Hunt - Chapter Thirteen
~ 13 ~
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Blackwing Library
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Blackwing Library
Radiant light erupted from Strune's blade as she swept it in a horizontal strike aimed right at Chaleb's head. The attack had nearly been perfect. Wind whistled as Radiance cut through it and Shayliss could feel the power behind the attack. There was no hesitation, no doubt, no loss of purpose. Strune understood and was willing to kill this man, an ex-Crusader and ex-paladin.
She was not very knowledgeable about the paladin order, or any of the other holy orders. However, it was common knowledge that when a paladin abandoned his duty, his purpose, his drive, they Fell. All fallen paladins lose the power granted to them by their patron god or goddess and essentially became a normal person.
So, when Chaleb managed to interpose his shield between himself and that deadly precise strike, Shayliss took a step back in reaction. Even with the power of Iomedae on Strune's side, the man could hold his ground against her. He shoved her blade to one side, throwing the woman off balance, and pulled his mace up to slam into her chin.
Strune did not flinch. She side-stepped the mace and held her shield up high. Metal rang out and screeched against metal as the mace made a return swing down at her head. The shield blocked it, but Shayliss could see that the strix's arm was stunned with the power behind the blow.
Swords and axes did not have the power behind them to deal more than a few scratches or the occasional gash on metal plates. However, the mace, with its bulk and shape, could punch dents or holes in armor. Even if they did not, the sheer brutality that they bring to a fight would stun any person, make them stagger, or temporarily paralyze a limb as what was happening to Strune's arm.
With Chaleb's choice of weapon, he had managed to even out the playing field. Strune had the power of her goddess behind her, but he had a weapon that was made for this kind of fight. The strix knew it too.
But she did not back down as she went in low to swipe at Chaleb's legs. The ex-paladin slid his feet back, avoiding the sword, but putting his body in an awkward position. Strune saw that and changed the path of her attack mid-swing, sending it upward to meet with his arcing torso. Sparks flew from Chaleb's armor and the man grunted with surprise.
Yet, he raised his arm and threw it down, slamming the head of the mace into Strune's back. Metal crunched and Shayliss hoped that bone was not mixed in there. The warpriest let out a cry of pain and spittles of blood hit the ground. The blow nearly sent her to the ground, but she managed to keep herself up and threw herself to the side. A second attack crashed into the stone, leaving cracks rather than hitting the now-weak spot in Strune's back.
As she rose, Shayliss could see light play against a massive dent in the woman's back armor plates. She was surprised that Strune was managing to stay upright with the metal of her armor pressing hard into her, nonetheless charging right for Chaleb again. Her blade was still glowing with bright light, pushing back the shadows of the fire all around them, as it came arcing down at Chaleb.
This time, he was not able to block or avoid the attack before it slashed his upper arm, severing chainmail links and rocketing them in all directions. When Strune moved out of her line of sight to the man, Shayliss could see blood flowing in and out of the remaining chain links and some of his skin showed from the three inch gash. Chaleb let out a growl and looked down at his new injury, "There's a first time for everything."
The man braced himself to launch back into the fight. Behind him, Shayliss could see motion. Locking her eyes on the spot right behind his shoulder, she watched as Chaleb stepped forward, deliberately blocking Strune's view from what was happening. Yet, in doing so, he allowed Shayliss to see it.
Behind him, the tieflings were on the move. Throughout the fight so far, they had just stood where they had been when Shayliss's group entered the library watching the fight. Now, though, with Strune and the others distracted by the duel, they were stalking over toward the librarians tied up. Slowly so the sound of metal on leather could not be heard over the roaring fire, they drew their weapons and focused on the helpless men and women. Even if Chaleb lost the match, they would make sure they completed what they came to do.
Gritting her teeth, Shayliss said nothing as she crouch-ran toward the tieflings, making as little noise as possible. She hoped that someone noticed her actions and supported her, but the duel was just getting heated up and very distracting. It would not be a surprise if no one else noticed the tieflings. So, until she had confirmation that she was not acting alone, she had to assume she was.
She was halfway to the tieflings, making a wide berth around the duel, when she made her move. It would have been better to get closer, but the tieflings were only steps away from the librarians and she had no more time to wait.
Grabbing her grappling hook with practiced motions, she swung it up to close around a ceiling support. As she did, she jumped up, planted a foot against a burning bookshelf, and bounced off of it. That motion gave her the necessary height to swing on the grappling hook and kick out at the closest tiefling.
He had no idea what was happening as a human boulder catapulted herself into him. Combat boot met cheek and the man was sent flying into another bookshelf. The support Shayliss was hooked to broke with a crack and Shayliss lost all of her forward momentum almost instantly. Her butt crashed hard onto the stone and she knew that she was going to be feeling it for days.
Yet, she did not have time to think too hard about it as the other two tieflings spun on a heel, raised their weapons and sent them sailing toward her sitting form. Instinct kicked in and Shayliss suddenly found herself pulling one of Valtyra's rapiers out of its sheath to block both attacks. Without as much metal to absorb the power of the attacks, the shock that raced up her arm was more potent than she was used to and it caused her to almost drop the thin blade.
She held onto it with pure nerve and rolled out of the way of two more attacks. Her tailbone complained with each touch of the gradually heating stone under her, but she tried to ignore it as she rose to her feet. There was just enough time to get to her knees before she had to deflect two more attacks. These tieflings were relentless with their attacks, wanting to get her out of the way fast. They also noticed Shayliss's weakened state and like any predator tried to take advantage of that. She had to put them down before they managed to flank her or push her into a corner.
Behind her, Strune let out another cry of pain mixed in with more metal bending and breaking. She was not faring any better that Shayliss was, apparently.
The tiefling on Shayliss's left slid further to the left, trying to get out of her line of sight. Shayliss responded by taking a step backward and to the right, putting both tieflings at the corners of her sight. She then took two more steps so that she was closer to the librarians. This also let her see the third tiefling, who was only just then getting to his feet, shaking his head to clear it. A bruise was already forming on the cheek that she kicked and he would probably have a bump on the head from slamming into the bookshelf.
Both of the opponents right in front of her lunged forward, trying to send their short swords into her belly. She twisted so the blades slid against her armored coat rather than enter her guts. The coat protected her and she thrust her rapier to try and hit the right tiefling's eye. He was swift enough to prevent partial blindness, but the thin blade sunk into his cheek and out the back of his head. While not a fatal injury, it was bleeding profusely and must have been distracting.
He cried out in agony and stumbled backward. Those cries were soon cut short by an arrow slamming into his skull from high up. Shayliss glanced over passed the still dueling pair to find Kaira readying a second arrow to lob over the fight. How she had managed to aim so precisely in this flaming library and over a chaotic fight to headshot a staggering target was something that Shayliss would never figure out.
Seconds later, a loud mix of growls and barks rose from a white sooty form as it plowed headfirst into the third tiefling, who was trying to get around the fight and toward the librarians. He let out a cry as Blueeye took him to the ground. The tiefling reacted by throwing the white wolf over him, but Blueeye landed on his feet and charged again.
Distracted by the newcomers to the fight, Shayliss did not notice the tiefling still standing in front of her raised his shortsword to strike until it was already halfway toward her head. There was no time to dodge or block it. By the time her head turned to it in reaction it would already be entering her skull. Thankfully, though, a fireball sailed through the air from behind the tiefling and slammed hard. The explosion from it threw Shayliss back, sliding into the group of librarians with a series of grunts of complaint.
She shook her head, trying to clear it, when she saw a form running toward her. With a grunt, she raised the rapier in her hand and was about to swing it down when the haze over her eyes cleared and the librarian within the circle of books was only a couple of steps away. Shayliss halted her attack instantly and slowly pulled the weapon down.
"Are you alright?" The young woman asked.
Shayliss nodded, "A bit banged up, but I'll be fine. How about you?"
"The only thing injured is my pride." The woman shook her head, "I need to get my friends freed. Could you watch my back?"
The woman then ran for the other librarians, grabbing a shortsword from one of the tieflings' bodies, and started working on the ties. Shayliss stood guard, looking out toward the three tieflings while glancing occasionally back at the duel.
Both combatants were beaten, bloody, and ready to collapse. Strune had many dents, holes and some pretty awful looking wounds on her back, shoulders and one leg. She was hovering in the air and her profile showed her grimace of pain. The injured leg, Shayliss finally noticed, was hanging loosely in the air. Her shin bones had most likely broken in half by one of Chaleb's attacks and the armor at that spot was dented to the breaking point. No matter what, Strune was not going to be walking correctly on that leg until they got it taken care of. Flying around and letting it just hang was not good for it either, but it was better than trying to fight on one leg.
Chaleb was not much better off, if any. Overall he had less wounds number-wise. Yet, they were all severe and long, threatening to hit vital arteries or completely sever a limb. Strune actually did manage to do just that as Chaleb's shield arm was gone, sliced off at the elbow. At this point, his armor was covered in red blood, only tiny spots of silver or gold remained. Yet, he still stood. He should be on the ground, bleeding out, but he still menaced Strune with an upraised mace.
The strix sailed further into the air, avoiding the much weaker than normal swing that came at her, and dove down. It was a strange looking motion with her loose leg, but it was no less deadly as it sliced diagonally into Chaleb's chest. He had tried to dodge, but his reaction time was way off. The blade cut through a weak point in the armor and dug deep. He was sent to the floor and could not rise again. But he was not dead.
Strune sailed down slowly, landing on her good foot, and stared down at the man. Chaleb was chuckling, spitting out gouts of blood with each exhalation. Cough racked his throat and lungs every couple of seconds, but that did not stop him from continuing to laugh.
"See?" He coughed out, "I told you."
Strune just stared down at him, her expression a mix of pain, anger, sadness and stubborn pride. It was one that Shayliss had never seen on the woman before. She normally held an attitude of joy and laughter with a hint of thought. Now, Shayliss felt as if she was looking at a different person.
"You have gotten your due." She whispered.
More coughing laughter, "At what cost, Warpriest?"
Strune said nothing. She just raised her blade, tip down, to stab into the man's heart.
Shayliss wanted to scream, to run, to tell the woman to stop. Was it really worth it to kill him in such a manner? They could get information, bribes, even a hint of where to go next. But her legs would not move.
The man betrayed his people. Her inner voice said, The price for that is death. It always has been, always will be. This is necessary.
She could only watch as Strune, a devout Warpriest of Iomedae, brought the blade down. Chaleb struggled for a second. Then went limp.