Neal Osborne had felt himself standing on the brink of death.  He had known he was about to die.  He had lost to Alexander for the first time ever, and the shock of that alone had felt like dying, but now he was waiting for his cousin to use the knife in his hand to make that death all too final.  Neal’s awareness of that moment seemed heightened, as the cold snow at his back sent chills creeping into his skin.  His breath came ragged and slow, as his broken nose bled down his lip.  His hands gripped tight around the wrist of the hand Alexander was using to choke him.  He saw into his cousin’s eyes, and saw his doom.

            And then Alexander was falling over onto the ground, blood spilling over the snow in a hot steam.  His eyes were empty, staring into the void, and Neal felt a different kind of chill.  He felt hands lifting him to his feet, pushing him to mount a horse, but he was almost oblivious, moving in a daze.  Neal knew only that he should have died, and that somehow he had escaped.  He was only vaguely aware of the mad gallop that led them across the snowy plain past the army and back towards their camp.

            His apparent saviour pulled him from the horse and helped him walk into his tent, unceremoniously dumping him on the cot inside.  Neal just lay there, feeling sore in every muscle, dead to the world.

            “The prideful fool.  What happened?”  Simon Lamb asked, looking down at the bloodied form of the exhausted Neal with repugnance.

            “Alex won.  And then I won.”  Reza said, pulling back his mask.  He smiled, the cold smirk of a shark.  “The rebellion will fall apart now, without his leadership, just as you planned.”

            “Good.  Then we can leave.  I’ll have one of our commanders maintain the attack against the fortress, while we ride back to the Citadel.  We’ve accomplished what we came here for.  This has become rather boring,” Lamb said.  “War is only entertaining for so long.”

            Lamb walked towards the entrance of the tent.  “I shall gather my things and organize the camp for our departure.”

            “What about him?”  Donovan gestured at Neal, asleep on the cot.

            “I’ll send someone to clean him up.  He should come with us, I suppose.”  Lamb shrugged.  “He is their leader, after all.”  Lamb laughed as he walked away.

            Donovan sat in the shadows of the tent as the camp medics saw to Neal, cleaning up his wounds and resetting his nose.  He grinned when that happened, as it caused Neal no end of discomfort.  When they were alone, after several hours of rest, Neal sat up.

            “You should have let me die,” he said, his voice empty.

            “But then I would be denied the pleasure of killing you myself.”  Reza said, his voice flat.  Neal’s eyes widened with shock.

            “My, my, what a lethal sense of humour!”  Lamb laughed, re-entering the tent.  “You shouldn’t speak so morbidly, Neal, you only encourage him.”

            “I shouldn’t be alive.  Alex won,” Neal said quietly.  “I’d rather be dead than live with that shame, knowing that I needed to be rescued.”

            “But you are alive.  Deal with it.”  Lamb snapped.  “This is what the men believe:  you planned from the start to lead Alex towards Ethan, it was a trap.  You made it look like Alexander was winning because that way his army would have hope, and the blow to their morale would be that much more severe when Alex died.  Their hopes crushed, the rebellion is in shambles.  The war ends today, just as we planned.  It was a brilliant strategy on your part, Neal.”

            Lamb spoke in a calm, soothing voice.  Its effect was hypnotic, as Neal’s eyes glazed over.  He was believing the story in no time.

            “We should return to the Citadel with news of the rebellion’s fall,” he said, standing.  “Our people will be jubilant, there will be parades in the streets, celebrations, feasting.  I can give medals to the heroes of our army.”

            “And our people will praise you, our leader, for coming up with the strategy that led to our victory.”  Lamb smiled.  Neal seemed to be back to his old self, standing with confidence.  “I have already had our horses prepared, and supplies loaded.  Shall we go?”

            Neal and Simon left the tent and walked towards the horses waiting not far from the entrance.  Donovan Reza followed after a moment, pulling on his mask.  The sun had set and the winter winds were getting fierce.  He left the red pavilion and heard a loud bellow.  His instincts kicked in, and he immediately swivelled to see a swordswoman sprinting through the snow towards him, coming from the direction of the battle.  Reza recognized Eve even from this far away, and smiled inwardly.  It seemed like there might be even more fun today.

            The masked killer launched himself forward, tearing towards Genevieve at intense speed.  As they came together, Genevieve prepared to swing her sword, and Donovan drew his blades from his belt.  He burst forward, preparing to slice right through her.  He aimed low, preparing to hit in her sides, sliding beneath her sword-strike.  Reza was utterly surprised when a third figure joined the duel, tackling Eve to the ground, removing her from his grasp.  Donovan leapt after the tumbling pair.

            He swung down with his knives, preparing to lodge them in the back of whoever had dared to interfere in the battle.  He was startled at the third figure’s uncanny speed, as he turned and blocked Donovan’s thrust with a shining white sword.  The daggers clanged off its surface with sparks.

            As Reza struggled to push past the sword, he got a good look at the face of his opponent and recognized it.  Despite its beard and long hair, the face was noticeably the same as his own.  He glared at Ethan, gritting his teeth as his hatred and rage swelled.

            Ethan attempted to use his leg to sweep Reza’s, but he leapt into the air and bounced back a step, holding his blades on guard.  Ethan rose to his feet slowly, keeping his sword between them.  The ‘twins’ circled each other cagily, each one assessing the skills of the other.

            “You stopped me.”  Reza snarled, disbelievingly.  He stood still to growl, “No one stops me from killing.  No one!”

            He had been standing utterly still on the balls of his feet, but with those last words he slashed forward with his right arm.  He moved with the speed of a striking cat or an attacking snake, almost faster than eyes could see.  Somehow, beyond anything Reza could have expected, Ethan dodged the blow, stepping deftly to the side.  Donovan followed it up with a slash from the other knife, but Ethan managed to duck that as well.  Less than a heartbeat later, Ethan’s sword slashed for Reza’s gut, forcing him to jump back a step.  He looked at his opponent, and was astonished to find that they were evenly matched.

            “REZA!  LET’S GO!”  A voice hollered, and Donovan turned, sprinting away from Ethan.  He jumped up on the horse Lamb had acquired for him and turned to face Ethan and his sister.

            “WE’LL MEET AGAIN.”  He shouted, and then they rode away.

            Donovan knew that, when next they met, he had to kill Ethan.  Otherwise, he was certain that this one man, of all that were in the world, might actually be able to kill him.

<<Previous   Next>>

Advertisements