A Heated Situation
Kieran stood with his hands held up, palms out at the front gate to Gilton Harbor with the patter of rain on saturated mud at his back and the frigid edge of a sword he reckoned was twice his size poised at his neck.
His brow furrowed as he slowly glanced to Voss with her own dagger eager to cut into the inquisitor’s throat beside them. Should either party so much as twitch a muscle, Kieran expected things wouldn’t end so well for anybody.
“I suppose then that these aren’t old friends of yours” Kieran said, gently tilting his head to the man wielding the blade in front of him. The inquisitor struggled to breathe under Voss’s forearm, her grip absolute and her dagger pressed firm to his throat. Kieran continued, “Perhaps we got off on the wrong foot, you see –“
“Save your breath,” Voss interrupted, “Not even the sweetest of your words could dissuade them - they know the Priory has taken my mark.”
“Consider your crimes and your situation, this need not escalate to something more serious,” said the Inquisitor in a shaky voice. “Please, you are at a disadvantage, there’s no reason we can’t be civil.”
The man holding the sword a hair’s width from Kieran’s neck didn't so much as blink.
“Well, unless you've got a third man in that tree, I’d say the odds are currently pretty even.” Kieran grinned.
The four of them were standing in the glow of aether light not 30 feet from the main gate, Voss with her arms wrapped around her prey to Kieran’s right and the sword-wielding companion to his front. The sound of the rain splashing into the mud and off of the four combatants’ soaked cloaks didn’t do much for the tense atmosphere. At this distance, there wouldn’t be a goddamned thing Kieran could do to avoid what he imagined to be the unpleasant experience of being impaled with a blade the size of a small tree. His hand began to ache.
“It is not in our orders to kill you,” said the man in front of Kieran, his stance unflinching “only the Aberrant.”
The man’s armor was rough and well-worn, the pings of the falling water on his steel epaulets was foreboding. By Kieran’s guess, the man was in his late thirties, his scruff peppered with the salt hue of an aging mane. Beneath the dancing light of the aethertorches, Kieran could make out the distinctly pale features of numerous scars upon his face; a testament to a man whose tested mettle need not be questioned. The ache in Kieran’s hand began to swell, its intensity growing with each passing moment.
“You can trust us Kieran, we know about what happened. We can help you,” said the inquisitor, his plea as genuine as he could muster.
Kieran hand twitched and a bolt of pain surged up his arm. He winced but remained still.
“I don’t think you do know what happened, else you’d have killed me already.” Kieran gritted his teeth, his breath becoming labored.
“Fine, die with the bitch,” said the man as he pressed the blade hard to Kieran’s skin.
Kieran hardly reacted to the cold steel pressed hard into him; the pain in his hand had grown into a searing ember, as though he’d submerged his glove in boiling oil.
“Voss… I need, I need you to… my goddamned hand...I can’t –“ Kieran forced every stuttering word through his tightly clenched jaw.
“Really? Now?” Voss darted her eyes to Kieran and then back to the man before him. She reasserted her grip on the inquisitor as she blew a strand of soaked red hair from her face.
With Voss’s attention divided, the fidgeting inquisitor’s hand darted behind him just enough to make contact with Voss’s doublet. The sudden blast of air threw Voss backwards, dragging her through the mud. She recovered quickly and stood defensively, silently cursing her carelessness.
The inquisitor stood upright, caressing his neck where the blade had pressed deep into his skin. His demeanor quickly changed.
“Marcus, slay that vile abomination. Don’t damage the arm.”
“Kieran!” Voss tried to shout but the word caught in her throat.
Marcus’s claymore emerged from Kieran’s back, the fresh blood dripping off the blade in the rainfall. Kieran fell limp to his knees in the wet mud. Unable to speak, he looked down to the protruding end of the massive sword piercing his chest. Marcus placed a foot on Kieran’s sternum and gripped the blade with both hands. He kicked and pulled and swiftly extracted the blade, making cold, brief eye contact with Kieran as he fell helplessly backwards to the ground. Kieran starred openly to the rain, coughing and choking, his body making the last shuddering breaths of a dying man.
Voss stood still, nearly just as helpless at the site of Marcus wrenching his blade free from Kieran’s torso. Before she could compose herself, a forceful burst erupted to her left, throwing her into a tree and knocking the wind from her. The inquisitor approached, hand extended and quivering.
“I would be lying if I told you I don’t enjoy this part,” he said grinning. Voss tried to gain footing but there was a weight in the air pressing her hard against the trunk. As the inquisitor approached, the weight grew firm and crushing, making it difficult for Voss to breathe. She summoned what strength she had and raised her hand, resisting the crushing force as best she could as a tiny spurt of flame fizzled from her fingertips in the rain.
“Oh come now,” the inquisitor chuckled. Voss could feel her bones about to snap, her chest on the verge of collapse. Through squinted eyes she could see Marcus calmly approaching, his sword lazily held in his hand. Each of his steps made a squelching sound as he approached; his large boots digging into the mud.
“I’ll spare you the usual speech Aberrant. A pity I can’t kill you with my own hand, you know how silly these rules –“ The inquisitor choked on his words, replaced by a guttural cry of anguish. The weight on Voss’s chest vanished and she staggered, gasping for air. Marcus turned towards the inquisitor, his eyes wide in surprise.
The inquisitor convulsed, his hellish scream trailing off as his eyes began to cloud a milky white. Voss shook off the disorientation to discern what was happening. On the ground beneath the inquisitor, Kieran lay prone with a crazed and determined look upon his face. His hand was luminous with pale white light as he gripped at the inquisitor’s ankle. Thin, ghostly wisps of thread whipped and siphoned from the inquisitor’s leg into Kieran’s arm.
The inquisitor’s screaming faded, the convulsions ceased, his eyes glossed to a milky white. His skin had become taught and leathery, as if he had been embalmed by a medicus and his muscles appeared stiff, as though death had taken him hours ago. The inquisitor collapsed into the mud as Kieran propped himself up on one knee, his hand still radiant up to his forearm. There was a long trench of bloody water where he had laboriously crawled through the mud. His shirt was still dark with his blood, but Kieran’s wound bore the shiny pink of a scarred gash beneath his torn tunic.
“Voss, the torches!” Kieran shouted.
Marcus was in full stride, his sword high and ready to cut Kieran down. Voss’s attention darted to either side of her, to the aethertorches that lit the path outside Gilton’s front gate. Most flames would fizzle in this downpour, but aethertorches used a bound source, their fire was magical.
Voss extended both hands and summoned every ounce of strength left to draw out the flame. The foggy glass covers burst and the unnatural green flame erupted out, coalescing into a large twisting mass. Voss unleashed the fiery chaos before her at Marcus, who stood only a few feet from killing Kieran a second time. The scorching flames rushed all around him, unimpeded by the rain. Kieran raised his hand to shield himself from the heat, turning his head and falling backwards as the fire consumed his opponent.
Voss grew frigid and felt the very light of her being flicker somewhere within her. Her whole body slumped and she fought to remain conscious. The flames dispersed into the air, leaving behind Marcus’s standing charred remains. The blackened body slumped and hit the mud, making the heated steel in his armor and what remained of his sword hiss loudly in the water. Fetid steam rose with each raindrop and lifted the terrible scent of burnt flesh into the atmosphere.
“Voss, are you alright?” Kieran rose slowly to his feet.
Voss was dizzy and weak, her head was throbbing and she was rapidly losing the fight against her fatigue.
“The fuck do you mean am I alright?” She said. “I would describe you dying as being less than convenient in that fight.”
Voss stood on shaky legs, holding herself against the tree. With an air of uncharacteristic seriousness, she asked, “What exactly happened just then?”
Kieran starred at the fading glow in his left hand, its ache diminished into cascading warmth, radiating upward into his chest. “I…I’m not sure.”
“We need to move, we need to get as far away from this scene as possible before a patrol comes around and sees a dead inquisitor of all things on Gilton’s front porch.” Voss said as she limped towards Kieran.
“Snap out it.” she said as she nudged him.
Kieran walked to his discarded glove and slipped it back onto his hand before pulling Voss’s arm around his neck for support. “I know of a small dock along the river a few miles west of here. We can make it before mid-day.” He said.
“Great, I was in the mood for a stroll.” Voss retorted as they began to walk the trail. “Kieran, were going to figure out what is happening, I promise.”
Kieran nodded as they began to tread the path through the rain west out of Gilton. It would be a long walk in their state, even longer before they could get some much needed rest. The pleasant warmth in Kieran’s hand was short lived and soon he and Voss were shivering through the small hours of the night.
It wasn’t long before his hand began to ache again, however this time it felt different. The sharp pain that drove him to beg Voss for salves wasn't quite so sharp anymore. Perhaps Kieran was wrong then, perhaps it wasn’t pain; it was hunger.