And at last, Tervud understood. “They’re human, and humans can choose. I didn’t choose to kill them–they condemned themselves!” Unmitigated power surged his limbs, and the twin swords lashed free in his hands. Canno’s soil trembled and broke beneath his rush. Soon he came to the stone highway which coursed to Ashir’s seat; he shattered its panels beneath him, scattering tree-scarring fragments to either side. The fortress’s walls were a mix of bleak greys, livid yellows and discolored purples culled from who knew how many quarries.
The cliff-faces clasping it looked like teeth, the world’s jaw broken open to hold Ashir’s pride. A second, inner cliff held tight, crooked-angle walls and overlooking bastions to rain fire on any attacking up the the ramp from the curtain walls. A few sentries patrolled each segment, wearing bronze-plated steel helms with the same for their limbs, but only blue-painted lamellar for their torsos. At the rearmost corner stood a thick octagonal tower with by far the largest of Ashir’s banners.
His icon was a black sword on a blue field, resting atop a pair of white shears. –We should kill him for that alone.– Sonderhau seethed. Tervud agreed. The essence of this place hung heavy with wrongness. He felt callous indifference and the suffering it witnessed, neglect and disdain and futility and broken hope. And underlying it all, a broken-blade hollowness exactly like Malija’s.
Tervud hurled himself from the road with an explosive leap, high out over the causeway and the rapid-filled ravines it bridged. The fortress shrank and grew again beneath him, accompanied by a blowing horn’s alarm. When he landed on the wall next to the nearest sentry, a wall-chunk smashed one of the man’s legs in at the knee. His steel greave did little to protect him.
Tervud didn’t recognize him from Malija’s memories, but that didn’t exonerate him. Perhaps he was a good man unwittingly serving a wicked lord; if so, Tervud would see to the leg. If not, well, now he wasn’t going anywhere in the meantime.
“The Shalmet family,” he demanded. “Where are they?”
“Who–” the guard asked slowly. Tervud bent his will on the man, paralyzing his mouth for a moment.
“You know who I am. Where are they?”
“His lordship’s quarters!” the sentry gabbled–or, tried to gabble. It took him seconds to form a single syllable.
—You will need to focus on slowing your mind.– Sonderhau whispered. –At least for talking to humans.– “Your… er… the lady Ashir is…” Yes, Omud mentioned that, Tervud lifted missing pieces from the guard’s mind. His younger sister, Felasa, always wanted to be a princess. This was closer than she’d any right to expect. The elder, Prita, had escaped into mercenary life. Strange that Omud neglected to mention it.
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