Gunshots roared and split the air above Rion’s hair. A lesser man would have been reduced to coughing, but Rion held his head high and breathed in the stink of powder, the smog and the tainted taste of rotting gut. As the dirt beneath his feet was stained grotty and tarnished – much more corpse than sand – the air had been parched from the shots above.

Fellow torments for the other men left no mark on Rion’s façade. Sword in one hand and pistol by the trigger finger of his neck, he ignored the cries of the deadly surroundings. His colleagues, men with whom he had learnt the trade, fell about his feet in regular bouts. For a war-worthy man, death held no panic or foe; Rion stretched his rapier further, slashing it across the torso of another enemy.

The raw scream and bloody gunk both spilling from Rion’s apt victim (a youth of Yakinos’ age, but fickle and pubic) reminded him of the fallen, whether foe or friend mattered not. Victory conquered them better.

Enemy ran all sides of him – left, right, behind – and their howls deafened.

“All right down there, Rion?” called an offset tone from above.

Eyes temporarily lifted from the battlefield, Rion spotted his brother high on his horse. He yelled and swung forward, impaling the man running at Rion with pistol in the air.

The tearing of Benjamin’s jacket left a hole from elbow to cuff. He rolled his eyes. “Told you: useless.”

“Brother.” Rion nodded once. He let his trigger finger settle high into action, blasting the bullets off in every direction. Family. Second best at most. Only one person left an earthy aroma Rion would follow to the underlands.

Rion stalked the dusty paths as commander. After all, he had taught these battle plans; he knew them back to front. “You there, Lesking, take the right flank. Murray, take left with your cavalry.”

“Right, ho!” yelled one of the men and he charged into the mass of bodies, dead and alive.

Rion shook his head. Too much haste. He searched the battleground, bodies scarring its surface.

“Where is Yakinos Archer?” He needed him for sight and, perchance, a little more once they had vanquished their foes again.

One of Rion’s former tutees lifted an arm clamped between crimson-stained palms. He pointed to a scene in the distance, knives flying and the sounds of metal filling more than Rion’s physical senses. He quivered.

He charged – through the dust, debris and stench of detritus, stuff not so ill to his mind – towards Yakinos, with sword for the villains of the front and pistol for those haunting his behind.

Five men were locked in unflinching battle. A broadsword in both hands, Yakinos whirled. He fought off three men.

As a comrade fell to the mass, Rion frowned. Something wasn’t right. Yakinos’ left swing had every part of its magnificence, but his right was limp, weak. It didn’t stretch its true length.

The End

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