The Dark Ones enjoy killing at a distance, hiding shamefully. But by sensing the void left by their soulless existence, I know from where they stalk us. To stand firm is death. I yell a base, animal cry, summoning all my Faith in the Blessed Scion and leap down into the thicket where the enemy lies. The others do the same.
The noise and clamour, the flashes of movement through the dense undergrowth blur into a swirling chaos as the others join the fray. My blade bites into the neck of a Dark One. I feel a hammer blow at my shoulder. My armour there shatters. I drop low.
My mind instructs my blade to transform itself, curving and shortening, to better fight within these close confines. I strike out, again and again. There are screams all around. And then only the moans of the dying and the gasping for air of the living.
Two Dark Ones lie broken on the ground. One still breathes, screeching as it waves the stump of its arm. My blade transforms into a spike and I drive it through its eye. It is then that I realize all of my comrades lie dead or wounded beyond help. Nothing stands. I scramble up through the bush toward the base of the ridge, and then I see the last Dark One.
It lies on its back, rasping for breath. A bloody gash mars its ribs. By its side, Egrin is there. I only recognize his armour, his face a bloody mess.
The Dark One wheezes as it reaches for its staff. I stand on its hand. It groans and rolls onto its back.
Be done with it, girl! the Dark One says to me.
It says this to me in my mind, using Soul Speech. A Dark One with a soul.
I hold my blade high, but stop there. I feel the Dark One gather courage. I sense its defiance, its disdain. I remember that I must close my mind to it, as I would if I were dealing with a warrior heretical to my Faith.
The fleeting thought of service to my Blessed Scion reminds me of my most holy task. I hastily kick the Dark One's weapon down into the brambles, then crawl up to the flat below the ridge. The exertion surprises me. I'm exhausted from the fighting. I reshape my blade and put it away. My armour hangs loosely to one side so I take it off.
I reach the thrall who had been tasked with guarding the sapling. He twitches silently, breaths very shallow.
"Do not let your Faith waver, Serwyn," I say to him. "I shall make you right."
I search through the pack of another slain thrall nearby, fumbling for the healing salve. Serwyn's twitching ceases. I feel his spirit fade.
The sacred tree. Serwyn's body still covers it from view and I struggle to turn him over. I scan the sapling. Many needles have been shaken off its boughs, but the tree is still vibrant with life. I unfasten the fibrous ropes used to strap the sapling to Serwyn's back, but I cannot untie the knot wedged beneath the body. How long will I need to wait here to regain my strength? I consider cutting the ropes, but that will only increase my burden. Looking at the size of the tree and upward toward the plateau atop the mountain deepens my anxiety.
Behind me, I hear something scraping against the brush. Gazing down the slope, I see the Dark One crawling. It barely makes another move before I step in front of it, blade raised. But again, I do not strike. I sheath the blade and kneel down, shoving the Dark One over onto its back. It yelps in pain and I catch a brief moment of fear. I know now that it still wants to live. It thinks there is a chance. I must use this.
I will not hurt you, I say, carefully guarding my thoughts from his mind. Let me see your wound.
I lay my hands over the split opened in its side. I fetch the healing salve and apply it to the wound. If I complete this work, I may not have enough energy to fight the creature. At least I am safe from its sorcery. A Dark One is powerless without its foul magical implements. So I've been taught. But I was also told they had no souls.
A girl, it sneers, shaking its head. I ignore it.
I take a piece of rope from another thrall's pack and bind the Dark One's hands, then pass my energy onto the healing salve to make it work. Its breathing eases.
I know you do not trust me, I say. Indeed, I do this not out of kindness, but I believe you can help me. Help me and I will let you live.
Continued in Part 3 . . . .
YOU ARE READING
A New Kind of WarriorFantasy
Lindal has been chosen by her god to be the lone girl among her people's caste of divine warriors, giving her the power to sense and shape the natural world around her. Now fate leaves the last chance of salvation for her people in her hands. She mu...