Shadowplay: Prologue

She’s going to fall.

It’s not the dirt her boots have churned to bloody mud.  She’s up to her ankles in it, rooted like a tree, couldn’t be more stable.  In fact, it’s going to take the blow of the hammer currently headed for her back to even knock her free.  She goes to her knees, and she’s going to fall, but not yet.  Gets up, swipes mud and hair out of her eyes.  Looks around.

    The man with the hammer was just passing, giving her a lively little tap like a hello.  Now he’s going, and now he’s falling, and now he’s dead with his blood on her face.  There’s a smiling face behind him that she knows.  Breath comes back into her lungs, thick with smoke.  For a moment she’s human again.  Then the burly Paladin is no longer smiling, but taking her arm and turning her, giving her a mighty shove – she’s going to fall.  But not yet.  Back to work.

    She steps as he taught her, ducks a slash, puts her weight behind the sword in her right hand.  Sliding it in is easy – the tip finds the seam in a blackguard’s plate and nuzzles into warm, wet depths.  She can’t stop the subtle eroticism that prickles across her skin, the irresistible association.  It’s driven out first by shame, and then by the unbalancing jerk of her arm when the blade catches in his chain.  He turns, baring bleeding gums and shoving his shoulder into her chest.  She’s going to fall.

    Instead of toppling back, she leans forward, pulling on one blade to bring the other around opposite it.  Blind, she finds the corresponding flaw on his other side, and embraces him until her swords cross in his gut.  The weight of his body goes forward instead of back, and this time her swords come free.  His blood is red.  This one was human.

    She straightens up and snaps her wrists, sluicing blood from the fullers.  She’s looking for her company, for any sense of structure in this melee.  Strategy goes to shit down here.  She can’t remember anything but the faces she should see nearby, and she doesn’t see them.

    But there’s her Paladin.  His head is high, his gold hair dark with sweat, his face muddy and teeth clenched.  There is no battle-joy in his face, only grim serenity, the sorrowing face of an angel with a sword.  Not far away, but there’s nothing she can improve by moving closer.  Concentrate.  Give him room to swing.  He’s not going to fall.

    Dim through the blood-fog, she can see the White City’s minarets in the east.  She moves back toward them, scanning the faces she steps over for the men of the Seventh Company.  Now there you are.  Pain as dim as the sun-drenched spires, only a cold inventory at this distance, crossing off names.  Too many.  Far too many.


    Wet curls fly and her head comes up, a lovely, unwonted curve to her neck as she turns, and the start of a smile that is more than reflex.  He’s just in sight.  His face is so pale!  She opens her mouth to call out in answer… and kisses the axe now crashing into her face as it opens her from lash to lip.  Can’t smile anymore.  Can’t see.

    She’s going to fall.


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