Coalpaw’s theory was interesting and made some sense, but my thoughts on it were interrupted when Tatianna appeared across the square. She had her head down, running hard with at least half a dozen Lionguard in close pursuit. She stumbled, and they were on her.
“Captain!” Coalpaw was moving before either of us had a chance to speak, and I swore as he leapt down into the darkness, taking his excellent night vision with him.
“Stay with Grapple!” I snapped at Baen, rushing after the charr without waiting to see if my partner obeyed me.
Coalpaw didn’t turn to look as I ran behind him, and I did my best to keep up as I stumbled blindly through the warehouse, working off of memory and bruising myself on several crates before I made it out into the open plain. Baen’s eyes were still close enough for me to see myself dash through the moonlight, and through her eyes I could see Coalpaw’s hulking form barrel into the Lionguard, bowling them aside, roaring wildly.
I rushed forward, coming into the brawlers’ range just as I moved out of Baen’s, and drew my rapier as another charr slammed into Coalpaw, knocking him to the cobblestones. I skidded to a halt, adrenaline surging, and stamp lunged, the thrust going cleanly through the charr’s forearm, getting his attention with a roar of pain. I pulled the weapon free, ducking under a vicious swipe of his claws that cut the air a hair’s breath from the top of my head, and my second attack went through the gap in armour at his armpit and up into his shoulder. I pulled the blade free, forced to leap back as another Lionguard – this one a human – leapt at me with a vicious looking mace in hand. He swung, missed, overbalanced and then Coalpaw was on him, ripping the weapon from his hand and slamming his face into the road. Tatianna was up too, grappling with another woman, I saw the captain free one hand, silver flashing, and the Lionguard screamed as Tatianna drove the knife into her gut again and again.
To the Mists with what Tianne had said, if these Lionguard had to die then they had to die. My headache was gone, my exhaustion vanished. My world shrunk down to the simple need to fight. I leaned back to avoid a spear thrust, spinning on the spot to catch the shaft under my arm and brought the pommel of my sword down on the human’s head. I put my blade through the side of his neck in his moment of dazed confusion, whipping it free and slicing his throat away. Blood fountained, and he was gone.
Coalpaw was struggling with a beast of norn I realised was Fiegrsonn himself, the two of them grappling and rolling around on the ground. Tatianna was on her hands and knees, choking the life out of an asura while the diminutive thing struggled to free himself. The charr I had wounded was getting up, one arm dark with blood while the other drew a short sword from his belt, his eyes fixed on Coalpaw and his commander. I ran at him, rapier held loose and ready in my hand.
Tatianna shouted something, but I was on the charr, my sword tip jabbing into the chainmail of his thigh and withdrawing as he stumbled. It was a shallow wound, but I wasn’t about to risk my blade breaking with his movement or against his plate. Besides his face the the gaps in the armour he wore was the only place I could hope to reach flesh, though I could pierce the chainmail here and there I didn’t have a prayer of causing any substantial damage through it, let alone against the plate. Fortunately I’d gotten a good look at his armour, and someone – Tatianna I thought – was looking in our general direction while struggling with another of the Lionguard. It wasn’t the ideal situation to be in while fighting an armoured charr, but it would be enough.
I went for my gun just as he turned to face me, slashing at me with his sword. I parried, the force of the blow nearly making me lose my balance, but spun low to compensate for the impact and rose just as he advanced on me, sword held high. I danced back, sword flicking out to scrape along his exposed nose, drawing blood and a bellow. His eyes went left, and I veered right as his thrust cut the air beside me. I slashed upwards, my blade cutting along the exposed wrist of his sword arm. He hissed in pain, dropping the weapon, but before I could escape wrapped his bear-like arms around me and crushed me against his breastplate.
I shouted, trying to bring my sword up, already knowing that unless I conjured an illusion and betrayed myself as a mesmer I was dead. The charr was too strong, too vicious, and I could tell he was trying to bring his jaws to bear, trying to sink his teeth into my shoulder. Still struggling, feeling my bones creak under the pressure and choking on the foetid breath of a carnivore, I began to form the illusion in my mind.
Tatianna screamed incoherently as she drove her knife into the charr’s armpit, the same place I had stabbed him before. He bellowed, released me to fall gasping to the ground, and swung at the captain with his other arm. She brought both of her arms up in a desperate defence, but the impact sent her tumbling away across the cobbles. The charr turned back to me, roaring as I crawled backwards on the ground, trying to get to my feet. I tried for my pistol again, knowing I was already too late, when a shot rang out. The charr’s vision suddenly flared with red then abruptly went dark.
“What?” I said aloud as the charr toppled slowly over, witnessing the entire affair as Tatianna stumbled towards me. “What?”
“It’s Fotti.” She said, pointing at a rooftop where I could barely make out the flash of a rifle, the sound of another shot reaching me a moment later. “They followed me, and there’ll be more coming!” She coughed. “We have to go, she’ll cover us.” I turned my attention to Fiegrsonn and Coalpaw, realising they were still in my range just as Tatianna looked their way.
The charr was on his feet, running towards us as Fiegrsonn’s bulky form ducked into cover behind a wall, the sparks from Fotti’s next shot flashing against the cobbles where he had been a moment earlier. “He’s getting away!” I said.
“Let him!” Tatianna shouted, grabbing my arm. “Come on! We have to leave!”
“We’ll never get a better chance than this.” I snarled back, pulling my arm free and sheathing my sword. “Go! Help Baen, get her out of here.”
“Kaede!” Tatianna said something more, shouting after me, but I was already gone, running as fast as I could after Fiegrsonn to try and keep him in my range. The norn was stumbling, unsteady, and my vision grew clearer the closer I got. Tatianna watched me run, unknowingly giving me just enough time to round the corner before she lost sight of me.
More shots rang out, and Fiegrsonn turned and saw me, giving me a few seconds to note any obstacles between us, memorising their locations as I picked up speed. He redoubled his efforts to get away, and I saw him study the path ahead, specifically a yawning warehouse door coming up on the left.
I smiled as he turned suddenly, thinking to lose me with the sudden manoeuvre, but I had already started veering before him and he only just made it in before I. He turned, surprised, and I mapped out my position in relation to him in the instant he gave me.
He drew his pistol, giving me a moment to study its make – a revolver, six shots before he’d have to reload – and I darted aside as the hammer went back and he fired, the shot punching a hole in the side of the door instead. The next shot went wide as I wove towards him again, each time moving just as I saw him tighten his finger on the trigger, each time being just where he wasn’t looking and when the last of his bullets embedded itself in a shipping crate I moved in. I ducked under the wild punch he threw at me, going into a sideways roll to avoid the following haymaker that tore a chunk out of the wooden pillar my head had been next to. He was strong, monstrously strong, and I had no intention in engaging him fist to fist. Coming to my feet, I ducked behind another crate and drew my pistol. He advanced with a raw shout, and I waited till he was only a few paces from my cover before whirling out and firing.
At close range, the shot punched straight through his breastplate and deep into his shoulder. The norn barrelled on, roaring in pain, and I threw myself aside as he slammed head first into a crate, barely catching himself before he fell. I groped in the dark, blind, trying to judge where I was as I heard him cursing, swearing at me. I came to one knee, pointed my gun roughly in the direction of his voice and waited till he turned to look at me, giving me the eyes I needed to adjust my aim.
“Don’t move.” I ordered, my gun pointed at his face, barely a metre away, only then slowly turning my face to look at him. “If you so much as twitch in a way I don’t like I will shoot you.”
“Why not just do it then, little girl?” I gritted my teeth against the insult. “Sure look like the sort of murderous filth that whore’d hire. Or she keep you around for your pretty face?”
“Talking is a lot like twitching.” I threatened. “So do as I say and maybe you’ll walk out of here with only one of my bullets in you.” He fell silent, apparently considering the possibility that he might not die here.
“What do you want?”
“Why did you come after Tatianna yesterday?” I asked. “What changed?”
“She’s a criminal. I am a man of the law.” He said. “Nothing changed.”
“You’re as much a ‘man of the law’ as I am.” I sneered. “Why last night? Answer me or I’ll start putting bullets in your arms and legs. I’ve got five bullets left, and I only need one to kill you. Coincidently, you’ve got four limbs.”
“Do you really think you have the time to interrogate me, little girl?” He wheezed with laughter. “With my boys on the way?”
“We have three snipers on the roof who’ve been covering me.” I lied, but his laughter stopped. “Why do you think I just left everyone to run after you? They know where I am. Any of your ‘boys’ try to get in and they’ll blow them away. So if you care about your men at all it’s in your best interest to answer my questions quickly or their blood will be on your hands as much as mine.”
“Do you know what happens to criminals who kill lawmen?” I couldn’t see his expression, couldn’t read his face, but there was something in his tone. Defeat, perhaps. He believed my lie, and he didn’t want his men to die. Useful.
“You drove us to this!” I snarled, drawing on how I would feel in Tatianna’s position. It was easier than I expected. “Threatened our people, our lives, violated our home. You’re only getting what you deserve now.”
“That’s the truth then, little girl.” He said, and I saw surprise flicker across my face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“We’re all just trying to survive.” Fiegrsonn said with a motion I assumed was a pained shrug. “We’ve all got debts.”
“Answer the question.” I snapped. “Stop playing games and get to the point. Why did you hit us?”
“Orders are orders.”
“Who’s orders? Your commander?”
“The commander?” The norn barked a laugh. “If only.”
“I’m getting impatient, Lionguard.” I pointed the gun at his good shoulder, a gesture he didn’t miss. He was tough, and strong, this norn, but there was something innately weak about him. Something already tired and defeated. I wondered, for a moment, how an old warrior like him had come to be in his position, then pushed the thought away. Fiegrsson was base-born scum and nothing else mattered.
“Levaunt. Mishael Levaunt.” He said at last. “He promised to pay off my debt.”
“Levaunt?” I said. “Debts to who?” His eyes narrowed.
“Who do you think?”
Of course, it could only be The Misericorde. There was more here to process, more here to consider and turn over in my head, but I didn’t have the time for it now. I needed to pull every scrap of information out of this man as quickly as I could. There would be more Lionguard coming, regardless of my bluff, and though they’d have some difficulty finding us it would only be a matter of time.
“Why did Levaunt send you?”
“He wants his whore back.” Fiegrsonn said. “He wants her, her ship, the money, everything back.”
“So you just do the dirty work so he can look clean?” I asked, and he grunted in reply. “All this because he wants her back?”
“You don’t know her, do you? She’s dangerous, little girl.” He said. “Smart as Raven and as sharp as his beak. Levaunt didn’t realise it soon enough, which is why he wants her back now.”
Four sets of eyes came into my range, then more, and I was suddenly sharing sight with more than a dozen Lionguard, moving stealthily just outside the warehouse. I resisted the urge to swear, realising that one of them must have seen the direction I had chased Fiegrsonn in. It was a miracle it had taken them this long, but I knew my time was up.
“You and any smart person should stay away from her, little girl. Levaunt’ll get what’s his.” My captive grunted. “Now either kill me or start running. I got nothing else to say.”
I hesitated, considering my options. He’d seen my face, could almost certainly recognise me in the future. It made sense to kill him, but then one of the Lionguard spotted my silhouette through a broken window, shouted to his comrades and the decision was made for me. Fiegrsonn threw himself aside with a shout as my bullet shot past his head, and I turned and ran, using his eyes for as long as I could before diving under a workbench and crawling my way along the ground, feeling my way to where I knew the loading hatch must be.
I fired blindly in the general direction of the Lionguard. None of them could see me, so I had no idea where I was in exact relation to them, but it was enough to make them duck for cover, shouting in alarm. A thought conjured an image of myself running along the crates directly away from the lawmen, firing wildly as it ran into the darkness of the warehouse, leading away from where I hid. Shots went after the clone, none of them hitting the mark, and I waited until it was well out of sight before letting it dissolve.
“Leave her!” I heard Fiegrsonn shout. “Get to cover, and see to the wounded.” There were protests, shouted down by the norn. “I’m not losing any more men today!”
It was an admirable desire, almost redeeming in a corrupt turncoat like him. Almost.
End of Chapter Three