Episode 20.

CW: Male Violence, Knives.

Penultimate Episode | Obligatory Advertisment

image shows the letters C, I, T, B, in bold green type.

Frost twinkles on branches, a fine glitter picked out by the light from the fire in camp, as Issané walked back through the trees, weaving her way back to it. Frozen mud and slush seeped into the core of her bones. It hadn’t snowed fully yet, but this early hard snap was taking it’s toll on the camp and was hell-bent on wasting their patience.

They’d been digging for and building up their shelter for the best part of the last two weeks, and it was backbreaking, log hauling, knuckle grazing graft. She was glad when the sun went down, since it meant the toil was over for a few hours at least, and she could rest – everything ached from her nose to her toes, and she felt she could sleep forever. It was good, honest hard work, but their pace, used to years of practice, that was too much for her, and she was looking forward to having nothing to do but plait nettle fibres and stoke the fire. She’d be damned if she would let any of the others notice it though.

Busying herself instead after sundown, scrutinizing the makeshift fence that marked the border of their site, she double checked the bunting, re-securing any of the loosened wind chimes she’d made. Hopefully, the flapping and the noise would encourage any wild things to think twice before entering. They could do without finding one chewing on their boot in the morning and Jed had said that there would be hell to pay if his foot was still inside one of them. Reed quipping in turn that it would save him from having to amputate any frostbite, had not gone down well.

It was the cold that was the trouble. It was too soon upon them, their tents not enough, only providing warmth at night, and they couldn’t build any faster – Kayn’s precise crafting was on the point of genius, but it took time, and all of their jovial stoicism was beginning to wear thin. It didn’t help that it was hungry work too, and they were still on rations until they’d finished their job.

Her mind is on their collective dark mood and she shuddered. Partly frozen to death, partly aware she is followed, when a twig snaps closer than before.

“Oh, hey! I didn't see you there.” Axel is closer than he ought to have been, sudden, beside her. “On your way back, are you? Me too. Cold as hell out here isn’t it? We’ll all be pissing icicles before we realize it, heheh. Actually, I wanted a word, if you happen to have a minute.”

He wanted more than a word. And his surprise at bumping into her, was more than a little false. A voice too high and thin, it was too many syllables in one go, to her ear. The grip around her wrist and the fact he'd followed her at all confirmed that this would not be a mere chit-chat. “Yeah? Come on then, what is it now?” She couldn’t keep the irritation out of her thoughts – although she watched her language. Intent radiated from him, warning her, yet to what, she couldn't perceive. Obscured thoughts meant caution was always best if she couldn’t decipher them fast enough.

“So,” A tickle in his windpipe bothered him while he sought the best approach. “You... Ah. You know all about the ruin, then? You’ve seen it? I mean, not only in books or, you know, heard the tales. You've seen it, seen it. I mean, we know that you know exactly where it is, okay, but you’re taking us straight to there, right? Yeah? No little, um, diversions to go on? No personal missions for us to help you with before we get there? Your ducks all in a row are they? I mean, before we leave for good?”

She nods, ignoring the way his repeated words set her on edge. Axel was far more deliberate with his speech than that, but this line of questioning was nothing new. Quite aside from the pressing issue of time, Kayn was quite convinced she had something to do with whoever was on their tail, and she knew he pestered him to ask her question after question, as though trying to catch her out. Reed had called them Cardinals. Said they were an organised faction of Mages. Dangerous. She told him she hadn't heard of the name, but she’d been warned not to draw attention to that specific word in front of them all the same.

In truth, there was a village she'd have stopped at with her new men, but the detour wasn’t worth it, a thousand miles back in the other direction. She’d come this far, and she wasn’t about to turn around out of mere revenge – neither was this information that she was holding back, only that it'd create more questions with answers that weren’t worth explaining. And Axel knew she was genuine – yet the questioning hadn't stopped. Signing for him to hurry up, awkward, and with her off-hand, the night was cold, and she was too long away from the fire.

“The thing is, and, Issané please know that it’s not me saying this, but,” The pause hung in the air. “Well, truth be told, we’re worried. We don’t...” He sighed. “We don’t honestly know if you can get us there all by yourself. I mean, not that you’re by yourself, but Tris has seen... more. And so, you know, we now know you have more information. There’s more to know. And, well, that’s all well and good, but now, you know, you’re going to have to show it to us.” He cleared his throat again, uncomfortable. “To me.”

She rolls her eyes and nods. She’d suspected Tris would have told him everything by now – and he was right to. She should have told him that, and because of it they should have tried harder to speak to him together, but getting a minute with him alone was another matter entirely. The scene playing in her head was much for him to take in, she couldn't expect him to keep quiet about until they could find a better chance. She knew Axel would want to see for himself once he knew of it too. It was about time. She'd show them all.

Taking back her hand to sign so with, Axel’s grip is harder than ever. Familiar with which boot her dagger is in, isn’t taking any chances. “No. No more fucking stupid hand signals or cute expressions, understand? You’re going to show me, and you’re going to do it now. Fuck this stupid act of yours off, and show me everything you know, right?”

Although unimpressed by this change in his manner, she doesn’t struggle, or resist, grateful she has the capacity in the moment to think twice before correcting him. Kicking herself for the eye roll, that small thing being enough to infuriate his temper this far, she could hear that there was more than a trace of Kayn in his voice. Had been for weeks now, and it was unwise of her to disregard that.

Trying harder to reach, she repeated her words, slow, loud, making them as big as possible for him. “I will, Axel. I’ll show you all. I promised I would help you and I will. We just need blood.” She concentrated on relaxing her face, and attempted a more peaceable expression to mask the foreboding she felt. “It's blood magic. A simple cut is all. It's easy. I’ll show you, I will.”

He cannot hear. He isn’t interested in reading her either. His own mind ringing with a voice that was too loud, he drowned her out, not grasping or caring how much of it is his own by this point. It didn’t matter. Even if panic made him threatened by her, Kayn was right in what he’d said. This was his life’s work. It was true that she'd stopped them all from leaving him, but he should be the one to lead them there. Not her. Kayn was right. All she needed to do was cut the shit and stop fucking him about, and if she wouldn't, then it wasn't as though they needed two psychics and two healers...

For all his tolerance and willpower, frustration fractured something inside him and this is where all of that serenity ended. Twisting her arm behind her back, grabbing her by the back of the neck, he marched her towards camp, yelling for Kayn and rope – dragging her when she trips and falls. He will get his information from her if it is the last thing he does.

What... Wait... No! Axel, No! What are you doing? There’s no need for this to get nasty. Please. Whatever this is, please don’t do this. Keep him away. Axel, don’t let him come near me. I need to get there just as much as any of the rest of you. I'm just like you are. I am! I will show you, but let me get a hand on my knife. Get me Tristin’s knife. Give me a knife and I can show you all...

What she cannot do, is concentrate on projecting her message for him to hear, thoughts racing through her head, too much, too many in a row to make a direct contact.

And gleaming silver cut through the blur in her mind, appearing in front of her before she saw the rest of him, a rotten smirk causing her belly to churn. Thrown in his direction, with a barked instruction to 'Get it out of her', Kayn is on her then, revelling in the opportunity he thought he would never get for vengeance, making it clear as a bell that there would be one way and one way only out of the noose in his hands.

Having waited too long for this, he laughs, enthused, too long and too loud at the conclusion of finally getting to destroy her, Axel giving him the permission to have free rein again, loud enough for all to hear. Binding her hands behind her back, and knotting the cord around her neck before flinging it over a tree branch, he'll hang her unless she makes good on her promise in this instant. Argent glimmer flashed brighter than ever, shifting side to side as he dances around, laughing into her face, threatening, alive with cruelty.

Piercing the night, his beams pick out Tristin from his spot by the fire. On his feet, ready this time, knife by now in hand, it is Jed who stops his advance. The only defence against him now, is reminding them of their pact together. He saw that no weapon could stop him, only their deal might. “The order's been given, Tris. Anything goes for the sake of the continuum. We all swore. Even her. Remember?”

“Whatever the fuck this is, it has nothing to do with who we are.” Anger twisted his voice. “He promised me...” Trying to pass, he found he couldn’t – and in the crackle of the fire glow, his reply to that made Jed’s blood run cold, as the breeze picked up around them. Flames licked a touch higher, as extra oxygen filled the atmosphere, disturbing them. “So, then. You’re letting this happen. Good to know. If I remember anything after tonight, it’ll be that.”

Jed swallowed hard. Tristin had power over all the air in the sky. He could suffocate you with one look or shoot you from the ground into space, whether he wanted to or not. In unison, their magic was unstoppable. In opposition... An answer to him refused to form, and not least because while avoiding looking him directly in the eye, he halts a double take on Reed becoming transfixed on Kayn’s actions too. And as the pitch of his voice rises, he watches as their medic calculates all the ways in which this could turn, and what he would have to do about that, and how fast.

“Bad. Oh man. This is bad...”

The absolute murder in Kayn’s face sent a dart of flame running through him as he stumbled for words himself. “Reed... Shit. Oi, REED!” Jed despaired, wondering how the hell he was going to juggle the two of them alone. “Medicine, Reed. Furs, water. Now. Issané will need them. She’ll need you to be ready for her. Get them ready for her. Now Reed. Go NOW!”

Glad when he has moved himself out of earshot, Jed returns his focus on keeping a screaming Tristin in check.

“You fucking promised me, Axel. You said she wouldn’t be hurt. You promised to keep him away from her. Axel. AXEL. Look at me will you...?”

His words go ignored, Axel’s own mind bawling at Issané to give up everything she knew, on the offence, not giving her a chance to come up with a lie, and while Reed returns with his gear, Jed watches like a hawk. Seeing his spiralling too, mind in overdrive, raw responses kicking in, he prays he can drag him back to reality enough to help him calm his comrade.

“Reed... Stars, man. Listen! Reed! Help me, will you? Look at him. I won't be able to hold him without you.” His appeal works, and he finally sees that rage has consumed their friend, his Frenetic power alight inside. Not something they saw every day, he realized that Jed’s request for assistance is real. Leaping to his side, he sees for himself that there is no way he can keep him away from them alone, and helps to restrain, while Jed tries harder to get through. “This’ll all be over soon, okay? And when it is, I will bring her straight to you. Okay, Tris? Okay?”

He doesn’t add that he hopes she will still be alive at the end, cussing as he watches Kayn enjoy observing him in this state. Worrying at Issané’s rope, playing on his frenzy and stoking it further, he pulls her clean off the ground.

Not his smartest move, Jed is relieved when Reed finally steps up his efforts, thanking the stars for the strength that came with an archer’s practise, when Tristin speaks again. “I will tear that little cunt’s head off his shoulders if I get my hands on him. Thinks he’s untouchable now, does he? Axel won’t look twice at him when I’m done.”

Hearing that, Kayn turned back from winding him up, looking Issané over, leering, wild at his prey. Something shiny in the firelight caught his eye, and he saw the glimmering pommel at her calf. Jewelled – screaming for his attention – it nestled in her boot, and all hear his manic, sing-song chattering quieten, time seeming to slow as it appeared in his hand. She hasn't a mere beat to think, Kayn. Put that away... before Axel turned, deadpan in the stillness, emotion gone, finally acknowledging his boys.

“She knows what she's doing, Tris.”

In half a second, Kayn has pulled the blade from her boot, and driven it into her chest. Leaving the blade wedged inside her ribcage, he stands back to admire his handiwork while she dangles there, stricken. Smirking still at the shock on her face, and he winces in mock empathy – with a whistled intake, and an, “Ooooh. I know, right?” when her breath falters and he takes up the slack, her knees failing her. “No, no. Stand up straight. Let everyone see.”

She struggled, forcing a second gasp. The third became a choke, producing the desired, blood-spattered effect.

“There. Got you, you little bitch...”

Back one Episode. Skip to next episode.

Thank you for reading, here's my carrd.

Don't forget, you can share this episode directly from your browser menu, and subscribe for updates direct to your inbox!

#NSFW #Fiction #AdultFiction #FreeFiction #CaughtInTheBalance #Season1

Copyright © 2021 by BB Chapman