Part V – Account by Penny Kearney
The sound of that voice sent chills through my blood. On my feet in an instant, RuneBinder firm in my grasp, I located Dana. He stood a few paces out of the cave, but the expression on his face made me halt. In all the time I’d known him, I had never seen such fury – nay, hatred – burning in his gaze.
“You…” He rose from where he knelt by a dead soldier, his attention fixed on the owner of the chilling voice, who stood somewhere out of my sight. “You did this!”
Even without seeing him, I knew who it was Dana spoke to. I adjusted my grip on my RuneBinder.
Laughter rang above the crackle of dying flames. “Of course I did, you fool! Did you think you escaped because of your charming little ‘inner compass’? Hah!” The unseen figure’s tone dripped condescension.
Though Dana had mentioned Set had the same voice as he, hearing it in reality near stung my ears. It was like some sort of blasphemy, or the ultimate form of mockery.
“You did exactly as I knew you would. For that, Lord Ross sends his thanks. Otherwise, this battle might have been a costly one.”
A cold fire coursed through my veins. Dana clenched his fist, not noticing me as I stepped out into the clearing.
I had never seen Set before, in spite of all the ominous things I’d heard about him. He stood several yards away, amidst the bodies of my soldiers, with his hands clasped behind his back. In physical appearance, he resembled Dana like a twin – eyes, skin, face, build. His hair, darker than Dana’s, though, matched the shade of his sable armor and black clothing.
At the sight of me, Set smiled, and paced several steps closer to where we stood, confidence in every footfall. In that moment the resemblance to Dana died like a strangled fawn. Every fiber, every movement, every glint in his eyes whispered of an evil so deep set as to make one think that evil had spawned him itself. And that smile…
“Ah, the Lady Kearney graces us with her presence!” Set said, stopping and spreading his arms. “Such a thing she is; small wonder you lot follow her like blind idiots. I do hope you’ll excuse the mess, my lady, though I expect you have your good friend here to thank for it. Had he not come, I would have never put a thought to this action.”
Dana drew his sword.
Set snorted. “You think you can defeat me? Don’t make laugh, Dana. Your mind is open to me; you can do nothing, nothing that I cannot anticipate.”
I shifted my gaze from Dana to Set, skin hot with anger. “You miserable devil….” Raising my sword, I moved towards him.
“No, don’t!” Dana grabbed my arm, and jumped forward.
The whistle of an arrow reached my ears before the shaft impacted Dana’s shoulder, knocking him backwards onto the ground. He landed with a thud on his back.
“Dana!” I dropped my sword and knelt next to him.
Set burst out into laughter. Not evil laughter, but genuinely amused. “Such loyalty! Too bad you acted before you thought, Lady Kearney, else that might not have happened.”
Dana coughed, grasping the shaft.
I reached out to stop his hand. “No, don—“
He jerked out, gritting his teeth against a cry. “Just a scratch; leather took most of it.”
I took the arrow and tossed it aside, but not without observing the bloodstained tip.
“Hm…” Set’s tone shifted my attention as I helped Dana get to his feet. “Rex, was it?” He kicked a limp figure at his feet. I froze, gaze fixed on the lifeless face of my trusted captain. My friend. “A worthy fighter, but the fool had no thought of surrender. Pity, I might have spared some of your warriors.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. Set stood in the midst of a massacre he had ordained with the air of one who’d just won a mildly enjoyable game of cards. My troops, the same men who’d sworn they’d give their lives to protect the innocent, lay slaughtered in their sleep, and their killer gave no more heed to their lost lives than he did to that of a dead animal. No respect, no justice…. My mind rebelled.
I put no thought to the action of snatching up my sword and attacking Set with a cry of rage. He met the arc of my blade with the blade of his own weapon, a near exact copy of Dana’s in a splendor of sharpened onyx metal. Though he gave ground under my advance, I could feel skill through the blades as they collided in rapid succession. Between us, Set was undoubtedly the better swordsman. But as long as he was going to give me the chance to get lucky, I would take it. I’d have an even better chance if I could maneuver him back around to where Dana could get a strike at him.
Set jumped back over a splintered crate. I followed without giving him pause, lashing a crosscut towards him. He deflected it and caught my sword in a bind, holding it there and watching me with glinting eyes.
“Tell me, lady; how much did your men mean to you, hm?”
Ignoring his taunt, I jerked my blade free and advanced with a tight combination. Once again, Set allowed me ground before coming to a halt and switching to offensive. I whipped my sword to defensive, but he pressed hard. I blocked a downward slice, stepping back a pace, and Set grasped the crossguard of my weapon with a gloved hand, peering around the crossed steel.
“Quite a lot, to provoke such a reaction.”
The sound of clashing steel pricked my ears. I wrenched from Set’s grasp and stood back out of his reach before allowing my gaze to flick towards Dana’s position. Four warriors had engaged him while I was fighting Set, a whirlwind of blades flashing in the moon and firelight.
My anger abated. “Call them off.”
“Of course,” Set raised his hand to his men, sword lowering, but still ready. The four warriors paused with obvious reluctance. “As long as you’re quite willing to accompany us on a lovely walk to replace him. Knights of your order are so hard to come by. Fair trade, and all that.”
“No!” Dana shouted. “Set, Leave her, I will go!”
One of the four took advantage of Dana’s lowered guard, and slammed the pommel of his sword over his head. Dana crumpled to his hands and knees.
“Dana, shut up!” I snapped, my pulse racing. I looked to Set again, giving him a hard look. I’d lost many friends today. I was not about to lose Dana, too. Not again. “I will go if you give me your word, such as it may be worth, that if I do, you will leave him alone. And I mean alone.”
Lowering the tip of his sword to the ground and resting one arm on the pommel, Set nodded. “Of course. I always keep my word. After all, I would hate to break that reputation.” He glanced over to his men. “Guards, leave the wretch, he has…. much to think on.”
I watched, tense. The soldiers hesitated, then backed away, and came to join Set. One of them reached for my sword. I gripped the hilt, forcing him to yank it from my grasp in order to attain it.
Set smiled, good humor appearing to have returned in full as he waved quite cheerfully to Dana, who struggled to remain conscious. “Have a nice night, Dana! I do hope you’ll remember this is all your fault. Always makes the rain fall harder, doesn’t it? Right, my lady, on to a meeting with Lord Ross, shall we?” He lifted his sword and sheathed it with a clank. “He’s always fond of visitors of such lovely appearance.” He gestured to his men, who took up guard formation around me, and walked towards Dana.
Set knelt, grasping Dana’s collar to keep him upright, and whispered something in his ear. For a sudden moment I wished I could hear what it was Set told him. Set had taunted him from the start, so what was so special about what he said now that he had to say it to Dana alone?
Set released him, and Dana collapsed. A pit tightened in my stomach, watching him struggle to push himself up again as Set returned.
I’m sorry, Dana. But you better not do anything stupid when you wake up.
“Now,” Set stood before me, satisfaction in his slightly downward gaze. “Shall we?”
That smile was now officially on my nerves. I backhanded him across the jaw. My hand stung, but seeing him flinch in pain at my blow sent a spark of pleasure through me that outweighed the pain. Set held up a hand to restrain a reaction from his guards.
“Lead the way.” I said, as his gaze came to me again.
Though the smile still lingered, it had diminished. “Of course, my lady.” He gestured towards the forest. “This way.”
Rather than waiting for the order, the guards gave me a shove in the right direction. I caught my balance before falling, and took my position in the center of the four man formation, giving them no more reasons to touch me.
“There is always a way!” Dana’s voice rose from the receding camp. “I will find it, Penny, be ready with the others!”
Annoyance passed over Set’s expression. “Come, faster. We don’t want to make Lord Ross wait, do we?”
He strode ahead of the guards, leading the way. With his gaze off me, I glanced back to catch sight of Dana. All I could see was his form dropping fully to the ground, unmoving in unconsciousness amidst the smoke, embers, and bodies of what used to be our hideout.
Then the forest engulfed us.