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Authors: J.F. Lewis

Oathkeeper (34 page)

BOOK: Oathkeeper
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“Now.” The Dwarf turned to the fifty Aern standing guard. “I will calm down.” Rifles and cannons lined the walls and floor with the barrels of junpowder stored along the back wall with a second row surrounding the side and rear of the bed. “You can tell the Oathbreakers, if they come looking for me, I'm sleeping in the warehouse until this is all over or until you need to use these weapons again.”

“I want no less than twenty of you guarding this warehouse at all times,” he shouted behind him as he strode for the doors.

“And where will you be?” One of the Aern asked.

“Checking on Vander,” Glin snapped. “Where did I tell you I was going when we finished up here?!”

*

Glinfolgo pushed his way past lines of Aern shouting, shoving, and berating the uncooperative soldiers as he went. Vander couldn't see any of that through the eyes of his fellow Overwatches, couldn't see anything at all beyond the confines of his own limited point of view, but the picture painted by the Dwarf's outrage out in the hallway beyond his room was unmistakable.

“You listen to me, you bone-clad wheelbarrow.” Glin's rumbling displeasure echoed through the Hall of Healing. “I know you heard me explain, with sufficient clarity that even a useless rock carrier like yourself could not have failed to understand, to the last dung-brained idiot why you will let me pass.”

Vander chuckled, pain lancing through his chest where bandages stained orange from his anemic blood bound him tight.
What did that assassin stab me with?
he wondered. A knife wound should have been long healed; no Aern should be laid low like a human or a stump ear. If the Aern at whom Glin was shouting had a reply, Vander had missed it.

“That's my friend in there.” Glinfolgo's voice got louder, one shade from shouting. “And these Oathbreaker buffoons don't understand any more about your eclectic innards than they know about proper mineral food prep. For all I know they've bandaged up his chest without double-checking the primary magnetoreceptor and what on Jun's Outwork is still stuck in it.”

“Magnetoreceptor?” Vander rolled his head to the side, the world threatening to toss him top over tail until he stopped moving. When the room stabilized again, he saw Amber standing by the room's single entrance and exit, her back pressed to Feagus's back. “Rae'en must be worried beyond reason to have you two playing mother bear over me. How many Aern are out there in the hallway?”

“Ninety-six of the One Hundred.” Amber's hair, cut short as Kholster's own Hulsite militia buzz, was shot through with dried patches of umber-colored blood around wounds that also should have been healed by now.

“Rae'en had some meeting.” Vander puzzled it out aloud. “Zhan is off being Ossuarian. I'm in here. Who's the fourth we're missing?”

“No one's missing.” Amber's eyes had dark bruising under the lower lid, what humans called having circles under one's eyes. “I didn't count myself because I'm in the room, not in the hall.”

In the hall, Glinfolgo sounded as if he'd made it past that Aern and was now browbeating the next in line.

“Let him in.” Vander licked his lips, finding them dry and cracked as if he'd fallen asleep in a desert and slept in full suns all day. An aged Oathbreaker in robes imprinted with the wavy joined smile and frown of Sedvinia offered him a pewter cup filled with what smelled and looked like water. “Get away from me.” Vander pushed the cup away, surprised when the gesture meant to knock the cup from the Oathbreaker's hands resulted in a kitteny nudge instead. “I don't trust you.”

Snapping his teeth at the flummoxed old healer, Vander closed his eyes against another effort-induced bout of vertigo only to snap them open again in fear. There was no one else with him in the darkness behind his eyelids, and he couldn't stand it. How could other races bear that fundamental sense of singularity?

“Ha! Ha!” Glinfolgo boomed out in the corridor as the sounds of hobnailed boots on stone signaled the parting of the remaining Aern that stood between him and the room in which Vander lay. “Finally see reason, aye?”

“Why did you keep him out in the first place?” Vander asked.

“Rae'en is busy.” Amber stepped clear of the door. “Things got complicated after the Test of Four, and Glayne told us not to disturb her unless it was an emergency. Since you'd already given orders to let the Dwarf go anywhere he wanted if he was persistent enough, it seemed to be working itself out. . . .”

“Why didn't you ask Glayne?” Vander's voice came harsh and strained. “And why is he acting as Prime Overwatch instead of you? I only had him stepped up into the core four because I thought Rae'en might need some extra attention.” He wished he could feel Amber's mind. Having to rely on words and physical expression to relay nuance was so tiresome and inefficient.

“He's in the right spot,” Amber answered, the sound of grumbling, stomping Dwarf fast approaching. “We all ceded position to him.” Amber closed her left hand as if grasping for words. “He made it to Rae'en, Vander. When the rest of us couldn't get to her, he found a way. Glayne grabbed a Geomancer and made him rip out a section of wall so he could get to Rae'en quickly enough. When you can, you have to see what he was like. The assassins didn't lay a claw on him.” She shook her head. “He scares the yarp out of me at times, but until you're better . . .”

“If his instincts are more effective in the current crisis . . .” Vander could recall many situations like that in battle where being Prime didn't matter because Amber, Feagus, or Varvost grasped how to respond to an enemy battle plan in their bone metal, and not letting them take the lead would have been stupid and reckless. He nodded, regretting the motion instantaneously, yarping up what remained of his last meal, jagged spikes of agony searing through his chest and behind his eyes. Breathing shallowly, he reached up to wipe his mouth but was too exhausted to do it.

“Just temporary?” Vander asked as the Eldrennai healer lifted the slick pellet of yarp from Vander's chest and wiped the remnants from his lips with a cool washcloth.

“That's up to—” Amber started.

“Get away from that Aern, you stump-eared butcher!” Glinfolgo burst into the room, waving a bone-steel mattock over his head. He clanked across the room in his scale mail, a junpowder and machine-oil stink flowing with him like a cloud. A large steel toolbox hung from his left hand, wrenches and other less familiar implements dangled from loops between multiple pouches on his belt. A pair of green-tinted goggles hung round his neck—so-called Dwarven “Reading Glasses.” Dropping his mattock on the aged Oathbreaker's foot and his toolbox on the floor next to Vander's cot, Glinfolgo unslung a heavy pack from his back, knocking the Oathbreaker both away from Vander and onto the floor. “I said out of the way!”

Scowling, the healer scrambled to his feet, limping from the room without a word.

“I have a feeling there will be complaints about that.” Vander smiled weakly.

“Jun's name, Vander.” Glinfolgo said brusquely, as if Vander couldn't see the wetness rimming the Dwarf's eyes. “Were you trying to make the lizard feel good about itself, or did you decide you wanted to see Kholster again real quick?”

“I—” Vander felt the urge to reach out to Eyes of Vengeance and found nothing there. He knew his warsuit was fine, but he couldn't resist the compulsion to ask. “Amber, are you sure—?”

“He asks about you even more often than you ask about him, Vander.” Amber smiled, but Vander wished he couldn't see the pity behind it. “Scale Fist says Eyes of Vengeance is no more injured than the last time you asked.”

“You can't sense your warsuit,” Glinfolgo said. “Can you sense any of the others at all?”

“I can't sense anyone, Glin!” Vander growled, wincing as his body informed him he wasn't allowed to shout right now. “If you didn't know that already, why did you say all that in the hall?”

Glinfolgo held up a hand in the classic “halt” gesture then knelt on the ground, with a wet sound that let Vander know exactly what Glinfolgo had knelt down in, and rummaged through his pack. After several minutes, the Dwarf pulled out a handful of coin-sized runestones, clicking them together until he had constructed a small pyramid. Inspecting it carefully, once with the green goggles over his eyes and once without, he threw the assembled structure into the air where it flashed with a bright burst of blue light that began dimming to tolerable levels and hovered as it emitted the low hum so synonymous with many Dwarven rune magic contraptions.

“Some things show up better in rune light,” Glin said. He pulled a Dwarven canteen from his pack and held it out toward Amber. “Help him with this. He'll down that before he'll even bathe in an Oathbreaker's water.”

Amber stepped forward and helped Vander take small sips, which made his stomach object noisily, but he kept it down.

Blue light from the floating pyramid picked out reflective bits of mineral deposits in Glinfolgo's gray hide. The pyramid floated slowly around the room until it settled into a stationary position over Vander's chest.

Amber tipped more water over Vander's lips, but he sputtered, not ready for it.
What
, Vander wondered,
distracted her
? She looked back at the door, and questions exploded in his mind. Did the way she checked the doorway mean she was concerned she needed to resume her post? Was she doing a physical check on Feagus? Were they talking about something happening outside the room? Reviewing images from somewhere else? Listening to orders from Glayne or kholster Rae'en? Not knowing tore at him.

“He'll need fresh meat and blood,” Glinfolgo called out to the air.

“I'll have some procured,” Feagus blurted.

Glinfolgo gave a low, bitter chuckle.

“And one of you better start talking to him.” Glin reached down and came up with a pair of scissors, which he sat on the edge of Vander's cot along with a pair of forceps, a long-handled blade, and an opaque bottle. “And hold this.” He thrust a frosted glass vial at Amber.

“Right.” She took the vial, but the Dwarf still stared at her expectantly.

“I took it,” Amber said.

“I meant it when I told you to talk to him.” He bent down, pulling out more equipment: towels, thread, a needle . . .

“Well?”

“What are you talking about?” Feagus asked from the doorway.

“Oh.” Recognition sparked in Amber's eyes. “Tell him what's happening in the army, with the army, what we're thinking. Kind of like we do with an All Know when we're standing next to Dwarves.”

“I hope you're a very gifted fighter,” Glinfolgo snorted over his shoulder at Feagus, “because she's the smart one.”

CHAPTER 25

THE REPTILIAN NAGOTIATION

Kholburran chewed on the dry-roasted beetles his captors had given him and tried to pretend they tasted worse than they did. Crispy, with a nutty flavor. The young prince caught himself wishing he knew how to prepare them. There was a spice that gave them a heat that did not appear in Vael cooking.

“Want more?” a brown-scaled diminutive Zaur asked.

“Are you going to have more?” Kholburran asked.

“No,” the Zaur answered. “Why would that matter?”

“No, thank you.” Kholburran shook his head, thinking he would first refuse and then accept the second offer, but a second offer did not come. He'd expected, even if the Zaur did not press its offer, for it to react with some outward show of emotion, or to show pleasure at an abundance of food for itself. It turned without comment, heading back to the camp (was chef the right word?) food preparer, who accepted the bag, dumping its contents out onto a broad cloth where it began to crush the uneaten portions into a dry, powdery meal.

Kholburran had expected the Zaur to be cruel, but aside from the ropes binding his legs together, mostly they were just boring. When not actively on guard duty or performing other functions, the reptiles slept for amazing portions of the day in nigh motionless dozes. One of his guards (he really couldn't keep their names straight any more than he could tell most of them apart) had cut him deeply enough to draw proper blood and not sap shortly after Arri and the others had left, but the Zaur had bandaged the wound afterward and apologized for the discomfort.

When that Zaur (or were the bigger ones Sri'Zaur?) left, another one of the black-scaled ones with the blue stripes took his place. Picking a bit of brittle insect leg out from between his lips and dental ridge, Kholburran watched the Sri'Zaur across from him, its mouth hanging open. They did not do that at night when it was colder, so was the thing regulating its temperature somehow?

While the bigger ones tended toward stillness, the littler ones seemed constantly on the move. Were they nervous around the big ones? They seemed to be, though the big ones didn't appear to bully them in any way. Kholburran found himself becoming more and more interested in them and the way they interacted. Small Zaur tended the strange headless-dragon-looking mounts. A mixture of Zaur and Sri'Zaur cared for the gigantic serpents, the ones they called Zaurruk, stopping to wash away and repaint the differing patterns of concentric rings on their scales when they had to swap off and change which Zaurruk they were handling.

Twice they hauled whole forest elk out of various tunnels to feed to the massive beasts. It was during one such feeding when a yellow-scaled Sri'Zaur with orange stripes wearing a vest covered in flasks approached his current guard.

“What is it, Brazz?” the black-scaled reptile asked.

“The young prince's blood should now be well out of the big wood.” Brazz's voice, a grating hiss, enunciated the words clearly enough that even Kholburran could follow them.

“Fine.” The guard drew its long, angled Skreel knife and slashed the ropes binding Kholburran's legs with thoughtless precision. “Go home. Tell your queen we've released you as a gesture of trust.”

BOOK: Oathkeeper
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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