The Hero: Part 3
I glanced at my father, who nodded, and drew my sword gesturing to Juri and Natalia. I stood by the door and took a breath. My father lifted the beam of wood and I pulled the door open. Ishika stood with her back to the door, a long knife in each hand. One of her warriors, shield raised and sword ready, guarded her. Another warrior was harassing the wounded creature we’d seen before entering the High Lord’s apartments. A third warrior was lying face down on the floor, his head almost completely ripped from his shoulders. I pulled Ishika into the room, just as the creature managed to grab the sword from the warrior attacking him. The nearest warrior, the one who had been guarding Ishika, knowing that his mistress was safe now, or at least as safe as could be expected, charged forward to help his comrade. It was too late. Without his sword, the warrior was unable to keep the creature back. It leapt upon him, driving its claws into the man’s neck, killing him, as his blood spurted from severed arteries. The last warrior drove himself forward, his shield braced, and crashed into the creature. They both went down in a tangle of limbs, but the creature’s preternatural swiftness saw it back on its feet in moments. It kicked the attacking warrior’s hand and his sword went flying. Death came seconds after. I pushed the door closed and my father dropped the bar into the brackets.
“My men!” Ishika objected.
“They’re dead.” I replied firmly.
“What in Saraphi’s name was that thing?” The young Clan Lord asked.
My father sighed. “Everyone is asking Lady, but we’ve no idea. Your husband, is he, dead?”
Ishika hesitated. “I don’t know. One of those things landed between us. My warriors got me out of there, I’m … sure Samir got out. He wouldn’t let me down.”
“Adesh, take Ishika back to the High Lord, we’ll hold the door here. You should probably let your mother know that you’re alive too, you know how she worries.” My father ordered.
I smiled. “I’ll let her know that you kept me here talking.”
“Maybe don’t mention that.”
I gestured to Ishika. “This way, Lady.”
I led the Terada Clan Lord into the next room, a small sitting room of sorts, all soft furnishings with a large fireplace. A fire burned merrily in the hearth. The High Lord was pacing back and forth, clearly worried. Jayant was leaning against the far wall, while my mother and the rest of the High Lord’s family were sitting on cushions, close to the fire.
“Adesh!” She exclaimed as I led Ishika into the room.
Jayant looked up and spotted the Terada Clan Lord.
He demanded, crossing the room. “Is my son with you?”
“No, Jayant. We were separated, but I’m certain he’s alive.”
I left the two Clan Lords to talk and hugged my mother as she stood up.
“You have your father’s stubbornness.” She whispered in my ear. “I’d be heartbroken if either of you died.”
I squeezed her and stepped back. “I’m glad you’re alive too, mother.”
I looked around the room again.
“She’s up and about, and in a foul mood.” My mother reassured me. “She’s at the other door with Sohan.”
I gritted my teeth. “Father asked me to check on Sohan.”
“Then you’d best see to it.”
I nodded my head to the High Lord as I passed him. We were cousins, of a sort, but we’d never had much in common. He had been raised here in the stronghold while I’d been out on my father’s estate or below in the city.
There was only one other door in the room, which led to a short hall. There were several closed doors, but the one I wanted was at the end. Sohan was leaning against the wall, his sword drawn but held loosely in his hand. Atreya was pacing back and forth, looking more angry than worried. She stopped pacing when she saw me.
“I suppose it was too much to hope for.” She said in annoyance.
“What?” I asked, stopping a few feet away from her.
“That they’d send someone reliable to help us.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“By some miracle. At least I know Sohan here is reliable. He rescued me you know, and he carried me here. Where were you?”
I laughed. “He did, did he? I don’t recall him finding you buried beneath shattered furniture, in the middle of the attack and risking himself to get you out.”
Atreya faltered slightly, turning to look at her so called rescuer.
“And maybe you should ask who carried you most of the way, because it certainly wasn’t him.” I continued.
“Sohan?” Atreya asked.
The Putcha Clan Lord stood, his grip on his sword now firm and confident. He stepped closer to Atreya and gently tucked a strand of her vibrant red hair behind her ear.
“He’s just trying to cause trouble.” He reassured her softly. “You know exactly what he’s like.”
Atreya nodded sharply. “I do.”
“Atreya…” I began to object.
“Lay off Adesh.” She replied hotly. “If you were half the man that Sohan is, then you’d be out there, fighting.”
I shook my head. “Where do you think I was until now?”
“Hiding somewhere, probably with someone’s wife.”
I clenched my fists and stepped towards her. “That’s uncalled for.”
Sohan, smiling coldly, placed himself between us. “That’s enough, Lomo. You’re upsetting her.”
I moved to push Sohan aside, but suddenly found myself pinned against the wall, my arm in a lock behind my back. The Putcha Clan Lord forced my arm up a little more, driving home that he was in control. I could feel his breath against the back of my neck, it almost smelt like raw meat.
“I could break your arm right now, Lomo, and toss you out the door. No one, besides the three of us, would know.” Sohan whispered in my ear.
I grunted in pain. “Atreya wouldn’t let you.”
“Are you so sure of that?”
“Yes.” I hissed.
Sohan relaxed his grip and stepped back from me.
“You’re lucky that we need all the swords we can get right now.” The Putcha Clan Lord advised me. “Otherwise I’d kill you for trying to intimidate a lady.”
“Intimidate?” I laughed, rubbing my shoulder. “Obviously you don’t know Atreya very well.”
“Just go.” Atreya said angrily.
“You can’t stay here.” I told her. “You’ll stay with my mother and the High Lord’s family. It’s too dangerous here.”
Atreya glanced at the door and then pushed past me.
“I’ll send some more warriors here to help you.” I informed Sohan as I turned to follow Atreya.
It was a short, silent walk back to the sitting room. Atreya made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want to talk, but on seeing Ishika she turned on me.
“What is she doing here?” Atreya demanded.
Before I could answer, Ishika gave a little laugh. “My, they’ll allow anyone in here these days.”
I shot the Terada Clan Lord a look, and she quietened down. I could feel Atreya simmering beside me, almost ready to boil over. Deciding that I’d taken quite enough abuse from her tonight, I left her with my mother, hoping that my mother’s almost infectious calm would help keep the peace.
“It’s quiet back there.” I told my father when I got back.
“Here too.” He replied, rubbing his chin. “Natalia, join Putcha Sohan at the far door. It may be quiet now, but if anything breaks through there, someone will need to help him.”
The warrior nodded and left, leaving Juri, myself and my father to watch our door.
Natalia had barely left us when something crashed against the door, rattling it in its frame. She ran back but my father waved her away.
“Go.” He ordered. “We’ll handle it.”
The door rattled again.
“It’ll hold.” My father muttered, although I wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure us or himself.
“We might need to consider having to fall back.” I cautioned.
“You’re right, of course, son. The door to the sitting room, one person with a shield should be able to hold that door, provided nothing gets in behind us, and if I remember rightly, there should be a set of stairs that go up to the roof. Of course, if we get pushed up there, we’ll have nowhere else to go.”
“It won’t come to that.” I said, optimistically.
“Of course not.”
The door rattled again, hard enough that I distinctly heard the crossbar creak.
I looked at my father and he glanced back.
“What in the void are these things?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Only the Gods know.” My father replied.
The creature outside slammed against the door again, and the crossbar groaned. I rolled my shoulders and shook my arms a little, shaking out any stiffness. If the creature kept this up, it’d be through the door soon. The thing shrieked its awful scream and then there was silence. Juri looked at my father and then me, before slipping quietly up to the door. He slowly put his ear to the door and listened.
Finally, he turned around and slid his sword back into its scabbard.
“I think it’s gone.” He announced quietly.
Someone in the sitting room started shouting and we all turned to look.
“The far door.” My father and I said simultaneously.
“I’ll go.” I declared firmly. “Juri, stay with my father.”
I sprinted into the sitting room, almost bowling over Ishika.
“Sohan is fighting one of the beasts!” She shouted as I passed her.
I sped through the room and into the corridor to the far door. Almost halfway along the hall from the door, which lay askew on its hinges, Sohan was singlehandedly holding back one of the creatures. Natalia lay closer to the broken door, her throat ripped out. It looked like she’d had her back to the door when the creature got through and attacked.
“Coming in right.” I shouted to Sohan.
I didn’t know what sort of combat experience the man had, but he at least understood me and shifted to his left as I charged into the beast, shield set and braced. Despite their strength, I was starting to see that the creatures didn’t seem to have a lot of mass. I smashed into the thing and slammed it into the wall, hard, sliding my sword into its side.
“Get back to the sitting room.” I shouted over my shoulder to Sohan. “Get them to the roof. I’ll hold this door.”
Sohan spat a reply at me, but I didn’t hear it, being focused on the creature which had managed to move back towards the door, trailing a little blood with it. The creature glared at me and charged, but I was confident I had its measure now and intercepted it with my shield again. I felt it punch and kick my shield, I felt it to my core, but the shield was strong, and it held. I pushed forward, towards the creature and let it attack again, as it did, I swept my shield to one side, diverting the creature’s attack and again thrust my sword into it, this time deep into its chest. The creature threw itself backwards, preventing my sword from penetrating too deeply, but I’d hurt it. It landed on its back, quickly rolling backwards and back onto its feet. The damn things were as agile as cats.
I charged towards it, unwilling to give the thing enough time to catch its breath, and drove the edge of my shield into its face. My shield connected and the beast was thrown back again towards the ruined door, spitting blood and teeth. Behind me I heard people running, hopefully that was my father and Sohan getting everyone up to the roof. Once they were up there, we’d only have to defend a single door. We could hold out there quite nicely. The creature was back on its feet and snarling. I slipped a little on a small pool of blood. I couldn’t spare the time to see whose it was, Natalia’s, or the creature’s. The beast saw me falter and charged, but my slip had been small, and I had just enough time to brace myself as it launched itself into the air and landed feet first on my raised shield.
I had no choice but to take another few steps backwards. If I hadn’t braced my shield correctly, I’d have broken my arm. As it was, the entire arm throbbed painfully. The beast lunged forward and grabbed my shield, pulling it aside to open my defences, but I was ready for that particular move. It was standard fare when fighting an axeman. I didn’t resist and allowed my shield to swing, but as the beast pulled it aside, I slid forward and thrust my sword into its chest. It howled in pain as I twisted my blade slightly and wrenched it free. The creature stumbled back, bleeding heavily. I followed it and slammed the boss of my shield into its face. It stumbled back again and tripped over Natalia’s body. It caught itself before it fell, but it left itself wide open and a quick thrust finished it off.
I stepped back from the dead creature and wiped my brow. Damn those things were hard to kill.
“That was well fought son.” My father said proudly from behind.
“Thanks father.” I replied awkwardly, breathing heavily. “I’d rather it had been an easier fight.”
“If wishes were horses…” My father began the old saying.
“… then I’d be the richest man in Semar.” I finished, smiling.
“Come. Everyone is on the roof. We’ll hold there till morning and kill anything that comes for us.”
My father led me up the narrow stairs to the roof. We had to duck to get through the door at the top it was so small.
“At least it’s not raining.” I muttered.
“Small mercies.” My father softly replied.
The High Lord, trailing Jayant and Ishika, looked uncertain as he walked to us from the far side of the flat roof where my mother and the High Lord’s family sheltered.
“Are you certain you can stop those creatures here?” He asked my father.
“We’ll do our best, we have the advantage here. They can only come through one at a time, but we can face each one with at least two, three if we must.”
“If only we knew how many of them there are!”
“There’s no way to know.” Suren replied quietly. “Our best hope of getting down from here alive is for someone else to finish off the rest of those creatures while we wait here.”
“The guard should be taking care of them by now.” The High Lord said firmly, as though willing himself to believe it.
“Let’s hope.” My father replied. “Adesh, take a break. Your mother should have water. Juri and I will watch the stairs.”
I nodded gratefully and sheathed my sword, loosened the strap on my shield, and slid my arm free of it. I felt wrung out as I crossed the roof to where my mother sat, her back against the low wall. She started to rise when she saw me but stopped when I shook my head.
“Stay where you are.” I said quietly. “You might as well be as comfortable as you can be.”
My mother smiled and handed me a small water skin. I took it and drank deeply. The water was warm, and a little bitter, but it was better than nothing. I handed the skin back and sat down beside her, propping my shield against the wall where I could get to it quickly if I needed to.
“How are you holding up?” I asked.
My mother laughed softly and touched my face with the back of her hand affectionately.
“I’m perfectly fine. It’s not as though I’ve spent most of this night fighting to stay alive. How are you.”
“Tired.” I replied. “Those creatures take a lot of killing.”
“Have you tried talking to Atreya again?”
“Earlier, when I went to check on Sohan.”
“It didn’t go well then.”
“No reason that it would have. She’s still furious with me.”
“She does have good reason to be.” My mother pointed out.
I nodded. “I know, I’ve only myself to blame.”
“Give her time, let her see you’ve changed.”
I looked over to where Atreya sat with Sohan, her head resting against his shoulder as he spoke softly to her.
“I would, but for someone as independent as she is, she’s attached herself to Sohan very fast.”
My mother followed my gaze.
“I see that.” She said with interest.
“How is uncle holding up?” I asked, changing the subject.
My mother shook her head. “Not well. You know he’s always been loud and forward. If he’s said more than a dozen words since we left Hari I’d be surprised. I’m worried for him.”
“Me too.” I confided. “Maybe you should ask Atreya to keep an eye on him?”
My mother glanced at me sideways and laughed quietly. “Which might just keep her away from Sohan. Clever boy.”
I tried to look innocent and failed. I never could get anything past mother. I sighed and stood up.
“I should get back. I can’t leave all the work to father and Juri.”
“Tell your father to take a break. He’s not as young as he seems to think he is.” My mother said, as she rose to her feet and hugged me.
“He won’t listen, but I’ll tell him.” I said, humorously, as I picked up my shield and slid it back onto my arm.
“Tell him I said if he doesn’t rest, I’ll talk to him at length about it after we’re away from here.”
“I will.” I promised.
My mother straightened her dress and looked around. “I think I’ll have a word with Atreya, then steal Tsironis away for a while. Maybe I’ll have him suggest to Sohan that he help you at the doorway.”
I kissed my mother’s cheek. “Love you.”
She hugged me again, and as she did, I spotted, over her shoulder, another of the creatures climbing over the wall. I pulled my mother to one side and stood between her and creature, while shouting a warning. I drew my sword and charged at the beast, hoping to throw it from the wall before it was fully on to the roof. The creature had other ideas though.
It rolled over the top of the wall before I could get to it, and stood firm, and waited for me to close with it. I slowed to a steady, careful walk, not wanting to over commit. This one seemed different than the others, a little smaller and thinner. Though it was hard to tell in the darkness, it looked as if this one’s skin was grey rather than black. The creature snarled as it realised that I wasn’t going to complete my charge and drew a large club from where it had been hiding it behind its back.
I heard shouting behind me. The sounds of fighting. A quick glance revealed that at least one other of the creatures was attacking from the door. That glance almost cost me my life. The fraction of a moment that it had taken me to check behind, the grey creature had crossed the distance separating us.
I sidestepped at the last second, barely avoiding grey’s club. Instead of taking a hit to the head, the club grazed my shoulder armour. Not a direct hit, but there was enough force behind it to stagger me nonetheless. I spun to keep my shield between me and grey, taking a few extra steps to regain my centre. I took a breath to steady myself and angled my shield to take another blow from the club. I heard a timber crack from the impact, but it was nothing serious. I could fix it later. I picked my moment and surged forward, meaning to slam my shield into the creature and stab it in the chest while it was off balance. It had worked well so far against the other creatures. Grey seemed a little smarter than the others though, and circled to one side, not allowing me to use such a simplistic attack.
“Fine.” I growled. “Have it your own way.”
I ducked under grey’s next attack, using my sword to keep the club moving away from me while driving the edge of my shield into its side. I whipped my sword back, the back-edge slicing along grey’s neck. Not deep enough. I made the creature bleed, but still, it lived. Grey hissed in pain and anger as it stumbled away from me. I stayed with it though, kicking out and forcing it further off balance. The creature swung wildly, trying to keep me back while it caught its balance, but I blocked the feral blow with my shield and stabbed grey in the side.
Grey screamed, sounding for a moment very human, and swung at me again. I was forced to jump back, ripping my sword out of its side. Now grey was the one on the back foot. I stepped up to him, my shield and blood-soaked sword ready. The creature eyed me, its club only loosely held, and then it smiled. I had only the time to register that the smile couldn’t mean anything good, before something slammed into my back.
I was sent sprawling to the ground, my sword skittering from my hand. I groaned, feeling my back throb in pain. I managed to get to my hands and knees, but before I could rise further, grey kicked my in the side. The armour only just saving me from a few cracked ribs. I rolled away from grey, but ended up on my back. Grey smirked as he moved to kick me again. I let him try, and swung my shield over me, driving the edge into grey’s shin. My shield edge cracked from the force of the kick it stopped, but I distinctly heard grey’s shin break. The creature howled in pain and stumbled away from me. Taking the opportunity, I rolled back towards my sword, grabbed it, and surged to my feet.
One of the other creatures, the ones with pitch black skin, stood beside grey, waiting. Grey gestured and the black creature launched itself at me. I lurched aside from the attack, feeling every bruise I’d earned so far this evening, and let it slip by me. I’d learned by now not to attack them head on. I moved towards grey, and the wounded creature hobbled away from me, using its club almost like a crutch. I slipped aside from another of the creature’s attacks, still refusing to meet it head on. The black creature turned to attack me again, but instead found my father blocking its path.
“Are you okay?” Suren called.
“I’m fine, just winded.” I called back and discovered that I really did feel much better. I was no longer fighting alone. “Keep that thing off me while I finish this one.”
My father didn’t reply, but I knew he was keeping it busy. I focused on grey and strode towards him, shaking my sword arm, loosening it up for more fighting. Grey took a look around the roof and realised that only he and two of the other creatures were left. One fighting my father and one fighting Juri. I saw grey do the math and decide it couldn’t win.
“We meet again!” Grey spat, in a rough, gurgling voice.
He shouted a wordless command and lurched towards the wall at the edge of the roof.
“No, you don’t!” I growled as I chased him.
For something that, a few moments earlier, had a broken leg, grey moved with surprising speed. I almost had him, but I heard my father shout in pain and I hesitated. Seconds later both of the remaining black creatures swept by me, and leapt from the roof, carrying grey with them to the ground. I looked back and saw my father on his knees, his hands to his face and his sword cast to one side.
I wasted a moment staring after grey and the other two creatures before running back to my father. He was struggling to rise, one hand still held to his face, blood running down his arm. I raced to his side and helped him stand.
“They’re gone father. You can relax.” I reassured him.
“Bastard managed to claw my face.” My father groaned.
“Let’s get you over to mother. She should still have some water and we can get you cleaned up.”
Having the luxury of not being attacked now, I looked around the roof and saw that father wasn’t the only one injured. Sohan lay on his back, Atreya holding his hand. His side was bloodied but he didn’t look to be bleeding too heavily. The High Lord, Tsironis, was holding his right arm with his left hand and looking quite pale. My mother had ripped some material from the end of her skirts and was fashioning a sling to support the arm.
I led my father to mother who had just finished with the sling. She paled a little when she saw us but gave no other sign of her concern, instead taking father off my hands and examining his face. I stood for a moment, at a loss for what to do when I heard sounds coming up the stairs. I sighed and made myself ready. I was tired and sore, but I wasn’t going to let anything get past me without a fight.
I need not have worried. One of the High Lord’s warriors stuck his head out the door and once he’d decided it was safe, signalled for several more warriors to follow him. They made their way to the High Lord, who still looked a little dazed. On seeing his warriors though, he pulled himself together and drew his authority about himself.
“We think we’ve killed the last of the attackers High Lord.” The first warrior reported. “It should be safe to come back inside now.”
Tsironis nodded, accepting the report. “Send one of your men and fetch people up here to help with the wounded.”
“Yes, High Lord.” The first warrior replied, signalling one of the other warriors who turned and ran back down the stairs.
“Set your men to watch the stairs and the edge of the roof. If we’re safe again, I want to relax and enjoy the fresh air.”
The warrior saluted and gestured to his men.
Tsironis walked stiffly over to me. He said nothing as he stood considering me.
“You fought well tonight.” He said, after a moment.
“Thank you, High Lord.”
“I had thought, considering your reputation when you left the city, that you were little more than a wastrel and a philanderer. I’m gladdened to see that you’ve grown up.”
“Thank you, High Lord.” I repeated.
“What is that warrior’s name?” He asked, pointing at Juri. “I wish to thank him. He saved my life, although I suspect he broke my arm in doing so.”
I beckoned Juri over and introduced him to the High Lord. Despite being one of the High Lord’s warriors, I got the impression that this was Juri’s first time meeting the High Lord personally. He was awkward, shuffled his feet a little, and struggled to speak. He looked relieved when Tsironis moved off towards my mother.
More noise from the stairs and several servants appeared with bandages, water, and other things, to help the wounded. They went to Sohan first, who appeared to be awake and was carried off on a makeshift stretcher. Soon followed by my father, mother following behind him quietly. I spotted Atreya, alone for the first time tonight, and left Juri by himself. She saw me coming and I saw her take a breath.
“I saw you fight.” She said quietly as I drew near. “We might have all died but for you.”
I shrugged, surprised that she wasn’t trying to flay my skin off with her tongue again.
“I only did what was needed. What anyone could have done.”
“I haven’t forgiven you, for what you did, Adesh, I expect I never will. You hurt me, too deeply.”
I bowed my head. “I don’t expect you to.” I said softly. “But it won’t stop me saying sorry, and I won’t stop showing you that I’ve changed.”
“It won’t change anything.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I, I must go. I don’t even know if my father survived the attack.”
I signalled to Juri and he trotted over.
“Juri, this is Urito Atreya. Stay with her and keep her safe. Help her find out if her father and his wife survived the attack.”
Juri gestured to Atreya. “This way, lady.”
I looked around the roof and discovered that while Atreya and I’d been talking, everyone else, except Juri, had left. The warriors had evidently left with the High Lord. I was now alone on the roof. I walked to the wall, where the three creatures had jumped, and looked out over the city, breathing in the cool night air. Gods I needed a drink.