Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 6:30 pm

Savant's Blood: Shadow of the Avatar -- Chapter 4

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Though many may argue it, Ishtar is
a goddess of virtue. We wage war to
defend the innocent, and consumate
our passions to celebrate life. It is
our love that gives us the strength
to fight, and our war on evil that keeps
us free to spread our rapture...
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Jharon Ko</DIV>
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<div align="center"><font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 18pt;">Chapter 4<BR>
<font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 16pt;">Shelter From the Storm</div>
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Wren looked up into the wind torn sky letting the freezing downpour run
across her face. The clouds writhed, intertwining masses of black and gray
briefly illuminated by flashes of lightning that boomed through the night like
evil laughter. The cold wind clawed at her wounds like icy talons. The
dilapidated buildings and peasant shanties around her looked like rat chewed
doll houses.

She clutched the gash in her side. The pressure of her arm opened the scabs
on her lacerated breasts. Her hair streamed across her face as she staggered
through the storm.

She tried to orient and find a purposeful direction to go. If she continued
randomly through the city’s alleys, it wouldn’t be long before the street people
attacked to take advantage of her weakened condition. Soon the priest’s best
thieves would be on her trail.

Grahm is gone.

The pain in her side was tiny compared to the agony in that thought. Get out of here. Find Desiray. Grahm’s last request. She remembered touching his lips. Kiss me. Last chance I’ll get.

Grahm, I could have loved you. I simply didn’t know how. Now, I won’t get a chance. Anger flashed through her like a thunderbolt. This is Desiray’s fault. Putting those damn toe-kissers in charge. Grahm died for nothing.

Find Desiray. All right, Grahm, I’ll find the manipulating witch. We’ll make the bastards pay for what they’ve done.

She summoned Desiray’s illusive image. Little about the mistress was ever the same. Even the lineaments of her face varied day to day and she never wore the same color, style, or cut. The only constant in Desiray’s appearance was her hair. Long bone-white strands that shone like a star on a dark night.

How do I find her? She usually appeared after dawn and left about noon. She simply appeared from nowhere, and later vanished.

Wren strained to clear her mind and identify the surroundings and place herself within the chaotic jumble of the city’s twists and turns. On a roof she could quickly sight landmarks and know her location. It would also keep all but the most determined Dagger thieves away. The torrential rain and wind made the rooftops dangerous though. Poor footing or an unexpected gust could send her plummeting off a narrow beam or cornice. She stumbled down the street knowing she couldn’t pull herself up onto a roof now even if she wanted to.

Her only hope lay in finding refuge. If any Brethren were to survive, they needed Desiray’s power. The mistress had been instrumental in defeating the Dagger before. She could do so again.

Wren stopped and leaned against a wall. She examined her bloody hand in a flash of lightning. Rain splattered in the thick coating of blood, washing away the clotted mess. Shaking, she tore part of her tunic and pressed it against the wound.

A gong rang in the distance. She oriented in the direction of the sound and took another bearing. She knew the sound, the call to the street people to gather in Podar’s warehouse away from the fury of the storm. That meant that this must be the crafter’s quarter, south of the temple district.

Wren cleared her mind and forced the pain down. Hobbled by the wound and deep in what was now the Cult’s territory, she couldn’t afford a mistake.

Footsteps.

The storm drowned out everything but the closest noises.

Too open, no place to hide. She ran. She hadn’t seen the angular statuary of Mosque street meaning she’d probably gone east from the guild. This should be Trencher’s alley near the ancient ruins of the collapsed citadel. Nothing there but burned out warehouses and peasant nests though.

The twisted remains of the ancient citadel hove into view. It gave her the last reference point she needed. This was Beast street, a meandering concourse that wove its way around the mangled stone corpse of Corwin’s first stronghold.

She strained to find sight of her pursuers.

The storm made it impossible to see beyond thirty paces.

Steel whistled. She ducked. Backpedaling, she shook the hair out of her eyes to see the attacker. The wind-whipped rain kept blinding her. For an instant, the outline of a figure appeared in a flash of lightning.

Hearing another swing, Wren sprang. She hit the street hard. The storm stirred muck splattered in her face. The harsh cobbles rasped across her side. She jerked in agony as wounds tore open.

She rolled to her feet, more from fear than force of will. Her body had gone numb. Dancing sideways, she kept distance between them. His sword flicked out like the strike of a snake. She vaulted out of range. Without weapons or a place to hide, she couldn’t fight back. She saw only his silhouette in the lightning flashes.

It took all her concentration to stay upright. She reeled toward the standing stones nearby. The man kept after her. Wren’s back nudged the crumbling stone. She hoped more enemies weren’t concealed among the rocks. Wren dodged around the wall. A shower of sparks erupted over her head.

Using the uneven terrain to advantage, she put every available obstacle between them. A piece of loose stone broke off in her hand. She gripped it and waited for him to lunge. She let fly when he came close. The sharp-edged fragment cracked him in the skull. Cursing, he dropped his weapon and gripped his head.

Another flash illuminated the area. Around her, the citadel’s monolithic remains jutted from the earth like misshapen teeth. Slogging through ankle deep mud, she fled into the maze of piled debris.

She heard no pursuit as she headed toward the temple district where she might find healing. A cleric’s magic could cure her wounds, provided she didn’t bleed to death first. She’d lost her improvised compress in the scuffle.

Tearing more of her tunic to make a new bandage, she pressed it to the wound and moaned. The drenching rain did little to help her condition.

Her friend Jharon, would help her. The same man Grahm had gotten favors from in return for watching over her. She’d often persuaded Jharon to use his curing magic on her. Most clerics disapproved of thieves, but she’d made herself more acceptable by helping the temple when they were short of gold or a ‘lost’ item needed finding.

She and Jharon were still close. They never became serious because of temple politics. She was one of the Brethren’s ‘Bad Girls’ and he the patriarch of Corwin’s temple to Ishtar. The temple prefects wouldn’t allow one of their order to fraternize with a commoner such as herself.

Wren floundered through the mire. The fear energy ebbed, leaving her drained.

Pounding rain and clinging muck dragged at her like a leaden weight. She tried to focus on anything that would summon more strength; some anger, hate, even fear. Her mind had become as numb as her body. She felt nothing, least of all anger. The energy wasn’t there.

She stumbled on the slippery cobbles. Each step made the fire in her side burn brighter. Agony gnawed at her mobility.

The temples hunched like sleeping behemoths beneath the angry sky. The ornate marble spires and golden domes looked dingy in the squall. She fell against a wall as a gust nearly blew her over. Leaning into the gale, slushy water stung her face and deadened her lips.

At a lessening in the fierce blast, she made a pitiful charge down the alley toward the street intersection ahead.

Skittering to a stop, she fell. The pyramid-like structure of the temple of Isis stretched before her. Mother Isis would not help her tonight, but if she survived the night, she might be of use in the morning. Ishtar’s temple lay a block away. Clambering to her feet, Wren limped toward it. The journey seemed to take forever.

At the steps, Wren glanced back as voices briefly broke over the sound of the storm. She clawed up the jam until she could stand, and pounded on the huge wooden valves.

The pace of the people’s approach increased.

The door opened swiftly. An acolyte stood in the doorway. Dressed in a crisp blue surplice, his myopic eyes peered out from under a silly looking conical headpiece.

“Master Jharon.” Wren grasped his robes with bloody hands. “Quickly!” A glance showed the men closing in.

The boy stared at her with wide eyes. He gulped when he saw the blood on her hands. His gaze moved to the gang stalking down the street. He shoved her back and slammed the door.

“No!” She pounded on the door. Hysteria burned through her as she put her back to the wood. She tried to force the door open but he’d bolted it on the inside. She kept her eyes fixed on the approaching group. There were at least six.

The first thief reached the bottom of the stairs. He shot her a feral grin as he locked eyes with her. His matted dark hair hung in his face. He looked like a rain bedraggled wolf approaching its prey.

Scanning for any means of escape and seeing none, Wren hammered on the door again.

She gasped and fell backward as it swung inward. A strong arm dragged her back and put her in the grasp of an unseen accomplice.

“The rats will not feast tonight.” She recognized Jharon’s distinctive baritone. “Scurry back to your hole, craven.”

“Give us the woman,” the wolf growled. “The Dagger rule Guildhall now. Her life is ours.”

“She is within the temple precincts, and under our protection.”

“Then we shall take her.” Wolf glanced back to his comrades who looked uneasily at one another.

Jharon advanced to the steps. His hand drifted to the haft of a flanged mace hanging from his side. “The goddess teaches us to love all her children,” he boomed. “Still, you must never forget, Ishtar is also a goddess of war!” Jharon punctuated his statement by drawing his mace and clubbing the thief before he could dodge. Head split clean, the rogue lay still.

“Now! Shall Ishtar smite thee, or shall you move on?”

The thieves of the Cult took no time in debate, fleeing back into the night as fast as they had appeared.

Jharon returned and closed the door. “My poor little Wren.” He shrugged off his soaked tunic. “Ishtar must be angry with you indeed.” His hand caressed her cheek gently. “Quickly, clean and dress her wounds, and fetch me more robes. Ishtar shall not claim her just yet.”

His words grew fuzzy. The light in the hall faded as she felt herself lifted. She recalled the first few jarring steps as they moved deeper into the bowels of Ishtar’s domain, but from then sight and memory quickly dwindled.