A little dirty pulp fantasy from John Xero.
One Arrow, Thrice Spelled
Giant hraefn circle overhead, like dark vultures. The feathers at their wingtips are splayed as they soar on updrafts of heated violence. It is said they do not follow war, but that war follows them. That they lay their eggs where a battle is to come and those eggs will hatch only when the lifeblood of two opposing warriors pools thickly about them. They are distractions. She shuts them from her mind.
She takes up position on one knee, slowing her breathing, steadying herself. The sun is behind her and the wind is good, it will need to be. She begins to centre herself, fixing upon her distant target, narrowing her world.
There is a scraping patter as a volley of arrows flocks upward towards her, their iron beaks clattering ineffectively on the steep rock below. Even if one should deflect to her height it will have lost its bite by the time it reaches. She removes them from thought.
She takes her own arrow, her single arrow, and draws Pais, her bow. Its strength grips her arm reassuringly but she can feel its excitement too, Pais wants to sing, the arrow wants only to fly.
Somewhere to her right jagged claws click on uncertain rock. The sorcerer’s abominations are trying to climb the steep mountain. Foiled by the sharp crags and scree they growl deeply, on fetid breath. They will reach her eventually, and they will lacerate her flesh and strip it from her bones, but not in time, not before her shot. Their noise becomes as nothing to her.
She sights her target, Hamon, the sorcerer, standing atop his ogre-bone chariot. He believes himself safe, through distance and harm-wards and confidence. The arrow whispers in her ear. Its spells speak of piercing, of rending, of fire. There is no coming back from this arrow, it will fly, its magic will persuade the world of its right to pierce, it will persuade the body to rend itself and it will persuade fire to consume flesh and soul until they are nothing. But it will only fly as far as she and Pais can send it. An impossible shot, but she has grown from impossibilities. Her and Misha should never have even made it this far, in distance or in life.
Misha, her brother and lover, whose glazed, dead eyes reflect only her and the sky above. Her knife still protrudes from his throat, freedom from the poison’s clench and an end to his thrashing, a quick and merciful death. His corpse is the last distraction she pushes away.
She is centred, body and soul. Alone with the sorcerer.
The spells hiss in anticipation as their vessel soars.
She cannot alter anything now, she is done. She cracks Pais sharply over her knee in a spray of splinters and living sap; then she pulls the bloodied knife from Misha’s throat and never takes her eyes from his as she drives it up hard through the soft flesh of her chin. Their bodies are already lost; their souls will belong to no one but them.