“Now, defend yourselves! The strongest will, the wisest perspective, the sharpest words – may the best of these win.”-Fallow Srid
You can use knives for just about anything, yes. But – as somebody might learn, after overnighting in an Yrdkish hostel with jioj-specific tools for cleaning a person’s holdfast-and-operculum – there is can, and there is should. If you want to keep a certain someone distinctly alive and largely undamaged in a struggle, you should use something that isn’t a handle with an edged blade.
Things got quite loud at the start of a lot of fictional fights. Not this one.
Discounting the man who’d identified him, Eihks noted at least three people in the threat zone. The man who’d answered the door had some metal tools at his belt; best to assume they were knives. Another in the room at the hall’s terminus was reaching for something. There was a glimpse of a third individual behind a revolting statue. He assumed this was the stranger.
It was a pretty bare interior. Some objects that would suffice for bludgeons or throwing ammunition sat here and there. The walls constituted a decent structural investment in keeping a building standing, and a poor barrier to someone with fists and disregard for various personal injuries. Furniture? Serviceable cover from danger, some of it, but mostly the kind of stuff a solid boot could flatten. Several exits, possibly cul-de-sacs, possibly not.
It took a shaven second to see the slovenly one in the side door was pulling something liquid from inside his dirty jacket. Target, the first.
Eihks slipped against the wall of the hall, shifting the choke of his left hand halfway up Lusendrad. The slack-faced man yanked a lick of living-water free, and with a whip-snap shot a translucent spike at the explorer. The spike met the staff, and it clonked off the wood with an almost comical report.
Immediately, the living-water reshaped to go around the obstruction, questing for wounds. At the same time, the man threw something at the taller human. A rock.
Eihks let the stone bounce off his chest and ignored the attempt at distraction.
On the first hand, this was a first, getting into an involved fight where living-water was being used against HIM as a weapon. On the second, these people obviously expected him to give a poor accounting of himself, considering his hunched height and the roughly three meter length of his weapon.
He swung the end of the staff a short distance, its rope flailing. The motion got the man to hurriedly lurch away a safe distance.
The safe distance dissolved when a coil of the rope maintained its momentum.
Lusendrad’s planchette made hurling a noose simplicity itself. The rope didn’t actually draw around the man’s arm, but it landed on his writhing living-water and tightened just a bit. The substance deformed slightly.
Eihks yanked the staff back to jab at the doorman. The movement made the imperfectly lassoed living-water depart its owner’s grip. It splatted halfway across the side doorway like so much coherent pudding. The man from the woodyard fell inelegantly down just as the end of the staff drove into the doorman’s solar plexus. He also fell inelegantly down. A shadow lunged over him.
When the tall alien’s boot coincided noisily with the doorman’s shin, it was the first living sound besides little grunts of exertion. Perhaps mercifully, the man fainted.
Eihks tried to hook the living-water with his other foot and kick it away. The living-water told him that it had very little interest in being so manhandled. He grimaced, gave up on it, then pointed at the slovenly supine fellow. There was a single second of giving him a hairy eyeball fit to scar children for life, then Eihks pointed down the connecting hall.
The man managed (with difficulty) to kick himself some ways away on the floor.
Eihks snapped down to the wood planking, put his hand against the living-water, and commanded it to leap toward the entrance he’d used.
Between his inexperience with – and the natural antagonism held toward undead entities by – the flavor of magic governing living-water, it vaguely slithered up his arm instead. A pointed shake threw the weird membranous fluid behind him.
Two people discounted from the struggle; between one and something-more-than-one people left.
When he turned back, Eihks saw that he was suddenly facing a guy with a fully-drawn shortbow. He mentally prepared his scripts for dealing with arrow wounds, wounding being a topic that needed special treatment. “Pretend it only looked that way” and “explain lack of blood away with semi-fictional excuse of exceptional healing” were the two preferred options when he got significantly injured in company.
If he was being blunt, there was the third option of “die and get buried,” but he’d had enough poor run-ins on that score. Digging out of a grave had never been a beloved pastime.
Unlike with bullets, arrows moved relatively slowly enough to get solidly noticed by and interacted with in flight, even by a natural-born human with no augmentations or special talents. Eihks leapt away from where he crouched just as the arrow flew. He heard both a wooden report and a faint click. The sensations came close enough together that a lot of people probably wouldn’t be able to say which came first.
Shooting a glance navelward, he noticed the swaying of his shirt. The ceramic scaling adorning it was notably harder than anything a local kiln could fire, but loosely-spaced enough that actually turning a knife or such would be unlikely unless it were at a steep angle.
Out of the corner of an eye, it was clear to see the arrow had smacked off the wall.
Eihks was about to deal with the shortbow’s owner when the not-quite-hidden figure stepped out of hiding. The figure in question, wearing a bulky suit of armor that he recognized, hefted a long heavy thing in both hands that looked like the baby of an electric sewing machine and a very thin axial compressor. The technology – suggestive of a directed energy weapon – confirmed that this was the stranger. Her feminine tones confirmed that this was the person on whom he and Ktsn had eavesdropped.
“Hands in the air, now.”
Lusendrad’s rope partly covered his left hand, ready to be thrown with offensive purpose, as the long heavy thing abruptly started making a noise outside the high limit of normal human perception. Thin green lights tracing its… he’d call it a barrel until further notice, snapped into life. Aligned with the center of the weapon, a neat cross-shaped laser reticule appeared on his shirt.
He didn’t actually need his liver or other organs besides his brain and the section of leg where his arcane cap sat. Nonetheless, he wanted to avoid getting shot with the whatever-it-was.
A second of weighing whether he could rip the thing from her grip with a well-timed noose toss, then another second of deciding if using his non-native magic was appropriate, then he sighed.
Putting his hands in the air, the loop weighted with Lusendrad’s planchette sank down to his shoulder. The staff hung awkwardly against his back and side as he refrained from scowling.
The woman’s hard eyes flashed as her barren scalp was nodded in his direction.
“Take his weapon,” she told the man with the bow.
“Let’s just deal with him,” he replied, drawing another arrow from a quiver at his calf as he kept a rugged table between them. “This one’s not a civilian. He’s a menace.”
“He’s someone we can utilize. Information. Possibly leverage.”
“HE’S DEAD!” snarled a voice from behind them.
Timorurgic senses extended. The perceptual adjustment helped triangulate the position of the voice’s owner: the slovenly fellow. Eihks made a judgment call, and hurriedly slid sideways in the narrow hall.
His leg buckled under him. From his left calf, a bloodless metal dagger glinted.
Well. Getting hamstrung was an interesting development.
“STOP!” the stranger commanded, sighting the two struggling men.
The man whose grip still clutched at the short blade tried to pull himself up Eihks’s leg. He moved very fast for such an unimposing person. The dagger came free with an unpleasant quiet sigh after he climbed a loop of Lusendrad’s rope.
When Eihks reared forward and shoved his whole body back with his right leg, the man got caught against the wall. Several things broke. At least one of them was biological. The dagger flew free like a wingless murder bird, and landed somewhere out of sight like a dead wingless murder bird.
Eihks managed to worm a hand behind himself, grab a handful of head, and drag his discombobulated assailant free by the face.
There was some resistance, but the shorter of the two found himself next to his fainted colleague. Whereas the unconscious one had an ugly leg, the one hissing pain through his teeth held a forearm folded across his middle. Eihks leaned on him with a palm in a clear “you do not want to get up” fashion.
A soft noise between a hum and a snap was the only warning he got before an arrow went through his free arm, perfectly threading radius and ulna.
“CRIPPLED FALSE,” he shouted.
He kept the stuck limb out away from his body as he looked up. The archer’s face was granite as he said, “Go. Take care of what needs doing. I’ll see if I can get anything from him.”
The woman’s stance grew more agitated. As she glanced across the combatants, though, Eihks raised his voice in firm chastisement.
“If you’re planning on doing anything with the king, you can put those plans to rest. An associate is presently looking after his well-being.”
The man under him squirmed.
“By all the many saints and sinners, try to stab me one more time,” Eihks told him conversationally.
The man stopped, then looked toward the standing people at the bowman’s next vocalization.
“You know, I changed my mind. This brute’s too dangerous.”
Another arrow was nocked.
This time, Eihks flung himself across the table at the archer. Holding the pierced arm before his face, he managed to catch another arrow right next to the first. Then, bracing himself on Lusendrad, he crutch-lunged for the man’s middle. The table screeched in panic, spilling a lot of small objects vaguely arranged like a topographical map or diagram.
Two grown men rolled around on the floor, dignified and respectable, the first scrabbling for his foe’s eyes, the second doing his utmost to either unstring or shatter his opponent’s weapon. Things got knocked over.
Eventually, the impasse ended when Eihks managed to get the man’s quiver loose, and threw it out the window. In exchange, his adversary raised the one arrow he’d saved, and slammed it down. The head went through the forearm which already had two others jauntily protruding.
The explorer wrested the same arm away, then brought it back at a different angle. A finely knapped lance-pointed flint just barely emerged from the forearm’s skin, and served as a good discouragement measure when placed by the neck.
“Enough from you.”
He looked up at the foreigner. She was staring at his arm with the academic detachment a soldier eventually develops toward seeing significant bodily injury.
“Alright, I’ve got a question, before things get nuts again.”
She kept her gun aimed at him, but after a second the crosshairs dimmed. The heavy thing’s wire or tube connected to her armor’s back pinched as she jabbed the end at him.
She might have had her words translate into Bequastish from his perspective, but under that magical reconciliation layer…
“I assume you haven’t heard anyone speak English for quite a while – is that correct?”
Her eyes remained on his, even as they suddenly began spreading out to use most of her face.
“I’m hoping you’ll reveal to a fellow speaker whether you let anything slip to these people on the subject of subatomic sciences.”
“What-” she began, only to get interrupted by the arrival of no fewer than five guard-adjacent personalities. It was almost funny how they piled through the hall behind and then past her.
Eihks spat as the man beneath him started writhing. A gravelly sound heralded a knife being unsheathed – from where wasn’t clear – and swung at an incredibly awkward angle. The knife drew up short when the forearm hit Eihks’s side. The response was a deft and slightly less awkward application of an exposed arrowhead.
A prismatic tip needled in and out, and a strong thread of blood came unstitched at the insurgent’s throat. Even without asking his dæmon cluster or some more mundane utility, the pioneer knew what ferrous olfactory chemistry was beginning. The fragrance of hemoglobin was a smell that a person never forgot.
Another for the long sad list of victims Mr. Richard had claimed.
The woman shouted something, and tried to divert the others. Her shout sank beneath the ocean of clamor from five violent souls as they rushed their comrade’s killer. The last person to pass her violently shoved her behind the emerging reinforcements. Stupid; she was almost certainly a military type, judging from what little he’d gleaned of her, and her weaponry alone made her magnitudes more dangerous than any non-army-sized group of native warriors.
That said, the people trying to swarm over him fit the category of “idealist” by any definition of the term. Preserving their queen could prove a good investment if they accepted their positions as pawns.
It was only a shame that they would be denied the right to stand between him and the stranger.
Eihks stood, propping himself up with his uninjured leg and his walking stick of choice, and stared down at the posse with the look of an upset cassowary.
“I’m afraid I need to conduct some business with this woman. Please give us that opportunity.”
He swept an arm out. The arrows fledging it barbed the air. They said in their silent arrow voices, “If you want an alternate arrangement, then come – give us a hug.”
Three of the group immediately stalked forth, trying to favorably narrow the distance as another prepared to throw some sort of bolas. The last solidly emplaced himself in the doorway between Eihks and the stranger.
“No! Go, don’t wait, don’t wait!”
The slovenly character gestured with gusto as he emerged to join the herd. He kept his distance, but seemed to be working himself up to take his living-water to Eihks’s flesh once again. His focus was on the woman so precious to this strange little clique, though – not the pioneer.
Her face molded into an iron mask, then she turned and whirled out a back entrance. The sound of boots heavily stamping ground rather than enemy extremities faded very gradually.
“Tell me, what are the chances you’d step aside and let us all live for another day?” Eihks asked, hoping with desperate fervor that he could write off the day’s losses at one death and somehow, some way, against all reason, these characters before him might oblige him. He hoped with a desperate fervor that they would part, he would fly from the premises, and thus these conspirators might survive to rue this altercation. A desperate, foolish, submental fervor.
Hope died with a hissing shout.
Maybe he could just flee, abandon these people to their devices, and allow the in-process coup to continue on its merry way. Maybe it would be for the best to leave well enough alone.
His nose wrinkled.
Maybe it would have been for the best if Rhaagm had just packed up and left well enough alone when Gegaunli’s enthrallment gave rise to an uncontrolled type nine event. Maybe they should have left those millions of karkshes to be eaten by Beasts.
Between two blinks of his eyes, he stopped being a person who largely recorded facts, and started being a person who largely changed them.
The assailants directly in front and to his left led the charge. Respectively hopping over and shoving past the rough-hewn table, the first swung a dead-water dagger and the other had a shillelagh with lumpy spines all over it. The third swept in fast and low, making a long evasive orbit.
Lusendrad’s staff hung at a nearly forty five degree angle to fit in the building’s confines. It made using the bullroarer as a blunt weapon a… difficult proposition.
Despite that, the explorer quickly situated his weight on his good right leg. He slewed the staff to the opposite side with a twist of the waist and a curling forearm parry. It caught the feet of the knife-holder, then got crushed into the nose of his associate as he scrambled over the table. The knife fell and scuttled away, taking up residence by the wall.
Eihks made a small circle-swing to snag the rear of Broken Nose’s head, then snapped down with his shoulder as he stepped back. Head met floor at something approaching terminal falling velocity, and the resultant sound wasn’t the sort of thing to dedicate to memory. It was quick, at least.
The man whose dead-water blade had gotten displaced tried to scramble for it. Eihks huffed as he made a clumsy staff-balestra at the fellow swinging around from the other side of the room, convincing him to retreat a precious meter. Then, using the staff as – surprise of surprises – a staff, he pole-pushed in reverse across the rough floor. He landed half-atop the floundering fellow, just as knife met hand.
The angle was bad. It didn’t stop him from snapping off the already-bloody arrowhead, and jabbing it deep into the man’s belly. He rolled away, leaving it there. An arrowhead to the gut isn’t guaranteed to be human-lethal, but for those who feel pain it’s a near guarantee of getting taken out of a fight.
He rose to face the man he’d just warded off. Lusendrad’s rope came free again.
A wickering wheeee gave him a tiny amount of warning. Strong cord wrapped him in a sharp embrace, heavy weights at each end slapping into his sides. The fact he still held the bullroarer’s staff meant it wasn’t as tight as his attacker might have wished, but it was tight enough to keep his unpierced arm at his waist. He grunted, forced to lean a bit so as to stay upright, and mustered his grip; his hand made a cursive yank-cast of the bullroarer’s rope.
With the sound of pant legs brushing past each other, the closest man tilted forward with a living-water spike extended.
It tended to be challenging, but that planchette could serve as a decent weapon. The hand-long stuff known to its original home’s natives as black heartstone had a solid right-angle point at its end. Said point could crunch through a skull very easily.
Another skin-crawling sound. Another living-water puddle dropped on the floor. Another foe dispatched.
Eihks leered at the two remaining bipedal obstacles. The bullroarer’s staff stood at an awkward angle where the bolas bound it to him, but the rope and aerofoil whistled through a meter-diameter cycle as he retrieved it.
While he carefully shimmied the staff to let the cord walk down off of him, the revolutionaries warily moved to box him in. He watched the one taking out another set of bolas, and sighed. He made a quick pole-push into a clearer swatch of room.
“Sorry,” he said as a foot touched down, and whipped the rope around in a figure eight.
The target quickly interposed a short dead-water blade in anticipation. He stepped forward, clearly taking no chances with his knife hand being too weak to ward off the contact. The dagger, as it happened, parted the rope with a rough growl.
It was a shame that the rope began re-knitting itself immediately, the knife sliding through it even as it became whole.
The weighted planchette missed the man’s head, but the healed rope did to his throat what his bolas had done to Eihks. A turn and a half of rough fibrous stuff wrapped in a stiff necktie. Another solid yank, and the man’s spine almost snapped.
With a stumbling step to the side, Eihks let him fly headlong into his partner. They landed in a tangled mess, somehow neither getting stabbed by the other despite at least three blades being brandished somewhere in the pile.
Two snapped-off arrowheads in kneecaps later, they were very loud, but they weren’t a problem.
He made a scan of his surroundings to confirm his suspicions – the fruits of his labors didn’t include the fellow from the woodyard. He’d possibly felt himself unequal to his task, seeing all his associates meet their ends.
A quick mental debate ensued. Was it a good idea to track down and subdue the man who got away? Benefits and drawbacks queued up; possible extension of situational stealth, distractions, increase in communal awareness of conspiracy attempt. Implicit questions, breeding.
He hadn’t the time to go chasing after two targets, he was pretty sure. Let the man do as he pleased.
Eihks stopped, looked around, and frowned when a niggling little urge took him. He bent over and slipped a globule of living-water – probably the stuff that the fleeing man had tried to attack him with – onto his person. It wasn’t the sort of thing he found much reason to question; maybe he could make use of it.
“Here,” he said, turning to the one with the gut wound. The man was wiggling from side to side very gently, a fish in a pitifully feeble current. His closed eyes tightened when the haft of a dagger got nudged next to his arm, and he pawed at it from behind a veil of sweat.
He didn’t stick around to see what the man chose to do with his offering. He pushed himself out the door the stranger had taken, removing the arrow shafts from his arm as he did.
Outside, he applied a bit of chandlery, knitting enough connective tissue in his left leg to permit locomotion – considering the level of technology at the subfacetary stranger’s disposal, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim acquaintance with exceptional reconstruction techniques. Nobody had openly noticed his leg wasn’t bleeding, and maybe nobody had realized the criticality of the injury to a normal person, but he preferred to be beforehand with his excuses. Then he wrapped his forearm in some stolen cloth to hide the way the wounds didn’t bleed with the arrows’ removal.
In the meantime, his gaze followed the dusty prints left on the ground, put there by heavy boots and tracking away as neatly as any person could possibly ask.
He marched after the ghost feet, Lusendrad’s walking-stick taps adding little bits of gilding to the tapestry of the chase.