. . . Read Part 4 . . .
Achathon nocked and fired arrows at blinding speed. Feathered shafts riddled Voshlu’s chest and throat. The giant Skarn barreled forward through the torrent of bolts, slamming down his slabs of fist like twin pillars. Achathon’s tunic flapped as he reeled back and the Skarn missed him by inches. He whipped his bow across Voshlu’s jaw. As the Skarn tottered, Achathon jumped and twisted like a powerful dancer. He looked over his shoulder as he spun round and stomped his heel into the side of Voshlu’s head with a spinning back kick.
Kavel almost sprained a muscle just watching the maneuver. He wasn’t as spry as his younger self, though twice as handsome by some accounts.
Voshlu’s fists lashed out again, and again they caught empty air. The Ophician’s hair tendrils stabbed at the Skarn general like a hundred needles, perforating his mangy flesh all over.
Voshlu roared. “I will tear those tendrils out, one by one, and floss my teeth with them.”
“You’ll need to catch me first.”
Kavel shuffled over to fetch his kukri, Chalai, but while he was there it made sense to check on Leyuti as well. His chest ached something fierce, and his breastplate would have to be hammered back into shape. But his companion looked much worse for wear, so he didn’t feel right complaining to her about it. “How do you feel? Can you fight?”
Leyuti grimaced, clutching her broken wrist as she sat up. “Am I dead?”
Kavel scratched his shaved head. “I… don’t believe so. But given the events of this evening…”
“Then I can fight.” She rose to her feet with Kavel’s help and picked up her bone hatchet with her good hand. He respected her spirit, if nothing else.
A groan came from the Hylantean knight, still trapped beneath his horse. Voshlu redirected his attention from Achathon to the last remaining soldier. The Skarn as a race despised Hylanteans, after all. And Voshlu didn’t seem the type to leave things unfinished.
Achathon fired another arrow into Voshlu to regain his focus, but his effort was ignored at the prospect of a far more vulnerable and hated target. Acathon reached for another shaft and his face fell when he realized it was his last one.
Nanok emerged from the yawning opening of a store. The black-shell hefted a vase-filled merchant cart over his head and hurled it at Voshlu’s back.
Kavel smiled. It was easy to forget just how strong the Ulunuk were.
The cart exploded in a shower of splinters and tan liquid. The Skarn wheeled on the black-shell with murderous intent and Nanok braced himself, ten razor claws splayed out in defense.
That was exactly the moment Achathon needed. He pulled the final shaft from his quiver, wrapped the arrowhead with a handkerchief, and touched it to a glowing ember nearby. The silk ignited and he let the arrow loose. It streaked through the air, glorious as a comet in the night sky, and hit Voshlu in the back. The liquid burst into flame and swam over his body in a rippling arc of blue and white. Voshlu wailed as he was bathed in flames.
Nanok took this opportunity to charge the beast, turning and ramming the Skarn with his spined shell and pushing him back. But Voshlu’s rage was unparalleled. He grabbed Nanok and used his momentum, throwing the mighty Ulunuk toward his tendril-haired ally. Achathon leaped over Nanok’s armored frame as he slid across the ground turning up dark earth.
But Voshlu anticipated this.
The enkindled Skarn scraped his mace-tail through the turf and flicked a clod of dirt and grass into Achathon’s eyes. The Ophician archer recoiled, digging his fists into his eyes. Voshlu grabbed for his tendrils and coiled one about his fist. Achathon shrieked.
It wasn’t a manly sound. And Kavel was just glad he hadn’t made it. Or one like it. Ever in his life. But it was all the reminder he needed that they had to get back in the fight before things got worse.
Leyuti and Kavel dashed at Voshlu, weapons at the ready. Leyuti flung herself upon the great flaming Skarn and swatted him with her hatchet in dizzying gouts of blood. The crazy wolf-girl even singed her fur in an attempt to bite off his ear.
Kavel, on the other hand, decided to forego any degree of honor and dignity and dove between Voshlu’s legs, swiping his kukri at what he considered to be a man’s most tender vitals.
Voshlu howled and snatched Leyuti off him with his black-iron hook. He slammed her into the ground next to Achathon, and punted her a good fifteen feet. The distinct snap of ribs echoed with horrifying certainty as his colossal foot made contact.
Leytui was finished.
Kavel grit his teeth and went in for another attack, against his better judgement. He drove Chalai into Voshlu’s heaving chest amid the fire and the arrows and the mass of closing wounds. The Skarn general didn’t even bother to remove it. He simply smirked and shook his head.
And right then Kavel felt more small and powerless than he ever had before. Standing before this enormous, unstoppable, immolated monstrosity, how did they ever think they could win?
Voshlu plucked Achathon up by his writhing hair and swung him screaming into Kavel, bowling him over and onto his back. Kavel had become well-acquainted with the ground as of late, and found it offered a most humbling perspective. Or it would, once the fits of double vision and breathlessness passed.
Voshlu continued to swing Achathon by his tendrils, building up speed in a deadly orbit. The Skarn general swung him high and then slammed poor Achathon into the ground as easily as he’d shake out a rug. The Ophician lay crumpled. The force of the blow had rendered him unconscious, or worse. Voshlu, still ablaze, strode toward his cleaver once more, dragging the lifeless Ophician behind him.
Nanok, headstrong to a fault, came charging back in. The black-shell dug his razor beak and savage claws into Voshlu’s torso with a shriek that seemed to rattle the very earth. Great ropes of guts and viscera hung from the Skarn’s frame, for all the good it did. But the wounds kept closing.
“You miserable whelps still don’t understand.” Voshlu jammed his hook into Nanok’s side and flung the behemoth against the side of an old well. “I. Can’t. Be. Killed.” He punctuated every word with a stomp to Nanok’s face, smashing it against the stone surface. The final strike cracked the side of the well open, sending chunks of rock and debris splashing into the shallow pool below. Nanok was left too dazed and disoriented to retaliate, but at least he was alive. A true testament to how thick-skulled those Ulunuks were.
Voshlu grabbed Achathon’s ankle and drug him toward his savage weapon, embedded in the soil. The Skarn general removed the blade and smiled as if greeting an old friend. He raised the huge cleaver over Achathon and brought it down for a swift killing blow.
Nanok’s claws narrowly caught the serrated cleaver with a clang that flooded Kavel with relief. But this only served to fuel Voshlu’s rage. Still being on fire probably wasn’t helping either. The Skarn shoved Nanok back and unleashed a relentless flurry of slashes with his cleaver. Sparks flew as each swing of the bloody black blade clashed with Nanok’s knife-like fingers. Blow after blow, the black-shell deflected with his natural weapons. But Voshlu had adapted. Improvised. He feinted and chopped the serrated cleaver into Nanok’s wrist, severing his entire paw. It flopped wetly to the ground beside him, and the Ulunuk curled in on himself.
Kavel couldn’t believe it. That despicable cur needed to pay.
Thankfully, he wasn’t the only one who thought so.
Leyuti howled, channeling her pain into a piercing war cry, and Wungwa swept through the air toward Voshlu. Only this time, the owl grew and warped, assuming a size and shape comparable to that of their hulking opponent.
For the first time, Kavel seriously began to wonder if he had made the right decision in eschewing all forms of magic years ago.
The shadowy bird of prey raked and slashed Voshlu with its talons. This bought Kavel a moment to pull Achathon to relative safety. The Skarn flailed and swiped at the incorporeal yet menacing owl. It couldn’t beat him, but he couldn’t destroy it either. The distraction was enough, for now.
That’s when it hit Kavel. If they couldn’t kill the creature, maybe they could trap him. “Push him toward the well!”
Groggy and clutching his bleeding stump, Nanok stood and rammed into Voshlu with everything he had left. Then he collapsed. Bless his reptilian heart. Voshlu careened toward the broken well as Wungwa’s violent assault continued.
Kavel and Achathon bum-rushed the Skarn general, taking advantage of his off-balance state and pushing him toward the well opening. Voshlu braced himself by jamming his cleaver into the ground, but Wungwa’s talons severed the Skarn’s fingers from his hand. Leyuti leapt at him again, pulling her feet into her chest, and stomped Voshlu’s massive head. He went staggering backward into the exposed hole.
But the ape-faced monstrosity was too big. He was lodged in the opening, and wasn’t planning on going quietly.
Voshlu thrashed and roared. “You think dropping me down a well will stop me? I will get out. And I will pluck your eyes from their sockets and peel your flesh in tiny strips.” Harsh, but a justifiable reaction for someone in his position.
Kavel hopped onto Voshlu’s body and began to kick and stomp the Skarn as hard as possible. Leyuti and Achathon soon followed suit and the trio were jumping up and down on the Skarn’s massive torso while Wungwa ripped at his limbs. Kavel couldn’t remember ever doing anything so ridiculous and hoping it would work. At least not lately.
Kavel reclaimed his kukri from Voshlu’s chest and hacked at the Skarn’s elbows and knees. It didn’t matter if he could heal from anything if he was imprisoned in a hole in the ground. Voshlu’s limbs began to give way and snap through the combined efforts of blunt trauma and cutting. Kavel and Achathon leapt out of the well to avoid sharing his fate. Leyuti grabbed Chalai from out of Kavel’s hand and stabbed it into Voshlu’s neck repeatedly, screaming broken curses in the Jagatawei language.
“Do your worst.” Voshlu let out great gurgling laughs with each stab. “I can heal from anything.”
Leyuti’s bloodlust didn’t let up. She continued to shank and swear without relent, heedless of her broken wrist, even as her enemy began to slip downward. With her final stroke she hammered the kukri into Voshlu’s forehead and spat on him. The Skarn’s body vanished into the well and it looked like Leyuti would join him.
But Kavel and Achathon caught her up by the elbows and pulled her out and onto firm ground. Kavel heard Voshlu hit the shallow water with a loud ruckus. Angry and unintelligible obscenities echoed out from the opening. The filthiest, most vile phrases in the Skarn language, no doubt. Kavel didn’t care how Voshlu chose to waste his immortal breath though.
Achathon rolled onto his back, taking heavy breaths. “We did it. I think.”
“That we did…” Kavel sighed at the thought of his beautiful dagger’s final resting place being in a Skarn’s skull at the bottom of a well. But if it helped rid the world of an utter fiend like Voshlu, he could live with it. Probably. He really loved Chalai though. The blade, not the girl.
The Skarn general’s harsh and guttural tones continued, but were soon drowned out by a high-pitched buzz. Strange, that it was coming from the well. The buzz grew louder and louder, like a swarm of rising insects.
Achathon and Kavel exchanged glances and their eyes widened at the same time. The dandelion bomb wasn’t a dud after all. It just needed the proper “motivation.”
“Get back!” Achathon yelled, pulling Leyuti behind him as the two scurried away from the hole. Kavel was already a yard ahead of them. Sometimes a leader had to take the initiative, after all.
The raw, unstable thaumirrium produced a shock wave unlike anything Kavel had seen. The blast hammered his skull like a war horn, blared point-blank. He couldn’t cover his ears tight enough. The air rippled as the resulting vibrations tore the well to pieces, flinging mortared stones in every direction and launching the surrounding soil into the air. Kavel, Achathon, and Leyuti were hurled to the ground by the wave of force. Through the dirt cloud, Kavel could see what looked like rain start to fall.
Except it was too dark to be water.
Shrapnel from the device pelted the area, along with any blood, guts, and metal scraps that had formerly comprised their nemesis, Voshlu. Mostly good news then. Except for the torrent of sharp metal fragments falling from the sky.
Nanok appeared from the dust and huddled over his allies, still holding his bleeding, severed wrist. He took the brunt of the rainfall of debris, most of it bouncing harmlessly off his thick shell. Kavel always knew the Ulunuk would pull his weight someday. Shame about the hand though.
Blood and shards continued to fall, followed by a hail of whatever over-sized organs hadn’t been vaporized in the explosion. Intestines as big as a jungle-snake landed on Nanok and draped around his neck, an oozing liver twice as big as Kavel’s head smacked into the ground next to him. An assortment of unidentifiable giblets fell and burst around them, each with a sickening splat.
The four of them rose and surveyed the scene. It was hard to believe what had occurred.
Achathon prodded Kavel with his elbow. “How’s that for ‘visceral certainty?””
The awestruck Kavel nudged what probably used to be a kidney with his boot. “I think… I think this definitely applies.”
He and his allies shared a laugh for a change. After a day of countless horrors they had endured and persevered. Barely. But it still counted. And their most formidable enemy yet, despite seeming utterly unbeatable, was beaten. Narrowly. But it still counted. The Bloody Chain was severed. For the moment. They’d probably replace him within the day. But, damn it, it still counted.
Leyuti even smiled and wrapped her good arm around Kavel. It wasn’t unpleasant, per se, but her grip was firmer than expected and she smelled of wet dog. He appreciated it all the same. Until she shoved him to the ground.
What had he done wrong? He was positive his hands hadn’t wandered anywhere below her waist. Absolutely almost positive.
Just then Chalai landed in his lap. Literally, right between his legs. The kukri fell from the sky like a gift from the gods. Which ones didn’t matter. Kavel could thank them all later. Or not. He was just happy to be reunited with his beloved.
Leyuti winked at him. “That makes us even.”
A familiar cry came from the knight, still stuck. Kavel had almost forgot about him.
“Leyuti, I’m going to check on our Hylantean friend. Nanok’s wound needs to be cauterized. Can you handle it?”
Leyuti nodded and moved to care for the injured behemoth, while Achathon accompanied Kavel to aid the fallen knight.
Kavel lifted the eviscerated steed as best he could while Achathon pulled the soldier from under it. It would have been a much easier task for an Ulunuk, even one missing a hand, than for a common man. But Kavel didn’t want to push his luck.
“Thank you,” the knight said between shallow breaths.
“You’re most welcome.” Kavel placed his hand on the knight’s armored shoulder. “Are you well enough to move?”
“My leg is broken, but otherwise I think so.” The man sat up. “Tell me, who are you?”
“Why, the most renowned bounty hunter in all of Primora. As you can clearly see.” Kavel waved his hands in the direction of Voshlu’s ubiquitous remains. “Kavel Rosokov.”
The knight cocked an eyebrow. “You’re Dragovi?”
“Half, on my father’s side. Hence the luxurious beard.” Kavel stroked his facial hair, most impressively. “My mother was Hylantean though. Hence my sense of dress and articulation.”
The knight extended his hand in a gesture of friendship. “Well, Kavel Rosokov, my name is Captain Simerian of the Hylantean 41st regiment. I owe you for saving my life and will pay you in kind.” Kavel liked the sound of that and shook Simerian’s hand without hesitation.
Off to the side, Nanok grunted while Leyuti wrapped his hand in linens. “Pay? Will there be money?”
Simerian laughed. “On my honor as a Templar of Mithrael, I’m going to make you a hero for your deeds here today. All of you.”
The black-shell looked content once again. Likely imagining an endless parade of fresh, dancing fish in his future. Achathon and Leyuti also appeared satisfied. Kavel was relieved, even if he’d never tell them so.
Heroes. He could get behind that. Glory and greatness were his destiny, after all.
But first… to find that merchant who sold him the dandelion bomb.
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