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Reaver’s Quest: Chapter Two

Dakath

“You will regret this.” 

The wind ripped away the words as Klov said them, but it did not matter.

I did not need to hear the menace in his voice to know it was there, as present as the brightening glow of the morning sun, still heavy against the ridgeline.

His claws wrapped around my throat was proof enough as wings locked, we plummeted through the air towards the floor of the battle arena. “Stop fighting now, and I will forgive this disloyalty.”

Swinging my arms quickly upwards I broke away, then kicked out, using his chest as a springboard to gain distance between us. “I will never regret fighting for the aerie,” I answered.

With strong wing strokes I gained height, circling.

Klov kept pace with me, but more slowly, age slowing him down.

“You serve the aerie as I command,” he spat.

A circle of warriors kept pace with us, long ritual staffs held crossways, their presence both forming the boundaries of the arena and marking witness to the outcome.

I dove towards Klov, then with a wing-wrenching turn changed directions, snapping my staff hard into his left side.

“You have been Warleader long enough.” I jerked my staff to free it, but his heavy arm had trapped it to his side, locking me to him once more.

Thrak it all!

Before I could pull it away, a strange buzzing noise filled my ears.

I looked around sharply, but no one else seemed to hear it.

No one but Klov.

“I’m not done being Warleader, Dakath.” A nasty smirk split his face, displaying his worn, yellowed fangs.

“And I’m not done using you. Not yet.”

The buzzing grew louder as his ritual staff arced towards me.

And then there was nothing but pain, and falling.

***

“You all witnessed his crimes. Now hear his punishment.”

Despite the buzzing still echoing in my head, aching in my ribs and the strain in my arms from being tethered behind me around one of the supporting columns on the cavern, I was alive.

But given Klov’s purr of contentment, I was not certain if this was a good thing.

Forcing my eyes to open, I looked around the torch lit chamber.

Years ago, before I had earned my place as a warrior, this had been the Council room.

Now, Klov alone ruled.

He sat at ease, half sprawling in the large chair he’d claimed for his own use.

The rest of the clan had gathered, lining the walls,

It was easy to pick out Klov’s supporters by their smug grins, the torchlight glinting off the metal braided into their hair.

His hand-picked guardsmen ranged on either side of the throne, Evrik, their leader, watching as intently as a starving serkit.

The rest, less favored warriors, as well as the older men who had survived long enough to retire from battle and serve the aerie in other ways, kept their eyes downcast.

“What do you want?” I croaked.

Klov rose to his feet. “You claim to serve the aerie, to fight for our clan,” he said, pacing towards me, arms outstretched, wings spreading behind him. “I’m giving you one more chance to do so.”

Narrowed eyes belied the easy, almost friendly words.

“I need an errand run. Something that surely would be no trouble for a warrior of your caliber.”

“Your errands serve no one but yourself.”

“So quick to condemn,” Klov shrugged, his mild expression only infuriating me more.

“What do you want?”

“Our aerie’s warriors are strong,” Klov started, answered by a roar of approval by his cronies. “And yet our gifts from the ancients are fading. Failing.”

As much as I hated to admit it, in this at least he spoke the truth.

“When you challenged me you claimed to be strong. Strong enough to be warlord.”

I had. 

And I was, I knew it. 

I should have won that fight.

“And it would take the strength and skill and cunning of a warlord to retrieve a new artifact, would it not?”

My head shot up as a murmur ran through the crowd.

Klov ignored it.

“Go to one of the dead cities. Retrieve an artifact.”

His smile sickened me, even as the thought of such a mission stirred something in my blood.

“And if it is of sufficient value to the aerie you may return to our fold.” He turned his back to me, resumed his throne. “If not? Well, no one survives on their own in the wastes forever.”

***

Exiled.

Klov’s guard surrounded me, led me from the Council chamber, past the cold stares of the rest of the warriors.

I might as well be dead already.

By failing my challenge, I’d ostracized myself.

I’d been left my dagger, the insult clear that even armed I was no threat.

The eight of them kept silence as we worked our way up through the mountain, finally emerging at a jagged ledge near the top, looking out to the rocky valley below.

From behind a pile of rocks, Evrik pulled out my nakav, tossing it lightly in one hand.

They had been prepared, my weapon placed here in readiness.

Klov had known I would accept his quest, despite it being nothing more than a delayed death sentence.

I reached for my nakav, but Fred yanked it back.

“Don’t try anything foolish,” he taunted, then tossed it towards me.

I snatched it from the air, fingers curling around the haft of the bladed staff, years of training guiding my hands into the first defensive position without even thought.

Evrik snorted, hand resting lightly on his own weapon.

“Although, if you were to decide to try to avenge your honor against all of us, we wouldn’t mind.”

Of course they wouldn’t.

I could only imagine it would make Klov pleased to have me dead, victim of nothing but my own temper.

“Who wants trouble?” I flexed my wings, stepping to the edge, letting the clean mountain air wash over me. “I’ve got an errand to complete. Remember?”

Springing away from them, my wings stretched out as I glided away, then with strong beats drove myself further across the valley.

The weak light of the winter day stretched reddish fingers across the jagged terrain below.

Despite the aches of my body and the bitterness of defeat, I could not deny the exhilaration that coursed through my veins.

To be free of the poisoned atmosphere that had permeated the aerie.

Even knowing the mission was doomed to failure, it had been far too long since I’d have felt any purpose other than the destruction of Klov.

A pair of cyloks screamed in the air above me, circling and diving but pulling up well away from the reach of my weapon.

Stupid raptors did not live long, not here on Thaxos.

Distracted by the raptors’ antics, I was unprepared for the blast of light that blazed across my eyes.

Pulling up sharply I searched the landscape below.

There it was again.

A flash of sunlight on metal, flickering back-and-forth.

“Fools,” I muttered, but couldn’t keep the pleased grin from my face as I dove towards the outcropping.

As I approached, I wasn’t surprised to find that Stelkar had stood in the sunlight, using the blade of his own nakav to catch my attention.

Rothva stood beside him, leaning casually against the rough stone, relaxed shoulders giving no hint of the deadly temper within.

“You weren’t planning to leave without us, did you?” Stelkar asked.

“As a matter of fact, I hadn’t planned this part at all.”

“Idiot,” Stelkar said, then grasped my forearm with his own. “The moment you challenged Klov, he made sure we were sent as far as possible to guard the far pass,” he added.

“He may be a decaying piece of bawet meat, but he’s not stupid,” Rothva said. 

“That’s part of the problem,” I dropped down to my haunches, hand rubbing at my temples where the faint echo of the buzzing noise still echoed.

“He’s smart. So you’ll need to be twice as smart. Stay out of his way until we do have a better plan.”

“That’ll be easy,” Stelkar said. “We’re going with you. Can’t get much more out of the way than that.”

It was tempting.

Past raids on the cities had come with a high casualty count. 

Best friends at my side, lethal warriors both, might mean the difference between success and death.

But still…

“I need you here,” I decided. “We can’t be the only ones in the clan who see how wrong Klov’s rule has become. Find allies for us, find a weakness we can use.”

“What good are allies going to do if you don’t return it all?” Rothva asked, eyes narrowed.

“I’ll return,” I said. “And with an artifact.” I rose to my feet. “But Klov will live to regret what he asked for.”

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