTER TWO

 

The small path, hedged in by low wide huts with thatched roofs, and besieged by a stream of villagers, opened into a wide clearing. Word of the capture and the young woman’s death had spread through the village. All paths led to the council hall to know what the decision of the council of governors would be.

The council hall couldn’t look any more modest than it already did. It stood at the center of the wide clearing, a four walled container of brick and mortar. Its roof was made of straws as were the roofs of the other houses.

Briksan had been to many other villages around the outskirts of the north. Though the north was generally the poorest of the four governments of Lazul, to Briksan, Gyarunge seemed to like to wear it like a badge of honor. While other villages’ council halls were large majestic structures with imperial architecture, high fences and a wide paved compound, Gyarunge’s council hall was a nondescript brick encasing with nothing in the way of fencing, nothing to distinguish it as the center of power of Gyarunge.

Briksan crouched in the darkness on the roof of one of the houses lining the path to the council hall. He observed the procession with keen interest. The villagers wore long faces, some wailed with reckless abandon (probably relatives to the kidnapped children), while others wept. Briksan was four houses away from the guards that surrounded the hall yet he could clearly see their eyes and he could read the expression on their faces. It was another part of the curse; he could keenly see objects from far distances and he could sense their emotions as if he and the object were one.

The soldiers were terrified. It wasn’t just about the children being kidnapped; it was the fact that their village was marked by Kaza. Villages that had been marked that way in the past had been razed in spite of Lazul’s intervention. Now Gyarunge had been marked. These soldiers knew their chances of survival were minimal.

Briksan had been a soldier once—an army commander in fact. He could relate to the soldiers’ feelings. They couldn’t run because this was their village and they had sworn to protect it. They couldn’t fight what was coming. Others who had tried had failed woefully. All they could do was wait and die. Gyarunge would end up like all other villages Kaza had marked in the past: razed to the ground.

Briksan balled his hands into fists as he gritted his teeth. The urge had grown stronger since he had left the pub, filling his body with inhuman energy and flooding his mind with murderous rage. Briksan slightly pressed against the roof and leapt into the air in the direction of the council hall. He reached heights that no human being could have ever reached, cutting through the air with striking speed. He covered the distance to the hall in seconds and landed on the roof with a silent thud.

Briksan froze and listened intently.

No one shouted at him. No one had seen his descent through the skies.

Briksan scanned the roof. The first thing he noticed was the hard ground. The roof wasn’t made of straw like the other houses, it was made of stone. Stable straws had been strewn on it. Briksan noticed an open skylight. He crawled towards it.

The four governors sat around a table at the center of the hall. Briksan recognized them.

“Zorander!” Ulymus said, his voice echoing in the room, “despite your sorcery, you can barely keep your people safe.” For a short man, Ulymus, governor of the east, had a loud voice. A short pudgy man with dark blue eyes and a short beard sticking downwards from his chin like stalactites in an ice cave, Governor Ulymus was known to employ wit and deception with such effortless grace that he had deluded the great Magnitus, former emperor of the east and tyrant extraordinaire, into surrendering the throne. That day, Lazul had celebrated the birth of democracy in the east, but in the corridors of power, it was decided that Ulymus was not a man to be trusted.

“Be careful, Ulymus Ualiuvus.” Zorander, governor of the North, ruler of Gyarunge, replied. “Remember you are in my territory.” Zorander was taller than most men. In addition to that, he had a slender shape which made him look long rather than tall. The shoulder edges of his regal robes shot out like spikes on a wall. Briksan had no doubt that Zorander would have loved to impale Ulymus with them. It was rumored that Zorander was a sorcerer, that he often convened with the dead and sought wisdom from the abyss. Like all rumors, there weren’t any hard evidence, but Briksan was always unsettled by the man’s eyes. They were unreadable and almost vacant like he wasn’t present in his body.

Briksan had heard of people dying by sorcery. He had tracked down and killed his own share of sorcerers. He suspected Zorander wasn’t someone he could easily kill.

“Bah,” Ulymus said, waving away Zorander’s implied threat with his hands. “Where were those teeth when that fool, Kaza, attacked?”

“I will not—” Zorander started, his voice rising.

“That’s what I thought,” Ulymus cut him off again with a dismissive wave of his hands. “Another one of those your airy rants.”

“I do not think any of us could have done anything different than Zorander did to prevent such incursions had they happened in our territories.” Ariel’s voice was calm and even yet strong and sonorous. The governor of the West was tall, but not nearly as tall as Zorander. His brown eyes were wizened beyond his age. Maybe that was why they always carried a sad expression about them; they knew too much of the folly of men. Strands of grey hair lined his thick dark hair. Ariel’s wisdom was great throughout the lands and so was his kingdom. The west was the largest independent state of Lazul with the highest population. Leading such an enormous amount of people stretching over a vast expanse of land could cause great strain.

No wonder he had developed grey hairs at such an early age, Briksan thought, observing the grey linings on Ariel’s thick dark hair.

“Speak for yourself, Ariel,” Ulymus retorted. “If it was not for the north’s poor impoverished defenses, Kaza could not have walked into a Lazulan village and abducted twenty-six children. Twenty-six!”

“Says the son of a whore who gained power through deception and guile rather than honor and a fight.” Zorander balled his hands into the air. “What do you know about city defenses? When was the last time you fought a war?”

Ulymus flared with anger. “How dare you insult my—”

Zorander slammed his balled fist into the table. “Where were you during the Tus war? Where were you when the different factions of Lazul were unified into four governments? Where were you when Kaza struck the west and Ariel needed our help?”

Ulymus glared at Zorander, his eyes glowing in pure hatred. If stares were knives, his would be razor sharp, tearing through Zorander’s ocular muscles.

For a moment, Briksan thought Ulymus would lunge for Zorander.

Ulymus clapped, his angry face melting into a smirk. “I applaud your…heroism in battle, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that a warrior attacked one of your villages and made away with as many as twenty-six children. Zorander, son of Zakaiah, you have failed your fathers.”

Briksan could sense the tension tearing through the room.

Zorander shot to his feet. “I will not tolerate this insolence in my territory—before my people,”

The murmurings of the villagers that had crammed themselves into the council hall had quieted down.

“What insolence?” Ulymus yelled back, jumping to his feet, his lack of height made evident as he stood before Zorander. “I only speak the truth.”

“If you are trying to start a war, Ulymus,” Zorander said, jabbing his finger in the short man’s face, “I assure you, you will find out just how strong the northern army is.”

“Zorander, Ulymus, please,” Ariel begged with tired eyes. “War isn’t always the answer. Let’s—”

“War?” Ulymus replied grinning with sarcasm. “You speak of war when you cannot even defend your people? I never thought I’d say this Zorander, but you’re a shameless excuse for a governor.”

“Why you little rat! I will destroy you. I’ll raze your cities. I’ll burn your villages. I’ll—”

“Enough!” Lillian roared.

Silence swept through the hall.

Ulymus and Zorander still glared at each other, but they dared not speak. Lillian, governor of the south and Lord of the council of governors, might be a woman, but she was the most powerful of the four governors in all regards: physical strength, wealth, military strength. No one dared oppose her. When she spoke, everyone listened. Sometimes, Briksan wondered whether other territories were truly independent or whether they were all ruled from Omnitus Prime, the capital city of the south.

“Sit down, the both of you.” Lillian instructed with an edge in her voice as if daring them—begging them—to defy her. Lillian had a tall slender figure, fierce eyes and golden hair that she wore long. She was beautiful in a salacious way which Briksan thought was no fault of hers. She had become governor by inheritance being the second born of Shanitus and heir apparent to the throne. The first born, Lillian’s elder sister, had been lost along with their mother during the Tus war. Lillian was just a child then. The south had searched for years but her mother and sister were never found. They were presumed dead.

The Shanitus household was the richest in Lazul and naturally, the south was the richest territory. The south had the brightest military tacticians and the strongest military force to go with it. For all intents and purposes, the south was the greatest of the four governments and as if to buttress that point, Lillian sat majestically dressed in full body armor that sparkled even in the dull light from the surrounding torches. She stared at Ulymus and Zorander through ferocious dark green eyes that had yellow specks around the edges. Those eyes were distantly familiar to Briksan.

Ulymus and Zorander obeyed her instructions.

Briksan had a feeling that there would be more of what had just happened to come in the days and months ahead.

“Now,” Lillian said, calling attention back to herself, “twenty-six children as well as a woman. How did that happen?” Lillian shifted her gaze to Zorander. “Tell the council and the twelve representatives and the people of Gyarunge what happened.” The twelve representatives, who comprised three persons from each government, sat in tall chairs around the governors. Behind then were three layers of armed warriors and then the teeming villagers.

Zorander shot one last angry look at Ulymus before straightening himself in his chair. The anger vanished from his face and his voice as if it had never been there in the first place. “Kaza struck during a shift change of our border patrol. He attacked us exactly where our defensive line around the village was weakest. Unfortunately, the children were attending night school with their teacher—the woman that was kidnapped along with the children. They were all abducted. Before our forces could arrive at the scene of the incidence, Kaza had retreated with his prize.”

Someone wailed in the crowd. It incited a strong response from the crowd. The people broke into factions while others cried. A huge crowd had gathered around the building that was too small to fit them. These ones also joined in, fearing to be left out in this act of allegiance. The wailing sounded like eerie cries distressing the calmness of the night and assaulting Briksan’s ears. He winced, wishing he could shut them up.

Lillian raised her right hand.

“Silence.” A guard bellowed.

Silence descended amongst the people, rippling to the crowd outside.

“Is it confirmed where the abductees were taken to?” Lillian asked.

Briksan caught what he thought was a glint of hope in Lillian’s eyes as if she expected Zorander to say no. He could tell that the issue was personal to her. The question was why? The north couldn’t be any more farther from the south than it already was.

“I’m afraid so, my Lady,” Zorander replied, a grim expression on his face. “Kaza is taking the children to the northern face of the evil mountain where he has a fortress. He has taken the route through the forest of Arduin.”

Ulymus muttered a silent curse.

A murmur rumbled through the room.

Briksan already knew the information but that didn’t prevent Zorander’s words from causing the hairs on his neck to stand on end. The evil mountain was one place no Lazulan could go and expect to return. But what caused Briksan’s fear was the route Kaza had taken. It was suicide to enter the forest of Arduin.

Kaza had struck border villages before. His usual target was the west. He would pass through Rahmna and cross the Trithis marshes to get to the west from the evil mountain and back. Now that Kaza had abducted his highest number yet, he chose to enter the forest of Arduin? Risk the lives of twenty-six children and Rachael? Briksan couldn’t wrap his head around that.

“How is that possible?” Ariel asked, quieting the babbling crowd, “Kaza would have to cross the forest of Arduin with all its terrors, the river Lephretes where the winds of Nanthos stir from, and then go through the barren lands which no man can cross before he is fried by the sun’s intense heat. No one can survive that journey. No one!” Ariel’s voice exuded all the fear that everyone felt.

“The details are still sketchy,” Zorander replied, “nonetheless, my wise men tell me that Kaza possesses an ancient power that will help him convey himself and his host to the evil mountain without harm.”

“How ancient?” This came from Ulymus.

“I am not sure,” Zorander replied, thoughtful. “I do know that it’s older than the new world. It originates from the old world, maybe as old as the elder gods.”

There was a silence.

Ariel broke the silence. “If what you say is true, then it would be foolishness to go after Kaza.”

“Not just foolishness, Ariel,” Zorander replied, “It would be a blood-bath.”

“During the rule of Ignatus,” Ulymus said, “when Lazul was united under one government, capital punishment was banishment to the forest of Arduin. No one ever survived because of what lay in the forest. Our rescuers wouldn’t even catch up to Kaza before they are ripped apart.”

“I think we should start considering the possibility that Kaza would use such power against us,” Ariel said. “He has not made it a secret that he is an enemy of Lazul.”

“So we cannot send help to the children?” Lillian asked.

Zorander sighed. “No, my Lady. It would be a waste of the lives of our men. The children were already dead the moment they crossed into the forest of Arduin.”

Lillian turned her face away to hide her disappointment.

The crowd erupted into cries. Even from outside, the cries filled the night.

For Briksan, the urge grew stronger. He could barely control it. The urge made Briksan stronger, faster, more agile. Though he doubted he could save Rachael, he would still try. Rachael was the only person who made his pitiful existence bearable. He couldn’t think of life without Rachael.

“Silence!” A guard’s command stilled the crowd and brought Briksan back into the council hall.

“If we cannot go after the children, maybe he can.” Lillian said.

Ulymus frowned. “Who, my Lady?”

“Him.” Lillian looked up and pointed directly at Briksan.

Everyone looked up at him. “It’s the vigilante,” some in the crowd whispered.

“Guards, seize that man.” Zorander commanded his guards.

Briksan smiled, admiring Lillian’s tact. She had managed to sense his presence without giving any indication that she had. She was truly a warrior.

The soldiers would be surrounding the council hall now and making their way up. Briksan had only seconds to escape. He didn’t want to kill any innocents.

Briksan studied Lillian’s eyes as they looked into his. They pleaded with him to help save the children. Briksan nodded and spoke with a deep voice that filled the hall. “I will find them and return them home.” Briksan stood and turned away. He didn’t know why he had said that. He didn’t need to. There was just something familiar about Lillian’s eyes that had inspired him to say it.

The villagers that had jammed themselves in the hall were now pushing their way out. Briksan heard their whispers: can he help us? Will he help us? Even the vigilante couldn’t make it that far.

Briksan walked to the edge of the roof. All eyes were on him, villagers, soldiers and governors. In the mass below him, several held torches that lit the ground. Briksan stood at the edge and stared at the frightened villagers. His outfit perfectly concealed his identity. He wore green, hooded leather shirt and trousers with a buckle belt holding both at his waist. The green hood was a gift from Rachael. It was made of rare material in the south that refused the penetration of light.

The muscles around Briksan’s face tightened. The urge was getting unbearable. His eye sight was reddening. He had to kill someone, now.

“Vigilante,” Zorander bellowed from below. “You are surrounded, surrender.”

Briksan studied the governor of the north. Zorander stood at the center of the crowd, surrounded by two layers of soldiers. They were the governor’s personal guards, the best warriors in the whole north. Around the outer perimeter of the crowd, several archers aimed their bows and arrows at Briksan. One word from Zorander and they would unleash a hail storm of arrows at him. Briksan would never survive it.

Briksan slowly bent to a crouch and summoned all the strength that built in his body. With a wince, he stifled the urge to jump into the crowd to start hacking and slashing.

“Well?” Zorander said. “Would you rather die up there?”

Briksan managed a smile at the governor. He would die, but not today, and certainly not at the hands of Gyarunge archers. Briksan took one last look at Zorander, carefully studying his eyes. He frowned. There was fire in Zorander’s eyes. The goddess had told him that he would know murderers for the fire in their eyes—fire that only he could see. Zorander had that fire in his eyes, fire like a wisp of smoke swayed by a soft wind.

Briksan tensed. What had Zorander done? Who had Zorander murdered? Was that why he was so keen on catching him? Briksan clenched his teeth barely overcoming the urge to arrow Zorander where he stood.

Briksan jabbed his finger at Zorander, and the murmurs of the crowd ceased. “Murderer.” Briksan shouted, letting more anger into his voice than he had intended.

The crowd gasped.

Zorander shifted his weight to his other feet. His gaze wavered.

Briksan continued. His voice was low and deadly that everyone strained to pick his words. “When I return, I will find out the truth. Then I will come for you and kill you.”

Zorander’s expression turned to stone. “Very well,” Zorander croaked. “Archers—”

Briksan shot into the air. Several arrows whizzed by but none hit him. Briksan cut through the air, rising higher—inhuman higher, the air rippling through his cloth. He crested and descended, several houses away from the council hall and beyond Zorander’s archers’ range. Despite his velocity, Briksan landed on a roof like a dove, softly.

Briksan stood, swung around and faced the distant council hall. He made his hand as if about to notch an arrow. An arrow and bow of fire appeared in his hands. He pulled the fiery bow string and targeted Zorander’s heart. Briksan could see that far.

The crowd ran helter-skelter. The archers shot into the air. Zorander yelled orders, turning, searching for him. Briksan wanted to kill the man. He wanted to tear him to pieces and give his carcass to the birds of the air.

Briksan roared in anger and raised his bow to Lillian who was looking in his direction. Briksan let his arrow loose. The arrow zipped through the air. It covered the distance to the council hall in under three seconds. The fire whizzed past Lillian’s lower right ear, causing her hair to flail. The arrow struck a white haired man behind Lillian. He staggered backwards and collapsed to the floor, dead. The people around his dispersed like a ripple.

Almost immediately, the urge reduced. It was still there and he was still dangerous, but Briksan would not become a wild killer tonight.

The man Briksan had killed was one of the north’s representatives, Garland Nartiatun. Garland was responsible for several deaths that had plagued the north’s senate few days ago. Though he had not slashed the sword himself, Garland had ordered the hits on those senators. Garland was just as responsible for those deaths as the men that had swung the sword. He had failed Lazul.

As for Zorander, Briksan would not kill him today. Not while the other governors were around. He didn’t want to start a war. But when he returned—if he returned—Zorander would be the first person he would visit in the night.

Briksan’s eyes focused. He still stared at Lillian who still looked in his direction. At that distance, Lillian would only be able to see his silhouette.

The crowd was disbanding.

As Briksan studied the yellow specks in Lillian’s eyes, it suddenly hit him where he had seen eyes like that. Briksan’s muscles weakened for shock. It could only mean one thing. But how could it be? It cannot be. Briksan shook his head. He couldn’t bear to consider the implications.

Briksan turned away and jumped off the roof to the sand ground of the deserted street. He looked north and saw the distant outline of the evil mountain. At first light tomorrow, he would set out for the forest of Arduin. Though he wasn’t as strong in the day, travelling at that time was the best chance he had of making it past the forest alive. The dark places of the earth are the habitations of evil and cruelty. How true, Briksan thought.

Briksan sighed and pulled back his hood. He was more likely to die before he made it to Kaza’s fortress, but he couldn’t turn away now that Rachael needed his help. He couldn’t bear to allow Kaza do to Rachael what he had done to his parents. The tyranny of Kaza had to end.

The hushed conversation of approaching villagers filtered into the air.

Briksan pulled on his hood and ran into the night.

###

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