Haven't been following the story? This serialized fiction is available on Ashavan's blog, The Passion Stroll. Check it out from Chapter One.
I woke with a start. We were still in the lady’s hideaway. Jordan snored blissfully, sprawled on a tiny couch. I’d fallen asleep in my chair watching him. I glanced about, searching for danger.
I closed my eyes. Nem needed me. “Get up,” I growled to Jordan, opening my eyes and standing with such force that the chair tumbled to the ground behind me. “Get up, now!”
I felt the pulse of fear from my mate.
Nem, my love. I am coming.
Relief, fear, urgency.
I grabbed hold of the groggy prince and lifted him to his feet. “We’re leaving,” I said. “Now.” I searched out the case I needed and pulled out a drawer. The weapon was forged by the trolls, as all the best weapons in the realm were. And like all things made by trolls, it could not touch me. But that meant I also could not touch it. “Take it,” I said to Jordan, “but do not lift it in anger. You must use it only in defense.”
“Even a clumsy block is better than nothing when someone is trying to kill you. You are here, your body is here. That means you can bleed and die. You must at least try to block any strike that tries to hit you. Only block. Leave striking back to me.”
“I don’t understand,” said Jordan, lifting the sword from its case. You could tell by his quick shift of stance that he’d been expecting something heavier.
“Troll make,” I said in explanation. “There is no finer blade in the Realm.”
“Why don’t you take it?”
I can’t. “It would take too long to explain. Take it.” I turned away and looked at the wall. “The time for quiet has passed,” I said, speaking to the wall. “Open.”
The wall crumbled into the corridor, ripped aside like paper. I doubted Jordan could see it, standing behind me as he was, but I saw the giant hand of the troll withdrawing back into stone from around the corner. They would still obey me. I smiled. “Follow me!”
I am coming for you, my Nem.
The corridors were not filled with guards. That meant they were... Rakibak was making his play. Dear God, Rakibak was making his play for power, knowing he’d lost Jordan, and he was doing it with.... a prince of the blood. The only one available to him. My mate. My Nem.
I closed my eyes. “Stand well back from me, Jordan,” I said. “And protect yourself as well as you can.”
“Because they will kill you, if they can.”
I moved forward. Caution was gone. My steps were confident, sure, heavy. The feelings of the Real that gave me such power in this place flowed out of me in waves. No one from the Realm could doubt that I was here. I was lighting a beacon for them to know. Making sure Rakibak knew.
Guards came quickly. That was no surprise. These were the Elite Guard. Rakibak’s men. And they were more frightened of him than of me. I was only a legend. They had seen what Rakibak might do to those who failed him. To them that was more real than any threat from the Real. Jordan gasped behind me as the guards drew their weapons and advanced. Their swords were steel, made by elves of the wood. Swords chosen for the ability to do me harm over all else. It spoke of old worries. For how many years had he been arming them with weapons that would hurt me? Was he that afraid?
The guards did not hesitate; their strikes were swift, deliberate, finessed. I blocked them with a sword made of love, woven out of the air from the strength of my feeling for Nem. From my fear for him. From desperate need to protect him. The pulsing weapon of feeling and light in this realm was as strong as any steel, and the clang of the weapons meeting rang out in the hall. I ducked and wove and struck, but I made no steps back. I would not step back. Not when Nem needed me.
More guards came. I could feel the fear coming off Jordan from behind. I could feel the panic in my mate from deep within the palace. My blows got stronger. Steel shattered. The guard’s fear overwhelmed him as my blade struck. The other guard grew hesitant, his eyes falling on the figure behind me. I growled at him. It was a feral sound, an obvious threat, but he took the chance all the same, rushing toward Jordan with his sword raised and me steps behind. Too many steps behind.
“No!” I screamed.
Jordan’s eyes widened and I thought for a moment he might drop the sword that I’d given him. He got it up in time, barely. The guard didn’t seem to care, abandoning artful swordplay in an attempt to beat Jordan’s blade aside.
The floor rumbled and a hand of stone clasped around the guard’s ankle and dragged the guard into the floor. Pulled off balance and flailing the guard screamed and dropped his sword, pulling at his legs to try to get them free as the hand dragged him down. The guard was wailing, franticly trying to grab anything to keep himself from being pulled further into the stone.
“Step back, Jordan,” I said.
“W-what’s happening to him?” said Jordan, his eyes darting to the floor and walls with apprehension.
“The trolls decided to protect you,” I said.
The wailing guard looked at me, his eyes showing their whites. His face showed his fear. “You can’t!” he pleaded, screaming. “Please!”
I stepped past him and guided Jordan quietly around the guard as he was yanked, bit by bit, into the stone. The guard let out an ear-splitting scream. The trolls had begun to eat.
I pulled Jordan behind me, even as his gaze remained fixed on the screaming guard. I appreciated his fear, his loathing, his terror at what the man was going through. Indeed, I doubted his feelings came even close to my own. I knew what was happening to that man. It was a death the trolls took glee in making. It was a death I had witnessed too many times before, in the people of the Plains of Fire. It was that death that had first provoked my wrath.
“He is dead,” I said to Jordan over the screams.
“How can you be so calm!” yelled Jordan.
I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to dispel the images of the battle that had been before. Of the losses at the Plains of Fire. Of my country, dying, the trolls coming from nowhere to feast upon them in that horrific way. “He died the moment his foot was dragged into the stone. There is nothing we can do to save him,” I hissed over the screams. “Remember that he tried to kill you, and let that give you what comfort it can.”
Jordan nodded nervously, gave the man a final furtive glance, and then grasped his sword white knuckled. “I want to go home!”
“I must get to Nem and see him safe first.” I turned and began to run. Nem’s fear was getting worse.
Hold on, my love.
I did not wait for the next group to attack. My sword burned, the love of my mate incarnate, and for his protection I strode into battle and I fought. No one else edged past me. My strikes danced and spun and sliced. Steel broke under an onslaught of power. Step by step I pushed the Elite Guard back.
And it was only the Elite Guard. The soldiers and guards of Garuth were conspicuously absent. For me this was a ray of hope. The Elite Guard was small, meant to provide personal protection to the lady.
More guards fell, but the press of the others grew more brazen. Perhaps it was their fear at falling beside their comrades, or perhaps the sight of blood from nicks and cuts and near misses that were close enough to draw blood—these things encouraged them. My clothes dripped with sweat, stained red from my injuries, and though no strike had been truly dangerous, my body screamed in pain.
I ducked under a swing meant to kill me and thrust out with my sword, skewering a guard whose careless attack left him open on a blade made from my fear for my mate. I was close. I could see the door. I could feel his panic, his fear.
Jordan was still safe behind me, but the guards were well trained. Each step closer was dearly bought. A trickle of blood ran down my cheek, catching in my beard. They’d cut my face and I could see the mix of fear and elation in the guards. I unleashed a fury of blows upon them to push them back. It stung. Even though some of the other wounds were worse, the cut on my cheek, it stung.
The guards met my fury and their swords clashed with the fire of my love. I blocked and struck and spun and danced with them as their blades sought always for more of my blood. Jordan looked at the spattered gore on the floor and then at his sword and I knew he was afraid. The assault of the guard on him in the hall could have killed him. None of the guards were getting past me, but I could see his fear as I fought the last two guards.
A voice rang through the hall. “Stop.”
The guards did not stop, though they did withdraw slightly to see who had made the demand.
They spat at my feet and turned to the speaker. The captain of the guard. His voice had been touched with command, but these were men used to reporting only to Rakibak.
“Our orders come from Rakibak!” They stood tall, defiant. They had fought a legend to a standstill, and right now they were full of pride despite the fallen bodies that proved they had not done it alone.
“Not today. Today they come from the Guardian of Garuth.”
The guards’ faces twisted in indecision for a moment, then their swords clattered to the floor.
The captain glared. “You bring wrath to Garuth.”
“My mate calls to me in fear.”
He nodded. “Go to him and on your honor keep your wrath in check. I will see to the safety of the child of Om. You have my word.”
“Thank you.” I mouthed the words with no voice, feeling the desperation of my Nem, and then I ran past, heedless of the guards, rushing for the door at the end of the hall.
My Nem, I’m here. I love you.