The alley swims in Telfor’s vision. His head throbs where he’d been struck. If the Anir find them again he won’t be much help.
Jasha’s unnatural ashen pallor also worries him. She’d burned herself out with magic to protect him. The tremor in her hands a bad sign.
That left Vahkragg and Laurin. Capable soldiers, but the Anir were dangerous. The best bet will be avoiding them.
“Give me Diatter,” He says, “Jasha, can you run?”
Telfor clenches his jaw, but takes her at her word, “We’re in bad shape for a fight in the open so plan is we’re taking the prisoner straight to the courthouse as quick and quiet as we can manage. Either those killers are still after us and nearby, or they’ll be back soon with reinforcements. Either way we don’t want to be here any longer.”
Giving the captive priest a shove, Telfor leads the group deeper into the labyrinthine back streets of Capital.
Laurin moves to the front of the group. Keeping an eye ahead and checking corners for dangers while Vahkragg keeps to the rear. Laurin’s knowledge of the city is as good as Telfor’s own and he takes them through an unlit path avoiding main thoroughfares expertly.
The priests neighbourhood is far behind them when Laurin starts increasing the pace. They’re almost running when Telfor notices Jasha’s breath growing more ragged and gasping. Glancing back at her he’s immediately startled by her stark paleness.
“Laurin, we have to-“
“Shut!” Jasha hisses as sharply as she can while staying quiet.
Telfor looks back at her again. She signs that they’re being tracked by two hidden enemies. Looking around, Telfor doesn’t notice any sign of it, but knows enough to trust Laurin and Jasha here.
Suddenly Laurin ducks into a dark shallow dead-end alley and draws his shield and sword as the others fall in behind him. Jasha all but collapses on the dirt the moment she stops running, tremor spread from her hands all through her body now.
Telfor drops his grip on the prisoner to catch her and Diatter immediately tries to make a run for it only to be caught by Vahkragg within just a couple of steps and dragged into the dark alley.
“Make a sound and your ancestors will regret it.”
The sounds of Jasha struggling to supress a cough and draw a breath seems so loud so loud in the silence of the night.
As slowly and quietly as he can Telfor draws his own blade. Still feeling far from stable he expects it won’t matter much, but it felt better to be armed.
“Be not afraid.”
The tone carried the authority of absolute confidence as it rung in their ears. A strangely resonante voice that seemed to come from all directions at once. Casting their gaze around in search of the source they found no sign amongst the shadows of the alley.
“Your sins need not be mortal. Turn over the sinner and your will be permitted reprieve.”
The offer made sense. The stories of Anir’s killers made them sound inhuman. Unstoppable and emotionless. If Diatter was their target, whether they sought to rescue or kill him, they had no reason to risk an unecessary fight and from where Telfor stood the offer was tempting.
The Anir were stronger and faster than natural people, likely enhanced by ether stones beneath concealed within their attire. On their side only Vahkragg and Laurin were in any shape to fight and even if they were a match for the Anir ordinarily their magically enhanced abilities were a significant handicap.
He didn’t like the idea of bringing a second failed contract report to Arnhilde in a row almost as much as he didn’t like the idea of having their corpses found by the guard in the morning, but only marginally.
“I have no desire to stand at odds with the Pantheon, but I assure you my detainment of this man is lawful.”
There was a pause.
“Whose authority do you serve?”
Telfor clenched his jaw. Drawing their more powerful foe into a dialogue had been a win, but the whole reason they were on this contract was to keep the Pantheon in the dark.
“I have a writ signed by the Reeve empowered by the authority of the Crown to detain this Priest.”
And now he’d done it. Whatever kind of incident Arnhilde had been trying to avoid was now in motion. He prayed that he’d gambled on the right horse.
“I will approach to inspect the writ. Come to the alley entrance.”
You’ll go way of a lone tax payer that’s what Laurin had said would happen. Glancing over Telfor could see Laurin hadn’t changed his mind on how he expected this to go.
With a heavy sigh Telfor fished the writ from his pocket and before anything else he felt Jasha pull him into her arms as she kissed him deeply.
“Leave Sara without a father and I will never forgive you.”
Pressing his forehead against hers in silent answer, Telfor pulled away and stepped out into the alley mouth ready to be devoured.
As if materialising from the shadows themselves, the Anir was there before it registered to Telfor that he could see them. The figure was just as indistinguishable here as they had been in the fight. They were tall and strong. But clothed and masked as they were neither gender nor enthnicity were recognisable.
The writ was exchanged and examined before being wordlessly returned. The figure examined Telfor wordlessly.
“Why did you not simply request this man from The Church? That is the usual manner for such matters.”
“I’m just a mercenary, these were my instructions.”
“Why was the arrest of a low ranking priest within Capitol assigned to mercenaries? Surely the Guard would have been cheaper and more efficient.”
Telfor resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It seemed the stories of the Anir were just exaggerated, as deadly fighters as they had been they were quite transparent with their fishing for information.
“I’m sure you know better than I. Is there anything I could tell you that would change what happens here?”
“Then let’s stop wasting time. I don’t intend to throw away mine and my companions’ lives for a contract, you can have him if you’re willing to risk forcing the Crown’s hand by interfering in their carrying out of justice. Or you can let us go, and we can have a conversation about keeping your involvement out of our report.”
“Your assessment of the situation is audacious, but not at odds with ours.” The mask concealing the Anir’s expression made the exchange even more offputting than the threat to their lives already was, “We request that you leave our presence secret, both officially and unoffocially. Is this acceptable to you?”
Telfor felt a sickly wave of relief flood him, tainted by suspicion born from the immediate and uncomplicated acceptance from the Anir, “It is.”
“Then may Anir walk with you this Night”
And almost before the words were out of their mouth, the Anir was gone as if dispersed by the shadows. They were probably still nearby, Telfor supposed, likely intending to follow them the rest of the way. Anir was the God of secrets and knowledge after all. By the end of the night if the Anir didn’t know everything about the four of them and their families, that would be the greatest miracle he could imagine.
Telfor raised his voice to the others within the alley, “Come on, we’re free to go. Let’s not give them the time to change their minds.”
Been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Hopefully it’ll be a lot less long before the next one. But no promises. I like writing, but starting things is hard even when I like doing them.
I considered abandoning this story and starting something else. For one thing it’s been so long I’ve forgotten a lot of detail. For another there’s some huge continuity errors and other problems that giving up and starting over could potentially avoid.
But I’ve been learning recently that doing something badly is better than giving up cause it’s not perfect.
It’s a hard lesson, but not one that’s got much to argue so I’m gonna try and find a bit of an ending for this mess before I make a new mess. And besides, I think some of the prose in this story hasn’t been half bad.