Trouble On The South Road

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We walked for a few hours, the palace growing closer, and the sun falling farther behind. As the shadows lengthened, I could see people watching us. At first I thought I was imagining it, cause when I looked they were normal, but on the edges of my vision I could see dozens of reptilian eyes on our little group, and their gazes were making the hairs on my arms stand up.

I pulled away from Sanna and walked casually over to Nisvārtha.

"Um, Nisvārtha?" I asked under my breath.

He looked down at me. "Yes?"

"Is there any reason these people would be watching us?"

He didn't say anything for a while. "We are strangers here, that would call for some second looks."

I glanced around again. "Aye, but....we're boxed in."

"What?"

"Halt!" A voice boomed and we stopped dead in our tracks. We all turned around to face the voice and saw a heavyset man with creepy red eyes, a thick beard, and a dozen men at his flanks armed with swords.

"I am General Kutantra, and you are all under arrest by order of Warlord Kappu."

"On what charges?" Nisvārtha demanded.

"Trespassing."

"The gates of the city were open, and Avondale law states that any soul may pass through an open door."

"Disturbance."

"Of what?"

"The ground, sand, and rocks."

He scoffed. "You are reaching, General." The circle of armed men were inching closer, trapping us. "Name a real offense and I may consider letting you keep your fat fingers."

General Kutantra sneered and clenched his stubby fingers at his sides. "Traveling with a fugitive wanted by Warlord Kappu."

Two pairs of men grabbed Śarat by her arms, pulling her away from us. She kicked and struggled but her strength was no match against her own kind.

"Let her go, Wyrm!" Sanna growled, his face twisted in a look of rage I had never seen. The face of a warrior, a killer, of something dangerous.

"Śarat, what the devil is he talking about?" I snapped, glaring at the wyrms who had their hands on her.

Śarat gave a nervous laugh, but her eyes were scared. "Remember when I mentioned I got in some trouble before I left? He is speaking of that." Then she glared at the General, "My crime is no worse than yours, Kutantra. How many years does the Warlord punish for murder?"

Kutantra sneered at Śarat, "The death of that little bitch was a blessing on this city." He smiled a sickening grin, "Warlord Kappu gave me a reward for her capture and let me do the honors of sending her to the bottom of the river."

Śarat let out an animalistic screech of rage and pain, struggling against the grip of the Warriors. I watched her go from the woman I knew to a savage animal in a matter of seconds, her green eyes filled with a hunger for blood. "She was a child! Unshifted, defenseless and the purest soul I knew. And you killed her!"

Kutantra laughed, "I may have killed her, but who did she die for?"

The rage drained from Śarat's eyes and she stopped struggling, falling to her knees and dropping her head in shame. I swallowed hard and wondered how much more Śarat had left out of her story.

"Her crimes are made null and void after she joins a different clan," Nisvārtha reasoned harshly. "I am Nisvārtha Shade, Head of Clan Maretu. Śarat Stone joined my clan, so she is no longer a criminal."

"She stole the Warlord's property," General Kutantra growled. "A crime against the leader of a clan carries over to any clan the criminal may join, becoming the crime of the other clan's leader." His sneer turned into a smug grin. "Which makes you a wanted man, Nisvārtha Shade."

Havala fixed Śarat with a frozen glare, "You hot-headed fool!" she hissed. "Look at what your lies have done!"

"Back off, Havala!" Sanna snarled at the serpent.

"Why should I? We are all going to die now because of her!" She shrieked.

My head was beginning to ache with all the shouting. "Enough!" I snapped. "Who said we're dying?"

"Benki Clan punishes its thieves by execution," Suruli said calmly. "As members of Nisvartha's Clan, all of us are considered accomplices to the crime that is now his." She looked at me, her eyes completely void of anything. "You are also included because you have been traveling with us."

"You can't be serious." I looked from one defeated expression to the next.

"The only way any of you survive this," Śarat said sadly, her head hanging in defeat. "Is if Nisvārtha trades my life for yours." She looked up to meet my gaze.

I shook my head, my throat closing at the idea of this colorful woman being killed for me. My head was throbbing, my body ached, my feet felt like lead, and my bones had been sore for days. All I wanted to do was wake up and be in my cozy bed, at home, with Ma at my side giving me tea. But this wasn't a dream, this was real, and I'd be damned if I let someone die for me.

"No." My head snapped up to see Nisvārtha glaring at General Kutantra, a burning fire in his violet eyes. "No one is dying today."

The General barked a humorless laugh. "We shall see. Seize them!"

The warriors closed in, swords flashing and feet moving quicker than I had expected. Sanna was faster though, and with him in the rage he was in, I almost felt sorry for the men who had pissed him off. Havala and Nisvārtha started doing some kind of martial arts, keeping some of the warriors at bay. I couldn't see what Suruli was doing as I myself was preoccupied.

A warrior lunged at me, but I was quick to duck under and hit him below the belt. Dragon warrior or not that will always hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. He doubled over and I took the opening to grab his ponytail and punch him square in the nose. It worked, the bastard went down bleeding and whining, but I didn't count on the pain that radiated from my hand up my arm.

I cried out and clutched my throbbing arm to my body. Gentle hands grabbed me and I heard the bells, piano, and violin of Suruli's song. I looked up at her, her face was cut and bleeding, but the gash was healing before my eyes. For the moment we were encased in a dome of wind, the air moving so fast that it acted like a shield.

"Are you injured?" Suruli asked.

I looked down at my arm, it still throbbed with pain, but I flexed my hand and rolled my wrist to be sure. Nothing was broken, in fact my limb felt fine except for the aching pain in my bones.

I looked back up at Suruli and shook my head.

She bit her lip and nodded. The last of her wound vanished, taking the air shield with it.

I looked up to see that the fight was over. Sanna was unconscious, Havala was restrained, Śarat wasn't even struggling, and Nisvārtha was on his knees before General Kutantra.

"Anything you have to say, Leader Shade?" The General taunted.

Nisvārtha huffed. "Yes." His violet gaze rose to glare at Kutantra. "I, Nisvārtha Shade, demand audience with Warlord Kappu to discuss my crimes, and my business here. As precaution I am allowed two of my clan to accompany me, I want Kendra McLane and Sanna Briar."

General Kutantra sneered. "You can have your audience, and the fledgling girl, but the wyvern is going to the dungeons with the thief and the whore." He looked over at me and Suruli. "You can have the little bird." He nodded at his warriors, "Take them."

We began moving and I had one second to ask the question burning in my head, "Śarat, who did he kill?"

Śarat didn't look up, "My partner, Kāla." She choked out a sob, "She was my sister."

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