Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dark Armor 010: Shadows

Pallian stopped, looking around and seeing nothing out of place. The area around the command tent was bright with glowstone lamps and the ensorceled flames of lamps and torches, but there were still shadows. The Champion of Edrias could be anywhere. After a moment he flung up an arm in a come-along gesture and started towards the edge of the camp. He left his sword in its sheath.

It was a gamble; the Shadow might be waiting for him to move away so it could slip into the command tent and murder Ravaj. But... it had addressed him, which made no sense if that was its plan. It would know that the Black Knight wouldn't panic and throw the camp into chaos. For that matter, he doubted that such chaos would help the Shadow do its work. So... this had to be something else.

He wished he were certain of that.

By the time he'd passed through the soldiers' tents, the watch lines, and out to the edge of the camp beside the wards, he was half-panicked with doubts. He saw no sign of the Shadow of Edrias; his armor detected nothing. And if the Shadow had somehow tricked him, his father would flay the skin from his back. But he stopped, forcing himself to move calmly, and used the armor to make sure there was nobody close enough to overhear him. Then he said quietly, "You cannot be here. You have to go." His voice was still deep and harsh; as long as he wore the helm, he had no choice about that.

To his profound relief, the Shadow of Edrias answered immediately: So, you attacked our camp.

"You knew I would." Where was this going? It wasn't a soldiers' talk; it had more the feel of dealings at Court, all innocuous statements and false pleasantries, with the real meanings carried in context and innuendo. Pallian decided to go with that: "I confess, I'm a bit surprised you haven't assassinated the prince already."

Or died trying?

"Or died trying." What did the Shadow want out of this? If his father was listening to this exchange, Pallian would be executed. It was not the place of the Champion of Teregor to decide when to parley with an enemy. He was to kill them unless ordered not to. The longer this conversation went on, the greater the risk.

I confess I'm surprised you made it out of our camp, said the Shadow. Did you slay the archer?

"No. Two guards, and an older man who looked like a sorcerer-general, directly. Indirectly, some number of troops from the flames of my attack, and maybe some staff officers when I destroyed the command tent." There was no point in lying about it; the Shadow could find all this out simply by returning to camp. But... "You were worried?"

There was a long silence -- so long that Pallian began to think the Shadow had departed. Then: She's my sister.

"She was magnificent," Pallian said quietly. "If I ever meet her again, I hope it's well away from any sort of battlefield."

She failed to kill you, though, that soft, directionless voice mused aloud.

Pallian shrugged. "I think only because Ravaj intervened. She was certainly trying, and I was running out of tricks."

What is the prince to you?

Pallian hesitated, but... the Shadow of Edrias had already made an admission. "My brother."

There was another long silence. Another time, then. But, Champion? Your brother needs to die for what he did to my sister.

Pallian frowned inside his helmet. "Your sister the archer?"

No. My sister, the Heir of Edrias.

There was a soft rustling, then a shapeless dark blot rose into the air. It was lost in the night sky almost immediately, and Pallian knew that the Shadow of Edrias had gone.

Huh, he thought, and went to complete his circuit of the wards.

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