The Thief and the Mercenary stalked through the enclosure of Skye. A band of thieves followed them, carefully avoiding the sentries on patrol, creeping around the edges of the greenery within the walls. The Mercenary beheld the dungeons, guards watchfully protecting the entrance.
Get going, she told the Thief, dispatch the guards.
The Thief gave a slight nod, and the thieves went around the brush, pulling the guards in, stifling their surprised yelps, and slitting their throats.
The Mercenary regarded the Thief: What are you waiting for, Ead?
The Thief sighed, “Mariqah… Khadir is right. The Witch-Queen clearly isn’t what she used to be, when you knew her. You can’t challenge her alone.”
Ead, I… the Mercenary looked away, It’s too late to change anything. Besides, this needs to be done.
“I just think you shouldn’t go alone.”
If we change the plan now, Ead, things could happen. Bad things.
“And yet you’re not denying help.”
I don’t need to. Your duty is to the people of Skye, stuck in Britney’s prisons. Go see to them. My duty is simply to end Britney, the Mercenary turned to leave.
The Thief grabbed her arm.
Ead! she tried to shrug him off, but the Thief pulled her to him and kissed her.
The Mercenary responded in surprised but then in submission to his action.
The Thief pulled away, his face splashed with colour, before he said, “I’ve… I’ve never met a woman quite like you.”
The Mercenary smiled, You wouldn’t be the first.
“If… After all this…”
We shall see to that later, Ead. Please. Duty first.
The Thief nodded, “Of course.”
As the two parted company, a haste seized the Witch-Queen. She threw her belongings this way and that, knowing that her enemy had arrived. She no longer needed Skye. She had gained repute and infamy. She had gained keen allies in her wicked plots.
The Witch-Queen was sure she could find sanctuary in the lands of the Lord of Brimone or the Lady of Battersea.
Just as she finished putting away a final item, her fortress quaked with attack. Bricks and pillars scattered and splintered around her, the Witch-Queen falling to her knees on impact.
A lone figure dropped, crouching on the ground before her.
Britney… rasped the Mercenary, the blue mark on her forehead glowing a cold, dim light.
“Well,” the Witch-Queen forced a laugh, “if it isn’t the old bitch making a comeback.”
The Mercenary rose, drawing her sword, and stepped slowly towards the Witch-Queen.
“Don’t you think that perhaps you’re making a rash movement?” asked the Witch-Queen, “Wouldn’t I be running away by now, if you were supposed to be unconcerned?”
The Mercenary said nothing. She continued, her stride unbroken and purposeful.
The Witch-Queen rose to her feet, “You could be walking into a trap…” she said, with a sing-songy ending.
The Mercenary continued walking, I’d like to see it, she said.
The building rocked again as more fire hit it. The screams of guards and the barked orders reached the Witch-Queen’s ears. She paid them no heed and no pity.
“As you wish, Mariqah,” she said, gesturing with her hand.
A blur of movement struck the Mercenary, but the Damascus caught the attacking weapon. The Mercenary stared into the raging, mad eyes of the Messenger.
The Mercenary furrowed a brow as the Messenger drew her cutlass.
The Messenger said nothing, but slashed from below. The Mercenary raised a foot in time and stomped on the blade, cracking it beneath her boot. The Messenger let out a shrill cry as the Mercenary threw her off.
The Witch-Queen knew she was supposed to run, but found herself frozen to the spot with joy. She smiled, and raised a hand before her, watching contently.
The Mercenary had finally met her match.
Amaal, speak to me! the Mercenary pleaded.
The Messenger paused, her mouth tilted in a frown, “I…” she screamed, an agony seizing her body. She doubled over in a painful fit, dropping her weapons.
The Mercenary regarded the grinning Witch-Queen, You wretched person! You bleeding, fucking coward! she barked.
The Messenger recovered abruptly and stabbed the Mercenary through her foot with the broken cutlass. The Mercenary cursed and kicked the Messenger with her free foot. She pulled the sword out and threw it away, bracing herself for the Messenger’s onslaught.
“Better a coward than a fool,” chirped the Witch-Queen.
The Messenger picked up her axe and chopped down on the Mercenary. The Mercenary rolled out of the way, and swung a kick at the Messenger’s leg, sending her sprawling to the ground.
No, said the Mercenary, I would live a thousand lives as a fool, before I even consider living one life as a coward. Fools can be ignorant and hard-headed, but they can be righteous and loyal. A coward can never be either. Especially not the ambitious, selfish coward that you are, Britney!
“That might be true,” said the Witch-Queen, “But it’s not my funeral we’ll be attending after this.”
We’ve yet to see to that.
The Messenger doubled up in pain once more, “Ma-ri-qah!” she cried.
The Mercenary snarled at the Witch-Queen, seeing a bluish sheen on the area before her. No use attacking her then. Not yet. The Mercenary stepped towards the Messenger.
“Don’t come – near me!” the Messenger said in between screams.
I can end this for you, Amaal. Where did the Witch-Queen mark you?
“I’m doomed. Please – don’t come – near me!”
Against her better judgement, the Mercenary bent down and peered at the back stain beneath the Messenger’s chin. Her eyes widened.
In one swift movement, the Messenger drew an evil-looking Dagger – her pain ceased – and plunged it into the Mercenary’s arm. The Mercenary gasped and pinned the Messenger down, sword still in hand.
The Messenger screamed once more, “I’m sorry – Mariqah! I’ve – I’ve killed – you!”
I’m sorry, my friend.
The Mercenary slid her blade through the stain, all the way, until the blade protruded from the top of the Messenger’s skull. The screaming of the Messenger stopped – forever. The Mercenary pulled out her sword, but a new kind of pain hit her arm. She pulled out the Dagger and examined the wound. There was no blood. A burning seized her shoulder. An agonising burning, from a flame she couldn’t see and a blaze she couldn’t fathom.
The Mercenary grasped the wound and bent over, anchoring back a howl.
The Witch-Queen cackled, “I told you.”
It’s a minor wound.
“I shouldn’t think so, Mariqah. You’ll be dead from it, in a few weeks. In a month at the very most,” the Witch-Queen paused, “The Lady of Battersea told me you brought your niece with you. You’d be wise to send her home, Mariqah.”
You seem over-joyed by this, the Mercenary looked over at the Witch-Queen, ignoring the second part of her speech. The bluish sheen that had been a force-field was gone.
“Shouldn’t I be?” asked the Witch-Queen, with a grin.
Oh, Britney. Don’t you know? Mariqah threw her sword, A beast that doesn’t fear dying, fights best in its demise?
The blade sliced through the Witch-Queen’s right hand, the limb flopping to the floor uselessly. She screamed in shock and gritted her teeth, the blood pouring from her lacking arm. She backed away, putting the shield up again.
The Mercenary just laughed, Run, Britney, run. Just know that this isn’t over and I haven’t lost yet.
“I would beg to differ,” said the Witch-Queen, holding her lacking arm and running away.