Chapter 2: Collision (cont.)

On a new horse he had picked up in the small town of Arbindale, Lieran was finally putting a little distance between himself and the soldiers. The change had been quick, but it had sent more waves of pain shooting through his ankle, which had long since begun to swell and turn an interesting range of colors.

Now, on a beeline for Mortling Forest, the pursuing guards still not all that far away, Lieran began to put his mind to work on a plan. Getting off the horse was unavoidable Lieran knew, and his movement after that would be considerably slower. He desperately needed some kind of diversion, anything to distract the guards long enough for him to either blend in and disappear, or quickly kill the small entourage. There were only five of them, and on a normal day, they would have proved little challenge to the assassin. But injured as he was, in a way that hindered his mobility and footwork, which held just as much importance as actual swordsmanship, he would be hard pressed to come out unscathed.

The horse Lieran had taken was not a warhorse, trained to travel long distances and still have the stamina to fight. He had taken a courier horse, horses bred to speed a messenger quickly over clear roads to the next courier station, where another rested horse would be waiting. As a result, the assassin’s mount was again beginning to lag, and the soldiers were gaining.

Before his lead depleted any further, Lieran took a sharp turn behind a small group of trees, momentarily hiding him from the view of his pursuers. As quickly as he was able, Lieran slipped from his horse, and gave it a slap, sending it on its way once again. It’s load lightened, the mount burst from the trees with renewed vigor, causing the guards to give a shout and wheel their own mounts around to continue following. The assassin smiled grimly, thinking he had finally thrown off the soldiers. Then a shout pierced the quiet blanket of the forest, turning Lieran’s grin into a scowl.

“It’s riderless!”

Cursing softly, the assassin broke into an unsteady jog through the brush. He had to fight urge to pull out his knife and slash his way through the leaves and branches that smacked him as he charged through, but that would lead the soldiers right to him, and he simply could not allow the inevitable encounter to start that way. Looking back over his shoulder, Lieran caught no sign of his pursuers but they were near, the horses, and their riders, were anything but quiet. The assassin’s head whipped back around just in time to be plastered by a spiderweb. Lieran blinked furiously and pawed at his eyes furiously. No sooner had he cleared he vision when his foot caught on something too soft to be a rock, not that it mattered because the assassin still cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Several sounds assaulted his ears in the following moments; most were expected.

The groan of pain was not. Instantly on the alert, Lieran drew his knives and rolled forward, anticipating a strike, but none came. All that came was another groan, and as Lieran turned to face the source of the moans, he allowed his blades to fall to his sides.

He was staring at a halfling.

Where am I? He thought, his mind racing through nearby towns and cities, evaluating each for the possibility that it had contained a halfling. There was Lockinge, but this halfling lacked the trademark belly that most halflings from Lockinge had. This halfling had to be a-

“Footprints! This way!”

Lieran darted to the left, grimacing and nearly tripping again as he did so. From the cover of the brush, the assassin waited. The sound of horses grew louder, and then cut out all together.

“There’s something down there! I think we’ve got him!”

For a brief moment, Lieran’s heart stopped. He had been spotted. Then the realization came to him, along with his biggest smile yet. He had finally stumbled across his distraction. Literally. The soldiers dismounted when they were close enough, and left their horses as they moved to investigate. Lieran began to circle ever so slowly, adjusting his position so that’d he’d be coming in behind the guards. When they saw the body was not their target, there was a brief moment of confusion and curiosity, and that’s when the assassin struck. With two flicks of his wrists, Lieran procured two smaller knives, perfectly balanced between blade and hilt, designed especially for throwing. They made little sound as they flew through the air, and were barely more than a blur, that is, until they struck home in their targets.

As soon as his blades hit, Lieran lurched forward in a clumsy charge towards the remaining guards, the two longer knives from his belt now in his hands. With precision that boasted of his experience, Lieran eliminated a third guard, but then the other two had weapons drawn, and were ready for him. One leapt in front of the other, his eagerness almost costing him his life as the assassin feinted one direction, ducked under the blow, and came in at his exposed side. However his fellow soldier had also started to move, and managed to launch a stab that forced Lieran to deviate from his killing blow if he didn’t want to sustain a serious injury himself.

In the middle of the fray, the killer found himself flanked by guards on both sides. The two soldiers began to coordinate their attacks, putting Lieran on the defensive. His two hands moving independently of one another, the assassin managed to hold his own, but the constant hammering of the opponents weapons sent jolt after jolt of pain coursing through his leg. He was close to collapsing, but then one of the attackers made a mistake, and Lieran took full advantage of it.

Thinking to throw the assassin’s rhythm off by breaking his own pattern, the guard immediately followed up his attack with another quick stab. Lieran saw the ploy, and followed suite, by breaking off his defense, and throwing himself at the guard’s feet. Stumbling over the prostrate assassin, the attacking soldier tripped and fell into his companion, catching his blow with his armor. Lieran completed his roll and was on his feet again, moving with desperate speed, adrenaline momentarily blinding him to the pain in his leg. Charging forward, Lieran hamstrung one opponent, and spun in a half circle, ducking under an arm before striking out backward into the stomach of the second guard while simultaneously slashing the throat of the first.

Both men collapsed, and Lieran almost joined them, but he kept himself in control, trying to ignore the pain that was now starting to seep back in. The assassin tried to move quickly before the pain could fully set in, and started for the horses; but something in the back of his head began to nag him. He was forgetting something.

Turning to look back at the small form still lying on the ground, Lieran began to have a debate with himself. Practicality told him to leave the halfling and get a move on before he shared its fate, but the other part of him, the part that had some shred of honor, masked though it was behind Lieran’s rules, told him that, inadvertantly, the halfling had saved his life, and so he, Lieran, owed him a debt. A debt that he was obligated to repay, no matter what the cost.

Against all reason, the assassin completed his turn and limped back to the small barely conscious form on the ground.

Killed them!” it was mumbling, “Wanted aren’t you! Give... a weapon... I’ll fight you!”

Ignoring the babble, Lieran bent down, hefted the halfling with a grunt, and began to slowly carry him back to one of the horses. He would save the halfling if he could.

It was only fair.

The End

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