Previous: Chapter 16
Chapter 17 (Bringing out the monster)
I pulled on Pentorse’s reins, stopping her several feet from the ungroomed man and his filed teeth, illuminated by our travel lanterns. “What in the One and the void?” I placed my hand on Barges’s handle and prepared to create water spears to fling at the man. Or whatever he was.
His wicked grin only deepened.
Yalrein’s horse danced to the side, leaving the hard-packed dirt of the road and venturing out into the weed strewn field to our left. There was a farmhouse lit by several lanterns a good ways down the road, and the inviting smell of grilled chicken drifted on the wind. But other than the distant memory of my words, the area was silent. More silent than the mine at night.
This was wrong. Wild animals or even our horses should be making some type of noise.
I swallowed. “What are you?”
“I’m free,” the man said, his voice half cackle, half grinding wheeze.
“That makes a lot of sense.” Now was not the time to be smarting off, but maybe it would remove the tension.
The man crossed his arms across his chest then turned to face me, cocking his head. “Sense? No. Blood. Food. That is sense.”
“Are you saying you’re hungry, because I can’t really tell.”
“Hungry? Yes. Something to eat.” He took a step towards me.
I hoisted Barges, still blocking out the hammer’s voice. “Now don’t get any ideas.”
“Let’s just go,” Yalrein said. “We don’t have time to watch over him, and I want to get a bit farther away before we rest.”
“Since when did you become the leader?” I peered at Yalrein through the corner of my eye, not allowing my focus to leave the crazy man for too long.
“I’ve always been the leader.”
“Like the void you have.”
“Shall I put you on your back like old times?”
“As I recall, you were the one laid out flat in our last two encounters.”
Yalrein turned Wholt to face me, teeth gritted. “What to say that again now that I’ve got a full belly and nothing to draw my attention away?”
“The results will be the same.” This was the attitude that always infuriated me when he had trained in Mother’s school. He was so arrogant, and I was going to have to put him in his place before we went any farther down the road. “Why don’t you come a bit closer and see how you like the taste of my--”
The crazy man was within arms reach of Pentorse, blinking up, arms still crossed as me as drool rolled down his chin. “Food?”
I started, pulling on the reins, and Pentorse sauntered to the side. “Yes, I have food, but I need to know your name.” That way this crazy person would have to think twice about attacking me. It would make him feel more familiar and friendly towards me. “It’s only common courtesy for those who help you.”
“Name?” The man cocked his head to the other side and ground his foot in the road. “No name. Just called Blood.”
“Blood?” I swallowed. I had to think of something to take the edge off this situation. “Like the blood moon, right? The red moon of the four which is the patron of fire crystals?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Blood said, practically howling the words. “Yes! That is me!”
I bit into my lower lip. “Okay, Blood.” Barges’s buzzing was starting to give me a headache, but I refused to listen to his distractions right now. If we helped this poor, crazy man, with the villagers came after us, his story of our kindness would surely turn them off our trail. “I’m afraid the only thing we can really spare is a bit of dried meat and some crackers.”
Drool rolled down Blood’s chin. “Meat. Meat to feed the fire.”
That didn’t sound crazy and ominous at all. I shook the thought and reached into my saddlebag.
Yalrein moved over beside me and grabbed my wrist. “Stop this now.”
“If we weren’t being chased,” I said, jerking my arm free as I pulled out a piece of meat, “I’d stomp you into the ground where you stand.”
“Yeah?” Yalrein slapped the meat from my hand, and it flopped to the ground, dirt and grime encasing it.
“Do something about it.”
Blood lunged forward and scooped the meat up, stuffing it into his mouth. On his chest, as if part of his chest, were four crimson soul crystals. No wonder he was mad, but where had the other four stones come from? And how was he still beathing?
I opened my mouth to say something.
Yalrein drew his gladius and placed the tip of its blade against Blood’s throat. “Move, and I’ll take your head.”
“Blood’s head?” He nodded as if that we something he heard every day. “Yes, Blood’s head serves little purpose but to store Blood’s teeth. Which leads to Blood’s stomach. Blood’s stomach is important. Ah. Rapture. Connection. I can feel him. Feel them.”
“What?” I asked.
“For your kindness,” Blood said, smiling with his creepy teeth, “I’ll just kill you two. No need to eat you.”
Yalrein shoved his gladius forward, its blade biting into Blood’s neck as fire poured from the four crystals in his chest. Wholt shied away from the heat, Pentorse doing the same.
The sizzling stench of blood and hair entered the air for the briefest moment. Then it was all I could do to breathe the raw heat filling the area.
I released the lock I had on Barges. If I consume our link again, can I beat that thing?
“I tried to warn you about him,” Barges said in a smug voice, “but you just wouldn’t listen to me.”
“As you are now, no. If you could work together with Yalrein, maybe.”
“Yalrein,” I said gritting my teeth. “No.” I may fight to save him for Ekanli, but I won’t work with him.
I took a deep breath and pointed down the road. “Yalrein! Listen; we have to run.”
“Die in a pit.” Yalrein hopped off Wholt and urged the horse to step backwards. White fire wrapped around Yalrein, and he strode towards Blood, who stood still and just released strings of fire into the air as he laughed.
“Stop him,” Barges said.
I leaped off Pentorse, the oppressive heat from both fire wielders weakening my knees. The fields around me spun. Not good. Barges! Before he could respond, I drew his link into my body, ingesting him.
Blood and Yalrein charged one another.
With a snap of my fingers, I created a massive flood in between them, throwing both back with a hiss of steam. My skin turned into ice, and I dashed forward, replacing each section that melted away and moving with more grace that I had before.
Part of me wanted to crack Yalrein over the head with Barges so hard he would never wake up, but I was able to suppress that voice.
Blood shot into the air, all the water beneath him evaporated.
I skidded to a stop beside Yalrin and brought Barges down like a crack of thunder.
His fire vanished, and his body went limp.
In one quick twist, I hooked Barges onto my belt and grabbed Yalrein before he hit the ground. His gladius clanged, but I managed to scoop it up and unload another wave into Blood, throwing him back into the field.
This wouldn’t give me much time.
I hurried over to Wholt and slung Yalrein over the saddle like I had to go through when leaving Ayuhod then sheathed his gladius. Leanding Wholt by the reins, I hopped onto Pentorse and rode as hard as I could, The consumed link vanishing, Barges’s weight tugging on my side.
But with Blood howling behind us, and the night lighting again, I didn’t have much choice but to ride as we were.
Next: Chapter 18