Thursday, January 30, 2020

Dark Armor 007

He lifted his shield, but the arrow passed above it and skipped off the curve of his helmet. Too much. She was too good. He was going to have to kill her, and as he lifted the lance he found that he did not want to. She looked too much like the Heir of Edrias he'd killed two years ago: a similar face, and the same unrelenting determination.

Kill her, boy! His father's voice was cold in his ears. What do you think you're there for?

...Of course his father was watching. Ravaj would have informed him of the invaders... and their own plans. But the wizard-king wouldn't care to watch the defense of their camp; he would want to see the deaths of their enemies. And he would expect Pallian to provide those for him. How long has he been watching? Had he overheard the exchange with the Shadow of Edrias? If he had, would he care?

"Seems like a waste," Pallian muttered.

You can't keep her, boy. The Champion of Teregor does nothing so human as to make a prisoner of a beautiful woman. Which wasn't at all what he'd had in mind, but at least his father didn't sound disappointed in him anymore. He actually sounded sympathetic, which was in its own way worse.

Still, Pallian nodded an acknowledgement.

The command tents were on fire, the rest of the camp a disturbed anthill. Twin lines of burning tents marked his track to the heart of the camp. If his father wanted destruction, he had certainly provided it. He could do more damage on the way out, but he'd been given an order: kill the archer. So he set his lance and turned his mount, and charged.

Another arrow smashed into his shield, piercing the black steel before it shattered. Faceless within his helmet, the Black Knight of Teregor bore down on his only significant opponent. She rolled to one side, but he turned to correct, dropping his lance to keep the point in line. The tip traced her movements like a serpent's head, ready to strike as soon as it drew close.

She dodged to one side, then the other, and Black slowed slightly as the stallion kept himself in line with her. She fired off two more arrows, one smashing against Black's barding and the other skipping off Pallian's thigh. She must have been carrying a whole constellation of interlocking initiations to do so much; but the armor still held, and Black still closed the distance between them. Pallian raised the lance with a sense of regret, bringing it into line with her heart.

Then she flung herself backwards over the edge of the bluff. Black was galloping at a full charge, and Pallian couldn't rein him in; this would be his exit from the camp. His mount carried him out over the darkness of the valley. His target had escaped, but his withdrawal was clear. Black was more than capable of carrying him down and landing safely in the valley below...

Or he would have been, if a pair of arrows hadn't slammed into his belly as he crossed into the open air. The enchantments that guarded the stallion were weaker there, and the impacts were strong. What would have been a solid, uncomfortable landing turned into an uncontrolled fall as the horse began to flail.

Pallian tumbled as they crashed, letting his armor take the brunt of the impact. Something shattered across his back, and something else smashed into his outflung arm; his armor rang like an offkey bell. He'd come down amidst brush and small trees, and his impact had cleared a path through them. Another arrow slammed into his breastplate, driving him deeper into the loose dirt, but he recalled his lessons and sprayed bolts of levin-fire across the face of the bluff. Yes! his father crowed. Strike back! Take her out!

An arrow pierced his outflung hand, and the bright blaze flickered. Vaguely, he glimpsed a dark figure sprinting up the near-vertical face of the bluff. The archer had escaped him. He felt a sudden, irrational urge to go back to her but stamped down on it. Nothing but death would come of extending this encounter -- his or hers, and at this point he had to consider that it very well might be his own. And even if she failed to kill him, she probably wouldn't appreciate his apologies at this point.

Pallian made himself roll over and come to his feet. Everything in his body hurt; the armor had absorbed most of the external impacts, but it was only his own initiations that had protected him from a far more basic concussion during the impact -- or from bleeding out internally due to the extent of his bruising. He stood, staggered, and turned... just in time. Another arrow slammed into his shield, glancing to one side as it shoved him to the other. Get to Black! his father was shouting. The Champion of Teregor never abandons his mount!

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather be here yourself, father?" he muttered, mindless of the blasphemy and the likelihood of eventual punishment. "You could do all this without me." He was already staggering back towards his mount. "Or you could let me decide what the Champion of Teregor does and doesn't do."

His father didn't answer, and Pallian moved towards Black. His stagger turned into a stride as his body shoved its various pieces back into place and restored muscles and bones. He caught three more arrows on his shield; with his visor, at this distance, he could see them coming. All three pierced the black steel, though fortunately none of them found his forearm on the back side.

Black was lying on his side and twitching his hooves. Pallian dropped to his knees beside him and reached down for the first of the two arrows in his belly when something slammed into the side of his helmet and knocked him flat.

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