A few days ago, I woke up in an abandoned battlefield with no memory of my life before that moment. The only clue to my identity is the tattoo of a snake wrapped around a
A few days ago, I woke up in an abandoned battlefield with no memory of my life before that moment. The only clue to my identity is the tattoo of a snake wrapped around a sword surrounded by a ring of fire on the back of my hand. Because of it, some people have tried to help me; others have tried to kill me; but no one will tell me what it means.
You can read what’s gone before here, and my ongoing tale below.
The crowd parted as three War Dogs pushed their way toward me. I tried to draw my sword, but the blade remained stuck in its sheath.
Behind me, Anasei whispered, “it worked.”
Before I could ask what he meant, the rough hands of the War Dogs grabbed me.
Then shoved me aside.
I crashed into Ulstir, knocking the bag of roots from his hands. He helped me steady myself, and I turned back to the War Dogs.
Anasei didn’t resist as they dragged him away. He just smiled at me.
I tried to push after them, but Ulstir held me back.
“It’s too dangerous. We need to get back to the Snake Quarter.” He tried to pull me in that direction.
“Why’d they take him, not me? Did Anasei break the curse?”
“He couldn’t have, I was just getting back with the supplies when you crashed into me. He must have taken your curse upon himself. Now come on, we need to get out of here.”
Another stranger willing to sacrifice himself for me, I need to know who he thinks I am. “We need to help him.” I brushed Ulstir off and pulled on my hilt again, but the sword still wouldn’t budge.
“It won’t work.” Ulstir dragged me another step away from the crowd. “The runes on the gates prevent anyone from drawing a weapon within the city, except in the Temple of Ishtir. That’s where they’ll take him.”
“Then we free need to him from there.”
Ulstir struck me in the face. “Are you mad? Even on a normal day, Ishtir’s dogs patrol the area oat all times; we’d never be able to get into the temple unnoticed.”
I rubbed my jaw as he continued.
“But even if by some miracle we did, we’d be caught and killed by the horde of heavily armed fanatics that live there. And if that wasn’t dangerous enough, today Ishtir is here, along with every war dog within a hundred miles. And they’re all going to the temple.”
“So you’re saying it’ll be hard.”
“I’m saying it would take an act of Shimash himself to get us into that temple.”
“People of Tirradon!” One of the War Dogs had climbed up on a market stall to shout over the crowd. “The goddess demands witnesses for the trial of her enemies. Come to her temple and behold her glory.”
I tugged the glove tight over my tattoo and turned to Ulstir. “Close enough for me.”
The temple was a great circular structure that towered over the plain houses of the eastern side of the city. The outside was adorned with enough gold and jewels to shame even the grandest and most luxurious of the Serpent Quarter homes. Looking closely, some of the riches still bore the dried blood of a previous owner. Glowing runes had been set all about the entrance to the temple, presumably to counter the runes at the city gates.
Inside, Ulstir and I were herded like cattle down a curving hallway and then up two flights of stairs to a crowded balcony. I pushed my way to the edge for a better view of my surroundings. Below us lay a great, open-air arena. To my left, three swords had been stuck in the sand, with the pommels pointing to the sky. Across from them sat an ornate marble throne.
The witnesses from the market square were all gathered on the same balcony, but around the arena similar galleries were filled with other spectators. Probably War Dogs.
A great cheer echoed through the arena as Ishtir entered. Her armor was made of colossal black scales, which moved as seamlessly as skin. The end of her ponytail almost hung down to her sword-belt.
She lounged in the great throne and said, “Let the prisoners come forward.”
The War Dogs brought in three men and stood them behind the swords. The closest was thin and jittery. He kept glancing about, his eyes never resting on Ishtir or the War Dogs. The man in the middle was muscular. His face was bruised and swollen—apparently he hadn’t come willingly. And the farthest was Anasei.
None of them were bound.
When the War Dogs had retreated out of sight, Ishtir spoke again. “Thieves and murderers; you stand accused.” She rose and addressed the watching crowd. “But I am a fair judge.”
The crowd cheered.
Ice flooded my veins as Ishtir’s gaze swept across me.
She stretched out her hand toward the door she had entered. “Bring me my sword.”
The gallery erupted in praise as four servants entered bearing a great sword across their shoulders. The blade was longer than a man’s height and bredth. The crosspiece was fashioned from the horns of a great bull. The scabbard resembled an immense snake, with the blade thrust down its throat.
Ishtir removed her sword belt, carefully laying the weapon on the marble throne. The servants struggled under the weight of the blade as they brought it to the goddess. She drew the sword free and twirled it as though it were a feather in the breeze.
Roars of adoration echoed from around the arena until the goddess stopped, the sword lifted above her head.
She turned her attention back to the three prisoners. “Come then, let us see if your blades are eloquent enough to buy your lives.”
The bruised man in the middle moved first. Snatching up the sword in front of him, he charged.
Ishtir countered with a swift swing. When the two blades collided, his shattered, sending shards of steel across the sand.
Along with his head.
I have to do something.
As I started to move toward the railing, Ulstir grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, “Look, he invokes the power of our lord.” He pointed to where Anasei had picked up his sword and was chanting over it. The blade glowed red. “Shimash will be of more help to him then you ever could.”
The thin man prostrated himself before Ishtir and sobbed something.
The only word I caught was “mercy.”
Ishtir turned to the crowd and laughed. “Am I my brother, to be served by sniveling cowards?” She looked down at the man. “This is the only mercy I offer you.” Then she brought the sword down, splitting him from head to groin.
Again the gallery roared, but Anasei’s voice carried over the din. “Ishtir Wolfshead, Mistress of Blades and Hunter of Monsters.” He held his sword above his head and the blade flashed with bright flame, before dripping to the sand in a molten heap.
Ishtir silenced the crowd with a wave of her hand. “You speak my old names, acolyte of my brother. Perhaps I’ll have a challenge today after all.”
Anasei tossed the broken hilt at her feet. “By Shimash the Great, God of Flames and Lord of Mysteries, I deny you.” The he threw up his hands and was engulfed by a pillar of fire.
Snarling, Ishtir lunged. Her blade swept through the flames, scattering charred bones across the arena sand.
She howled in rage. “War Dogs! Search out their holes and bring me the head of every worm in this city. Any man, woman, or child who swears allegiance to my brother. Kill them all.”
To Be Continued….