Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 7:32 pm

Savant's Blood: Hecate's Bounty -- Chapter 4

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In few other games can you see brute force,
animal cunning, masterful skill and pure
terror all at work at the same time...<BR>
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Beia</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;">Backfield Scramble</div>
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On her own. Watching Dorian’s silhouette recede down the alley, Wren clutched the knife the woman had left in her care. The weapon’s name was Vectra. She had only to concentrate on an image of the dagger, think its name, snap her fingers and it would return to her hand. She had already tried it once and it worked. On her own. In a way, she couldn’t blame Dorian. She did have a family to consider. Sindra and Drucilla, the daughters of Aarlen Frielos, were married to Dorian’s twins, Cassin and Annawen.

Standing in the shadowy alley she felt very alone. Maybe Desiray had been wrong. Perhaps it hadn’t been Gaea who arranged her being in the game, but Aarlen herself.

She skipped to a run. Her mind whirled. She had freed Damay only to be confronted by the very creature that had killed the greatest of the Kel’Varans. What chance did she have against her? Dorian had said she’d rather fight ten avatars than face Aarlen. Wren had seen evidence of this at work. Even with her tremendous power, the avatar Mishaka had been unable to do more than sting Sindra and Drucilla. If the children were that strong—their mother would be… She shivered.

What a mess. She knew for certain now she didn’t want to accidentally lead any of Aarlen’s agents back to Damay. She prayed that the elder savant was okay. Right now, her only recourse was to get through this game without being captured. If she managed to survive to the end, she could seek out the help of Loric or someone closer to Aarlen’s level of power. She didn’t know the true extent of the lord Felspar’s ability, but she knew he was certainly nothing to be trifled with. Gabriella treated him with respect, and Sindra and Drucilla were careful around him. That gave her some hope that he might be able to keep Aarlen’s minions off her back. If he didn’t have the power—then it might be time to find out what an elder could do assisted by her abilities. Dorian’s words rang in her head. Your reach will always far exceed your grasp. What if she didn’t do the grabbing?

She turned a corner onto a smaller alley. The fact that she was so keyed up saved her. A shadow cut across her light and she instantly dove and rolled. With a hiss of air, hands snatched through the spot where she’d been. Wren caught a glimpse of movement. Cart-wheeling back to her feet, she took aim. She recognized it was someone in street camoflage rather than black armor and changed her target at the last instant as Vectra left her fingers. The whirling blade slashed across the inside of the person’s leg.

**Team clash, B-7—Idundaughter defeats Targallae. Damrosil neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.**

“Frell,” the white-haired Myrmigyne cursed.

Wren kept moving. The shadowy space between the buildings was too tight for maneuvering. She did not want to be too close to these players. Calling Vectra back to her hand, she sprinted for a narrow space between two buildings. When the moderator called a team member neutralized, that meant another was close by.

Hearing a thrum behind her, Wren dug in her heels, skidded and flipped backward. An arrow slammed shuddering into the wall. She lunged again as another arrow shrieked out. She oriented and threw along the path the arrow had come from.

Vectra whizzed out, clanged and slammed into the ground as Beia deflected it with one of her wrist bracers. The Myrmigyne closed the gap between them in heartbeat. In the time it took to call the dagger back, the blonde woman was already within reach.

Vera’s G’yaki training kept her going when before she would have been dropped in the first exchange. She slipped the first swing, dropped, and spun in a foot sweep. She managed to hook Beia’s leg and jerk her off balance. The Myrmigyne’s follow up swing missed. Wren saw her opportunity and brought Vectra around.

Fast as she was, Beia was faster, she slipped inside of her attack, slammed her wrist aside, and drove the heel of her palm between Wren’s breasts.

To Wren it felt like she’d just hit bottom after a three story fall. The air exploded out of her lungs as she was mashed up against the brick wall. All of her limbs seemed to turn to putty. The dagger fell from her grip and she gasped like a fish out of water, trying to get air and failing.

**Team clash, B-7—Targallae defeats Idundaughter. Scores updated. Move logged.**

“That’s for crunching me at breakfast,” the Myrmigyne murmured with a sniff.

Wren slid down the wall and fell to her hands and knees. She wheezed and gasped. “Ugh. Uh. G—g” She shook her head. “Glad—to know—” She coughed. “You don’t—don’t hold a—grudge.”

The Myrmigyne patted her on the back. “We’re even now.” She bent down and looked into Wren’s tear blurred eyes. “You’ve gotten better. A lot better. You made your opening, and took the shot.” She held up a tiny space between her fingers. “A bit faster and you would have had me.”

Wren tried to get some more words out, and simply couldn’t manage. Her lungs just seemed to flutter in her chest like butterfly wings.

**Team Tarrantil, teleport request B-7. Move logged.**

“Desiray and Bertram are probably headed this way.” Damrosil said in her deep voice, stepping across the alley. The huge woman was like Wren remembered from their contest in the bar. Not as big as the D’klace twins but big enough. She wore the clothing like the others did, suited for making her hard to see in the city environment. Her bone-white hair was done in braids and looped around her neck. She rubbed at the side of her broad mouth and looked around. “Give her credit, Beia.” She bent and picked up Vectra. “She was fighting eight circles out of her rank. It took you five shots to get her.”

Beia knelt down by Wren. “Got the wind knocked out of you.” She took her by the shoulders and pulled her so she had her back to the wall. “Bend at the waist. Concentrate on holding your breath and letting it out slow.” She patted Wren’s pouches, fingered her pockets, and rose. “I am giving her credit. She’s only been training a couple seasons. At least I got her. She got ten points off of you missus sticky-feet, you need to get back in training.”

“Hmph,” Damrosil grunted.

**Team D’Shar, E-9. Eighty-five points. Bystander bonus applies. Magic bonus applies. Scores updated. Moved logged.**

The Myrmigyne looked up. “Damn, Terra and T’Gor are on a roll this game.” She flipped Vectra and caught it. “Wren here has moved up in the world. She sure isn’t throwing rusty chunks of iron now. She have the gem on her?”

Beia shook her head. “No. I don’t think she would have given it to Dorian. They had a falling out recently—right?”

Wren nodded. “I need—” The words cracked and died in her throat. She wheezed. “I need—”

“You need?” Damrosil prompted, making a circular gesture with her finger. “Girl, there’s a game on, we have to get moving.” She looked to Beia. “I think you hit her too hard.”

“I was careful,” the blonde Myrmigyne remarked. “Nothing is broke. You don’t know how hard she hit me. Put cracks in Loric’s granite wall, and my back hurt for two days.”

“Oh right.” Damrosil laughed. “This little snip of a girl hit you that hard?”

Beia shrugged. “Don’t believe me then. Try it sometime and find out.”

Damrosil bent down and shook Wren’s shoulder. “Hey.” She snapped her fingers. “Hello in there. What did you need?”

“H-h-ha—help!” she finally wheezed out.

The white-haired Myrmigyne grinned. “What—you figure?” She turned to the other Myrmigyne. “Did she hit her head?”

“She doesn’t mean danger from us, Featherbrain,” Beia cuffed the bigger woman across the shoulder.

“Sen—” Wren coughed. “Sen’Gen. After—me.”

Beia stiffened and her expression hardened. “Sen’Gen?” She reached down and took Wren’s chin in her palm. “Big men in black armor?”

Wren nodded.

“What the frell are Sen’Gen?” Damrosil asked, bending down and putting a hand on Beia’s back.

The blonde Myrmigyne scowled. “Covert agents for Aarlen.”

Damrosil’s green eyes narrowed. “Aarlen? What would Wren have that she’d want?”

“Not sure,” Beia whispered. “It’s pretty big if she’d disrupt the game for it. Aarlen really loves the game.”

“Oh yeah,” Damrosil grumbled. “What she loves is watching us knock each other senseless.”

“Why not? I do too.”

“Never mind. I’ll just don’t understand you two being together is all.”

Beia made an annoyed wave of her hand. “Later.” She took Wren by the shoulders. “Are you in trouble with Aarlen?”

She nodded. “I told—I told Drucilla—” She drew another breath. “Told Drucilla about—about something I had. I think Aarlen knows now.”

“What could she possibly—” Beia stopped Damrosil with a raised hand.

“Several reasons,” Beia said. “I found out Hecate wants Wren for an avatar. In fact, I dropped Mishaka a while back, because she was after Wren. Unfortunately, Aarlen has some long-standing non-aggression agreements with Hecate. So, blasting her avatar like she deserved really caused a fuss.”

“That’s why the game was postponed?”

“Yes. So, Aarlen may be after Wren to smooth that incident over.”

That was a possibility that hadn’t even occurred to Wren. The Sen’Gen at the house might have been sent by the D’klace twins, but the ones in the game might be after her for a totally different purpose. Of course, neither option appealed.

“So, you going to let your darling get away with it?”

“Of course not!” Beia snapped. “Sometimes she has to be reminded to behave is all.”

Damrosil rolled her eyes. “Oh, right.”

Beia lifted Wren to her feet. “Guess you’re on our team until I figure out what to do about, Aarlen.”

Wren drew some deeper breaths. Standing helped. She winced and bent over hands on knees. “I—don’t under…stand. What can you do—about her?”

Beia ran a hand through her blonde hair. “One of the privileges of being her mate is she usually listens to me.”

She blinked. Had she heard right? “What?”

“Marriage?” Damrosil asked. “Ever hear of it?”

“But, she’s a—woman.

Beia put hands on hips. “And? Come now, as long as you’ve been around Loric’s house. That surprises you?”

“Well, it’s just that you seemed so—” She paused. “Normal.

Damrosil burst out laughing and slapped her knee. “Aye yai yai!” Grinning, she thumped Beia on the shoulder. “Maybe you should cut off all your hair or wear a tattoo or something!”

Face scarlet, the woman shoved Damrosil away. “Oh, shut up.”

“So, you really think you can help?”

Beia’s cheeks still had some red in them. “Of course.”

“We’ll be especially nice if you tell us where that gem is,” Damrosil added.

“I—” Wren coughed and for the first time got a whole chest-full of air. “I’m only trading that for somebody helping me get my family back, and killing Mishaka.”

The white-haired Myrmigyne raised an eyebrow. “Whew. Don’t want much for it, do you?”

Wren shrugged. “It’ll win the game. Guess it depends on how much that’s worth.”

“Let’s move,” Beia said. She stepped to the spot where she’d originally fired on Wren and picked up a silver-colored bow. The weapon shrank until it was smaller than her hand as she shoved it into a sheath on her side obviously designed for it. “We’ve been idle way too long.” She came and pushed on Wren’s shoulder. “Stay with us.” She nodded to Damrosil.

The bigger Myrmigyne led the way down a shadowy alley. Beia kept Wren in front of her.

“Don’t you two fly or go invisible like the others?” Wren asked.

“Flight energy can be detected,” Beia said. “Some mages like Dorian can conceal it, the rest of us have to be more careful.”

Leave it to Dorian—the queen of sneaks.

They made several turns. The sounds of the city had grown more pronounced. The clang of the first morning bells echoed through the spaces around them. The smells of burning wood and cook-smoke drifted on the morning breeze.

“I know Bertram and Desiray are here,” Damrosil whispered. She brushed at her white hair, and pulled a gleaming blade from its sheath on her side. “I can feel it.”

“Watch your back,” Beia murmured, looking around. “Desiray can hide anywhere.”

“True—but concealing Bertram is like trying to hide a bonfire.”

Wren wondered about the rules regarding proxies. Obviously, when a team had ‘possession’ of her, if she scored against another team those points were awarded to the team in control.

“Beia? In the game, I’m not required to help any team am I?”

“You don’t have to, no. The team in possession has to persuade you to help. Control of you changes when a team defeats you or the team you’re currently part of. So you don’t have to help, but it’s bad form to deliberately cost a team points.”

“Shhh.” Damrosil put a finger to her lips. The big Myrmigyne had come to a turning point in the alley and slowed to a stop. The woman scanned the overhanging roofs and the numerous places that could provide concealment.

Both warriors were keeping an eye on all the best hiding spots. All of them except for one—the ground. The orange-colored early morning light filtered down into the narrow spaces creating overlapping shadows everywhere. To Wren’s eye a couple of the shadows didn’t look quite right.

She tapped Beia on the shoulder and pointed to some boxes. “Those were recently moved. See that dark patch on the ground.” She indicated a place where tufts of grass were still bent over where they’d grown between the cracks in the cobbles. “That’s where they used to be.”

The Myrmigyne narrowed her emerald eyes. Would she go investigate? Wren hadn’t told her to go over there. She merely pointed it out. She kept her features smooth as one of the shadows seemed to tremble.

Beia snapped her fingers. Damrosil turned. The blonde Myrmigyne pointed to the side of the alley and the boxes. The white-haired woman pulled three star-shaped throwing knives from her belt and held them at the ready.

Wren snapped her fingers and Vectra flashed from Damrosil’s belt to her open hand. The big Myrmigyne grabbed the spot where the weapon hand been and turned her dark eyes on Wren. She scowled. Wren shrugged.

The blonde warrior took a half step toward the spot Wren had indicated. Her foot lingered hairs from that trembling shadow. Wren wasn’t sure what would happen, but she was ready to bolt just in case it wasn’t who she thought it was.

Damrosil gestured to Beia. She pointed to her own eyes and shook her head. Indicating that she didn’t see anything.

Beia took another step, her foot squarely in the middle of the shadow. The dark area appeared to wrinkle like fabric.

Wren saw the glint of something metallic near the alley wall. Beia appeared to see it too, and instantly took a shuffle step sideways—straight into the middle of the shadow.

The response came in an eye-blink as the blackness suddenly came alive with a sound like a whip cracking through the air. Beia yelped in surprise as she seemed to be jerked into the ground. As the Myrmigyne fell, another figure dressed in black exploded out of the ground, launching blades over Beia’s head at Damrosil.

A ‘sticky-foot’ the big Myrmigyne might be, but you couldn’t have told it by Wren. The giant woman leaped over the first dagger, deflected the second with her sword, and let fly with her own weapons. The attacker spun in the air, a night black shadow spread from its back and blotting out the light like something alive. The three blades vanished into the dark mass with hissing thunks.

“Frell!” Damrosil yelled. “Shadow cloak!” The woman had just enough time to get the words out before a hammer seemed to sprout from the wall behind her. The weapon scored between her shoulder blades with a flat thud that knocked the huge woman all the way across the alley into the wall.

**Team clash, B-8—Tarrantil defeats Targallae. Damrosil neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.**

Beia tried to turn but was now up to her waist in rock trying to free herself. The ground heaved and groaned with the tremendous power the woman exerted.

The shadow that had swallowed Damrosil’s daggers appeared to turn inside out and from its depths, Desiray appeared in a puff of displaced air. Beia swung at the woman but simply couldn’t turn or move adequately to be a threat to someone with Desiray’s amazing speed. The mistress whipped a dagger from her side grabbed Beia’s braid, yanked hard once, and put the weapon’s edge to it. “Call no contest, Beia!”

“Damn!” Beia slapped the ground she’d been trapped in. “Moderator, no contest!”

**Team clash, B-8—Tarrantil defeats Targallae. Beia neutralized. Scores updated. Move logged.**

“About time we scored on you two poachers,” Desiray said, the shadowy blackness fluttering around her. She let go of Beia’s braid and patted the woman on the head. “Good job, Bertram.”

A figure stepped out of the surface of the wall, a tall blond man in mirror polished chainmail. He made the whole alley light up with his presence. He wore his shoulder-length hair in single braid. He nodded to Desiray with a grin. Pulling at his long mustache, he turned to Damrosil with concerned expression. “I trust I didn’t hurt you overmuch, Lady Damrosil?”

“I’m okay—damn it—good ambush.” Leaning against the wall the Myrmigyne rubbed the back of her neck. That same strike probably would have killed three normal people, but as Wren already knew—these weren’t normal people.

“Thank you, milady. We’ve been practicing surprise tactics extensively. It’s gratifying to see our investments pay off.”

“Harrumph.”

“Moderator,” Desiray called. “Team Tarrantil declines carry change-over.”

**Team Tarrantil declines points exchange. Team Targallae retains all carries. Carry scores remain unchanged. Scores revised. Transcript updated.**

Desiray flipped her white hair and looked at Wren, green eyes flashing. She took her wrist. “You’re mine now!”