Blade of Glass: Chapter 3.5

Her headlong run took her past a headless corpse before she found Vertiline. The Knight stood in the middle of a street before the keep proper, dead men scattered like fallen logs. A collection of horses milled about, getting in the way.

She didn’t stop to talk. There wasn’t time. In passing, she gave Tilly a wave with her scattergun. Go. She continued, breath rasping in her chest as she passed the Chevalier. Geneve couldn’t help but mark the wry smile on Vertiline’s face. Three’s Mercy, the two of them conspired to make me run through this town in my underclothes. The Trials weren’t this hard.

Geneve scampered onto the low stone wall of the bridge. Dark water moved slow in autumn’s grip below her. The river wound its lazy way through Calterburry, unconcerned with what happened above. She brought her speed down, waiting for Vertiline to pass her. The other Knight approached the keep’s closed gate. Tilly spread her arms wide, shield and sword aloft as if in supplication. “Lord Symonet! Open, by the Law of the Three.”

Geneve held her breath. This will go a lot easier on Symonet if he opens the damn door. In answer, the thrum of a crossbow came from atop the wall. Vertiline stepped a half-pace to her left, cutting the bolt with her glass blade. It sheared in half to clatter behind her. “So be it.” She strode toward the gate, shield up. Geneve spied other bolts sprouting like tall grass from the metal surface.

Vertiline made the gate, steps sure. She seemed to gather weight and substance as she came closer, her presence growing with each perfectly placed foot. When she reached the gate, she flung her sword back, the glass catching a twinkle of firelight for a moment. Then she swept it forward.

Geneve held her breath. She needed the noise and furor as a distraction, but seeing the Sacred Storm always took her breath away.

The glass blade hit the steel-reinforced bulwark of the gates. Light shivered down its length, the gates boomingwith the impact. A crack traveled up the tall height of the wood, dust and stone flaking from above. Vertiline swept her arm back, glass blade still bright and strong. Boom! The gates shivered again. Boom! Another bolt came from above, its noise lost in the cries of panic from men atop the walls. Boom!

The gates split down the middle, and Vertiline strode through.

Get moving. Geneve scampered along the bridge’s wall, slinging Requiem over her shoulders as she went. The bastard sword banged against her back as she ran, urging her body for more speed. Tribunal’s holster she slung across the other shoulder, then she jumped.

She sailed across the dark waters, crashing against the side of Calterburry keep. One hand snared old stone, the cold wall holding her like death’s embrace. Her other joined it, and she pulled herself upward, one meager hold at a time.

Hurry. He may be a sinner, but no one deserves to die like that.

* * *

Geneve climbed toward an open window overlooking the water. It was ten meters up. Light came from within, warm like a lantern or fire. She wanted to be in there, not hanging over a drop into cold water of unknown depth. One of her hands slipped, old moss wicked like grease under her fingers. She dangled from one arm, chill wind plucking at her clothes.

Could be worse. You could be in the drink. With a grunt, she dragged herself further up. The window’s ten-meter distance shrunk to five, then two. She waited, listening. Sweat drenched her. Her cotton shirt clung to her, wicking away her body heat. Could be worse. I could be dead.

No noise came from above, so she pulled herself to the sill. Inside, a meager fire tried to warm an empty room. Wasted effort with an open window, but she appreciated the thought as she swung a leg inside. Padding on bare feet, she huddled by the fire for a moment, rubbing her arms. Her sword and scattergun clinked together at her back, friends forever.

Do enough running and climbing, and one day I’ll master the Sacred Storm. She snorted. Sure. And one day, I’ll ride a dragon and kill a demon. Get on with it.

She padded to the door. Shoulder to the jamb, Geneve eased it open a crack. Outside, a stairwell curled both up and down. She stepped onto the stone, checking up. Unlikely. Most assholes put their terror dungeons underground. They want to hide from the Light.

Down it was, then. From outside, she heard the mighty boom! of Vertiline making her presence felt. Lord Symonet would need time to repair his keep. Queen Morgan would hear about this. The Justiciars wouldn’t be thrilled and would want a conversation with the queen she wouldn’t enjoy. None of that would stop what was coming.

A young man is about to die. Stop thinking about the things you can’t control and save his life.

She hurried, feet slapping against stone. A door opened below her, a guard stepping out. Geneve didn’t slow, running past him and clocking him across the jaw with her left arm. He slammed into the doorframe, beginning his lazy slump to the floor. She didn’t wait for the clatter of his helmet hitting the ground.

A landing awaited below. A housecarl caught sight of her, checked left and right, and made to run. Geneve broke into a sprint, launching herself at the man. She slammed him against a wall. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know—”

Tribunal was in her hand, the scattergun snuggling under the man’s chin. “Friend, there are two ways this will go. Your lord is a sinner and walks away from the Three’s light. He’ll either take you with him, or you’ll leave a free man. Choose wisely.”

She was close enough to feel the huff of his breath. Young, like her. Wearing mail, but no weapon. Perhaps fled from Vertiline’s wrath. Maybe his story told of a family hungry, needing the coin to fill their bellies, and taking work where they could find it. The risk of Vhemin was low this far south, and they never came in great numbers. Joining a lord’s service would seem easy enough work.

Right until the Tresward came. Geneve watched him do his numbers, working to the inevitable conclusion. He jerked his chin to her right. “That way. There’s a golden door. Behind, steps below.”

Geneve eased up her grip, lowering Tribunal. “Thank you. Get on, now.”

“What will you do?” The housecarl backed away, but curiosity vied with fear. 

“What must be done.” She looked at her scattergun. It was heavy, old, yet still gleamed with promise. “Away, now.”

He didn’t need to be told again, the clatter of his boots fading into the distance. Geneve hurried, finding the promised golden door. It lay open, torches in sconces leading their way into the belly of the keep. She ran down, taking the steps three at a time. Her breath was sure and steady, her body ready, her heart certain.

The steps ended at another door, this one also open. She could see old stone beyond, older than the rest of Calterburry’s keep. Two guards stood ready, but she imagined more within. They drew swords as she ran at them. Geneve thought of the thousands of lessons she’d had and selected one. Be like the howl of wind.

She dragged Requiem from its sheath. The steel blade felt light, as if it wanted to leap forward. Geneve caught the swing of a guard against her steel, then swept underneath the crossed swords like a gust of dry air. From her position behind the man, she swung her blade like the eddy of autumn leaves. The steel slid through his chain amour and flesh like neither were stronger than spider’s silk.

Her quick glance of the room as she’d spun confirmed what was going on. The sinner lay atop a stone slab, leather straps holding him in place. His chest was bare, showing the crisscrossed scarring of a terrible past. Above him, a robed figure with a black mask of wood held his hands aloft.

Around them were ten others in robes and masks, five aside. Twelve including the remaining guard. They should have brought more men. Geneve bared her teeth in a snarl, her steel whispering like wind through grass. It took the other guard’s arm off at the wrist, blood fountaining like a geyser. She dodged the spray, ending his scream short as her blade took his head.

The central asshole chanted, his voice deep but shaky. The sinner on the slab writhed, a cry escaping him. Wisps of smoke strained free of his flesh. Be faster. The Harvest’s begun. She leveled Tribunal, the scattergun booming. The central asshole quit his chanting, mask gone, nothing but gore left beneath it.

Another stepped up as if to take over. Geneve ran at him, swinging Tribunal. The scattergun roared a second time, shearing the would-be-hero’s arm from his side. He dropped, screaming, other hand at the bloody stump. She let her firearm fall, its two rounds spent.

A third made to intervene. Geneve pirouetted as she ran, Requiem leaving her hand in a graceful whirl of steel. It sheared through the man’s torso, cleaving him in half. He gurgled to the ground.

She made it to the let’s-call-it-an-altar, bounding atop. The sinner lay beneath her, eyes wide. Geneve could almost feel the panic and fear coming from him. She turned a slow circle, eying the masked figures. “You will not Harvest him today.”

A laugh from her left, clear and bright. A woman, with just enough sneer in it to confirm her as a noble. “You can’t stop us. You threw away your sword. And it wasn’t even glass.” This last came with incredulity-meets-mocking.

“She’s right,” the sinner hissed. “I’m worried about this too. I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but—”

“You think I need a sword?” Geneve straightened, foot either side of the sinner. “A baby with a rattle could take the coddled lot of you.”

A rush of movement came from her left. She spun, bringing her left foot up in a crescent rise, then bringing her heel smashing down on the head of her assailant. Wood cracked, the mask breaking, and they dropped like a stone.

“I think that one’s got a blade.” The sinner pointed with his chin to Geneve’s right.

“Which one?” She spared a glance to the sinner at her feet.

“That one. Tall. Wearing a hood and a mask. Yeah, that guy.”

“I was beginning to miss the feel of steel.” Geneve slipped from the side of the slab, heading for the slightly-taller asshole there.

Slightly-taller gave a look about as if seeking allies, then drew a sliver of steel. It was the length of Geneve’s hand, and as wide as her index finger where blade met hilt. No crossguard to speak of, just a slip of metal to ease between someone’s ribs. An assassin’s weapon, not made for any honorable purpose.

A memory of training with Israel came to her. Geneve, on her knees in the dirt, blood coming from a split lip. He’d hit her with a wagon wheel, and she’d called it unfair. Israel had shaken his head and said, there’s no honor in battle. Just men and women, spilling their guts on the ground.

It didn’t stop her hating the slightly-taller asshole. She strode toward him, keeping her steps perfect, her body balanced. He lunged for her, and she met him like a lover, arms wide, then swept inside his blade, grabbing him about the middle. Geneve slammed her forehead into his mask, cracking the wood and hearing a crunch of bone beneath. He screamed, and while he was wasting good breath on that, she lifted him off the ground, slamming his length against the old stone.

The blade rattled free, chittering across the stone to rest at the foot of another. Geneve smiled like a cat. “Take it.”

“Will you hit me if I do?” A man, uncertain, unsure if this was a joke or the final moments of his life.

“I’m going to hit you either way. Better to have a blade in your hand.”

“Are you mad?” the sinner croaked.

The uncertain man scrabbled for the blade. Geneve ran at him. He swept the knife from the floor, swinging a savage rend toward her gut. She dropped the blade of her hand against the bones of his wrist, feeling the bone break. His hand spasmed, releasing the knife.

It kept rising as she knew it would, momentum carrying the bright dart of steel to her eye height. She spun, leg whipping around to catch her opponent in the side of the head. He and the knife fell at the same time. Geneve snared the blade from the air but left the man to slump against the floor.

She breathed hard, eying the remaining five. They stood on the other side of the sinner’s slab. One bent, and with a grunt, returned upright holding Requiem. The bastard sword was a smiling gash of shiny red in the torchlight.

Requiem’s holder placed the blade across the sinner’s throat. “Don’t come any closer. We’ll kill him.”

“By the Three,” the sinner whimpered. “Are you a moron?”

The man with Requiem leaned close to the sinner. Through holes in his mask, Geneve could see the glint of his eyes. “She wants you alive, fool. If I open your throat, she doesn’t get what she wants.”

“To be fair, neither do I.” The sinner rolled his eyes. “I know you’re simple people, but she’s a Tresward Knight. Death on two legs. The honed edge of the Three’s will. They say just one Valiant can take a legion with a single length of glass in their hand. And here you are, making a bargain with one. That’s not the funny part.”

Geneve’s fingers toyed with the blade she held, finding its balance. It was well made, if for an evil purpose. She stepped to her left, making her slow way around the slab. The man holding Requiem didn’t move, but the other four shifted away, trying to keep the slab between them and the killer in their midst.

“What’s the funny part?”

“They’re going to kill me anyway, you imbecile!” The sinner barked a laugh. It looked convincing enough to Geneve, the right level of hysteria bubbling through cracked and bloody lips. “You cut me here, or she cuts me out there, it’s all the same end. You’re doing their work for them.”

The man holding Requiem considered the blade for a moment, then lifted it from the sinner’s throat. He stepped clear of the slab, sword low. This one knows bladework. Geneve held the assassin’s knife so the edge lay against her arm. She crouched, placing her feet with care.

Her opponent pulled his mask free, revealing a man’s face. Too-white skin, dark eyes, and short straw-colored hair. He wore the feral smile of a rabid dog. “I’ve always wanted to test myself against a Knight.”

“It’s your lucky day.” Geneve remembered another of Israel’s lessons. She’d been jumped in a market, a huddle of men with angry faces attacking her with lengths of wood. She’d left them about her feet, and when she asked Iz why they’d come for her, he’d shook his head. When you wear gold, silver wants to feel it. “Come, silver man.”

They ran at each other. Requiem hungered for her flesh, but she knew her old friend. She remembered the weight of the blade, how it handled, and the sound it made as it cut air. She met its kiss with the assassin’s sliver, running the edge down Requiem’s length in a shower of sparks.

Geneve brought her knee into her opponent’s groin. He lurched, falling against her. She slid down into a wide stance, her leg knocking his aside. He stumbled, and as he fell away, she swung her arm in a savage, tight arc.

The assassin blade slicked through his neck. He let Requiem fall, both hands trying to stop the tide of his life leaving him as he staggered away. She turned her face aside from the spray.

Four left. One stood at the head of the slab, using it for cover. She flung the assassin’s blade in a tumble through the air. It chunked home as she wiped her face clean. Eyes clear, she looked at the three remaining.

One shook her head, a ringlet curl escaping the side of her hood. “Fuck all this. I’m not even with these guys.” She ran for the door behind Geneve. 

Geneve retrieved Requiem. The hilt remembered her hand, its long edge ready for what must be done. Geneve turned, tossing the blade again. It carved into the fleeing woman, knocking her from her feet. She faced the final two. “There is no redemption for Harvesters. It’s written. It’s law.”

One dropped to the ground, returning to his feet with the assassin blade. “Your law, maybe. You keep all the power for yourself! The Tresward controls everything. All we want is a tiny spoonful. Where’s the charity of the Three?”

Geneve stalked closer. “Charity is in the hearts of people. You just have to look for it.”

“And what of your charity? You’re cutting us down like animals!” Geneve reached him, dodging the wild swipe of the blade. She grabbed his arm, twisting away and rising tall. His elbow broke against her shoulder. He screamed as the blade dropped free. She caught it, turned, and stabbed him under the arm. Blood frothed forth.

The final robed figure ran. Geneve gauged the distance, tossed the knife up, and spun a kick into it. The heel of her foot hit the knife, steel flashing across the room. It thocked into the runner’s spine, dropping them to the uncaring stone.

Geneve walked from the sinner to collect Requiem and Tribunal. Weapons secured, she began the slow return to his side. His eyes were wide and bright. “Say. I’m Meriwether. We met before, at the, uh…”

“I remember.” She found the assassin’s blade and used it to sever the leather straps binding him in place. Geneve helped him to his feet, watching as he massaged blood back into his wrists.

“You’re not going to let me go, are you?”

Geneve shook her head. “No. You’re for the cage, and Judgment.”

The sinner gave a weary nod. “Just as he said, no harm will come to me. Although,” he cast an arm at the ruin of bodies on the floor, “this was almost harm. It felt close for a while.”

“It was close, sinner. They wanted the sweet, corrupt thing inside you. They wanted to suck it from your flesh.” Geneve leaned close, whispering. “They say it’s the worst way to die.”

The sinner gave her a bright smile. “But we’ll never know, right? Two reasons.” He counted on his fingers. “First, you killed all these guys! Good job. Second, all the people who’ve been Harvested haven’t been asked how it felt.”

Maybe it was the adrenaline, or the feeling of a job well done, but she couldn’t help herself. Geneve laughed, almost a snort, then clamped down on it. “What’s your sin?”

“You tell me.” He got off the slab, moving like his back hurt, or he was a hundred years old, or a combination of the two. She got a good look at the scarred marring of his flesh. Who did that to him? That’s not the Three’s justice.“Those are not comfortable.”

She considered the knife in her hand. It seems a lot of work to take him to a Justiciar for Judgment. But it’s the hard way, so our world gets the easy path. Geneve offered him the knife. “Here. A souvenir.”

“Hah. Wait, you’re not joking?” He looked at the blade resting on her palm. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll kill you with it?”

“Not even a little.”

“I should feel insulted.” He took the knife, lips pulling from his teeth in an expression of disgust as he wiped it clean on a robe of the fallen. “It’s true, isn’t it? Tresward Knights. The strong shield against the leeching tide of the dark. And you do all that in your nightclothes.”

“There wasn’t time for anything else.”

He tossed the knife in the air, making to catch it but fumbling. The blade chimed against the stone. He huffed a sigh, then knocked back a groan as he retrieved it. “Are you a,” he wiggled his fingers, “Chevalier?”

Geneve frowned. “No.”

“Valiant?”

She shook her head. “No. I’m an Adept.”

The sinner whistled. “Thirteen guys? And you’re just an Adept?” At her darkening scowl, he held up his hands, one still holding the knife. He seemed to realize what he did, yanking the knife down. “I don’t mean it like that. I mean, I did, but not like that that.”

“You’re wondering why the ‘strong shield against the leeching tide of the dark’ sends an Adept in her nightclothes into a keep against a hardened group of cultists, all intent on Harvesting the magic from your marrow? As opposed to, say, a Chevalier?”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Something a little like that, yes.”

“It was what we had time for. Tilly held the keep’s attention.”

“Tilly’s the one with the braid? Vertiline?” At Geneve’s nod, he looked toward the steps leading out. “I’m so fucked.”

“Come, sinner. Let’s get you to your cage. You’ll be safer there.” She husbanded the man from the room but spared a glance at the fallen. Lord Symonet, a queen’s man. His advisors, all intent on Harvest. They claim they want equality. Is it true? Is this what Israel wants me to see? The weak and petty hearts of all men?


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[First Chapter] | [Previous Chapter] | [Next Chapter] (Live 9 July 2024)


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