Chapter 15: Dying on a Cold Stone Floor
Barely caring, Jallana watched death come for her, Ransur’s steel fang whirling at her throat, or one of her eyes.
Darrance Oroon murmured something in her head, sudden bright agony flashed through her - and Ransur’s blade grew a glow of its own, right in front of her. Fascinated, she watched it whirl in the air, spinning razor-sharp in one spot—a spot no more than a hand-length in front of her right eye.
And then Darrance Oroon said another soft word, and Ransur’s whirling steel raced away from her, back the way it had come.
Ransur cursed and scrambled up the stair again. The flying knife dodged after him - and despite his terrified howl and hasty parries with other drawn and flung knives, struck him hilt-deep in his right eye.
Ransur stared at her out of his other eye, his face limp with despair, until there was no light in his gaze at all, and he toppled out of sight…
…leaving Jallana staring not at the stair-wall Ransur had fallen behind, but at a wall right in front of her, that hadn’t been there a moment before.
A wall she’d seen before, just moments ago, and fleetingly.
It was a weathered stone wall that bore a relief carving of a horned stone head, its features crumbled away to mere deep eye sockets—a wall that hadn’t loomed in front of her a moment ago, but had been somewhere off in the gloomy distance to her right.
She turned her head that way, awakening fresh hurts from the arrows piercing her, and there it was, across the room. As before…
Wordlessly Darrance Oroon’s chill touch took firm hold of her thoughts, showing her which horn of that blankly-staring head to touch, and how, to make the carved face swing out and reveal a hidden storage niche behind it, where two old, dark, and powerful bracers lay, bracers that could heal her of all her wounds, arrows melting away like smoke, if she reached them and put them on. If…
The large image of the carved head winked out, leaving her looking off to the right, at the real one.
Darrance Oroon made Jallana claw at the floor, plant her one good hand, and try to crawl in that direction. A dozen strides, perhaps, but now a lifetime away. Hers.
The pain came flooding back. She felt open, empty. Emptying.
Shuddering, Jallana dragged herself forward, sobbing with the sick agony of tearing, grating on stone arrowheads. Her legs were slithering and sliding in something wet and sticky. Her blood.
It seemed to stretch out behind her in a wide, dark trail. Too much.
Jallana shook her head wearily. Her hands seemed numb, now, but cold, very cold. The eyeless face seemed very far away. Worse than that, it seemed no closer than before.
Jallana kept on crawling. Or thought she did.
Anger seemed to rise inside her, and she realized dazedly that Darrance Oroon was raging at her—and that she’d been staring at her hand, in front of her, for some time. Her unmoving hand.
Get UP, Darrance Oroon snarled, his mind-voice an echoing war-trumpet roar. Don’t you die on me now!
Jallana smiled weakly. Or thought she did.
“It worked,” said Brethniir of the Brazen Tower, staring into a scrying-sphere with the fires of his last spell still flickering about his fingerbones. “She’s down. Dead, or will be.”
The Worm That Walks hissed. “Count no victories ere they’re won. I dislike what I’ve seen of these Oroon—and we must assume they know all about us. I doubt we could flee this place now, if we tried.”
“I don’t remember you being so cheerful, Kadreth,” the lich replied solemnly. “You haven’t fallen under some sort of curse, have you?”
Jallana! Jallana Stormbright! Get yourself over to that wall NOW!
The Oroon’s rage was like a forge-hammer crashing down on an anvil, right between her ears, but Jallana was too weak to be goaded, too spent to do more than collapse with her cheek on the cold, hard stone floor, and let the storm in her mind break over her and rage on.
Storm and rage Darrance Oroon did, for a long time, before Jallana hazily became aware that he was… gone.
Gone, a gray wraith hurtling across the chamber and swooping over the stair-wall.
Unmoving, uncaring, Jallana lay there in her slowly-dulling, darkening pain and watched the stair, wondering if…
Yes. Ransur rose unsteadily into view, gray-faced and wearing his own dagger hilt-deep in his right eye. He toppled forward and fell headlong over the side of the stair-wall, striking the floor with a crack that left his head lolling at an odd angle.
It wobbled loosely when he rose, jerkily, onto his hands and knees and started to crawl across the room like an ungainly spider caught in another arachnid’s web. Or a child’s stick-toy, dancing at the end of its string. Graceful no longer, Ransur was heading—slowly and clumsily—for the horned head carving on the wall.
Through the darkness that now seemed to be settling slowly over the room, Jallana lay dying, struggling to twitch her blood-drooling mouth into a smile. It was nice to see someone else ridden through agony by an Oroon for a change.
More than that, Darrance Oroon seemed to be having great difficulty forcing his new slavemeat to obey him. Perhaps Ransur had died more quickly than she was dying.
Jallana struggled to quell a laugh she knew she could not manage, the iron tang of blood strong in her mouth now, and watched Ransur reach the bloody heap of Thornan’s body, fail to drag himself over it three, four times, fall and roll sideways on the fifth attempt—and then, amazingly, like a shaman’s skull-man on a stick, rise jerkily and unseeingly, head lolling crazily, upright.
Ransur took one reeling, lurching step toward the distant wall-carving—and then stopped, spasming wildly.
It seemed incredible that his writhing, wriggling-limbed body didn’t fall over… but then Jallana saw why. Oroon were racing into it from all sides, fleeting gray wraith-arrows whirling into Ransur’s mouth and nose—and his one remaining eye crackled and flashed like a lightning storm.
Oroon were fighting inside the thief’s head, doubtless struggling for control of Ransur Guldren’s dead body.
Jallana watched, smiling, as darkness came down and the swaying, twitching thief leaked wraiths out his ears. His eye burst wetly and bright wraiths jetted forth through it, to spin around and around his head in a brightening whorl.
It was the last light Jallana saw, as everything went very dark.
To be continued...