Kelsandra, Chapter 5

Kelsandra was within the hills again, darting back and forth to avoid one of the centaur’s arrows. She felt like a fool. He wasn’t giving her a single second to try a shot. She grabbed the pistol from her belt and faced him, pointing it at his face. Finally, the centaur, bow empty, paused for a short moment.

Behind her, Sterjin yelped. Her breath caught in her throat; she’d never heard him make that sound before. She turned and shot her pistol at the trampler he’d been snapping at.

The bullet tore through his shoulder right as an arrow grazed her left arm, and they cried out at the same time. Kelly looked to Sterj, who was shaking himself off—the centaur had trampled over his tail—when another arrow soared past her and rooted itself in the grass a few inches in front of Sterj’s face. Kel growled and turned again, pointing the pistol, but the marksman already had an arrow sunk into his chest. He groaned and fell over. Kelly watched him, openmouthed, and studied the body, but he wasn’t moving.

Sonya ran out and poised an arrow at the trampler. “Go on,” she said.

The trampler took his hand off his bleeding shoulder and stood tall. He grunted, but looked at the two women and ran off.

Sonya dropped her arms to her side. “For the love of Kormir, Kelly, why did you use the pistol?”

“It was an emergency.” She fell forward on her hands, feeling faint. Blood was lightly trickling down her left arm.

“No doubt that guard that stayed behind has called for reinforcements. The others will have to help us. The plan’s a bust.”

Kelly slapped herself in the forehead with her palm. “I’m sorry,” she said, mentally kicking herself. “I didn’t mean—“

Sonya laughed. “Don’t do that. Nothing ever goes to plan. We’d be easy pickings if we were dumb enough to go in alone, and the others know that. Haven’t you done this before?”

Kelly tilted her head. “I—um…”

Battle cries, human and centaur, sounded from below by the camp. Sonya smiled wider, and then sprinted toward it. Kel almost called after her, but instead watched her run. Right at the edge, Sonya leaped and her black braid appeared to float as she went down into empty space. Kelly ran up and saw her companion complete the slide with a roll and a jog right through the unoccupied entrance of the Greatcamp with only a few glances sideways.

Kelly could hear the battle but could not see anything yet, except some faint lights flashing by the west entrance. She untied her handkerchief—it was giving her trouble with breathing—and wrapped it around the hot barrel of the gun before tucking the gun back into her belt. Then, before she allowed herself to assess whether she was ready, she ran down the hill. Sterjin slid down after her.

“Are you alright?” she asked him.

He grumbled, and she stepped toward him to look at his tail. The centaur had clearly stepped on it near the base; the scales, faded on the rest of his body due to dehydration, were much darker in a large spot right below where the tail met his body. It would shortly turn into a nasty bruise.

A centaur archer appeared by the entrance. Kelly shot an arrow at his weapon right as he lifted it to aim, and he lost his own arrow. He growled and grabbed another one. Kelly ran sideways as Sterj bit his front leg, higher up than he did with the trampler. The centaur screamed in pain and pointed the arrow down at the drake, but backed up as he snapped at it, leaving Kelly time to aim at his hands again. As she released the arrow, two tall, ghostlike figures appeared and they went on either side of the centaur. Her arrow missed and went right through one of them. She didn’t have an idea what they were until Valgar stepped out. He was almost a head shorter than the centaur, but the smaller difference between their heights as opposed to humans just made Valgar seem even bigger.

Valgar slid out a short metal scepter from his coat and thrust it in the direction of the centaur, who staggered and shook his head as large blue sparks danced around his face. Another centaur galloped in from the other side, a female with a dagger. She went for Valgar, who raised his scepter again. The clones turned on the female, but she only faltered for a second. She leapt forward with the dagger an inch from Valgar before he used his free hand to hit her arm aside.

The archer, in his confusion, let an arrow go, presumably meant for one of the clones, but it hit the other centaur right in the shoulder. She cried out, infuriated. With one swipe, she made the clones disappear and threw the dagger at Valgar. It struck him in the shoulder.

“Ha!” he bellowed. “Fair enough!”

Sterj had been next to the archer all this time, and he spun around, so quickly that he was almost a blur, dismantling three of the centaur’s hooves at once. The centaur fell hard on his side.

The female, now weaponless, leaned back and stood on her hind legs, the front legs flailing, taking the role of a trampler. As she crashed back down on all four feet, Valgar fell backward right under her. Kelly poised her arrow, but he already had his scepter up and another surge of energy came out of it, and it jolted her animal body. Valgar crawled out and as he stood, Kel pointed her arrow instead at the centaur’s head. Knowing it would barely penetrate skin, she shot three successive arrows. The first one hit her right in the face and bounced off, though blood came off with it. The second slit her cheek, and the third arrow missed. She tensed her body repeatedly as the energy looped through it over and over. Still standing, the centaur passed out, and the ground shook as her body hit it.

Kelly and Valgar looked to the male, but he was passed out as well.

“Do you think he’s pretending?” Kelly asked.

“The others will come by and clean them up while they occupy the camp. I don’t bother any longer when they’re already down.” Valgar had pulled the dagger out of his shoulder.

Whoops of victory sounded all across the camp.

“We missed most of the action, didn’t we?” she said.

“You and I don’t want to be in the middle of the action.” Valgar put his hand over the wound and grimaced. “Not yet. My, this is deep.”

She decided not to ask him what he meant by that. The slit in her arm was barely bleeding now; she had been lucky this time.

Right in the middle of the Camp, the group sat on cleared wooden tables and stood around under a large tarp, fiddling with the centaur’s supplies and drinking ale. The other Norn handed Valgar a bandage as they walked in.

“So much for destroying the weapons,” Kelly said to Sonya, who was just finishing her first cup.

“They’ll make a killing on the market, just you wait.” She punched Kelly in the shoulder, thankfully on her uninjured arm. “I didn’t see much of you, but you did well.”

Kelly looked at the ground. “Well, I feel comfortable admitting now that I was a bit out of my depth.”

“You’ll get there. You’re not short of courage.” Sonya looked behind Kelly. “You too, Valgar.”

He was looping up his coat. He grunted in acknowledgment. Now that it was over, Kelly felt uneasy that she still couldn’t see his face. She hadn’t seen it since she found him and could no longer remember what he looked like.

“Do drakes drink ale?” he asked.

“Not that I’ve heard of,” Sonya said.

Valgar tapped Kelly on the arm. “Your pet is begging the group for some of their drink.”

“Oh, no,” Kelly said concernedly. “We better go.”

Sonya nodded deeply. “Collect your reward before you go. I put in a good word for you.”

“Thank you so much.” Kelly patted her friend on the shoulder and then followed Valgar to the other side of the tarp, where two men were observing the centaur weapons. When Sterj saw them moving, he followed as well.

“What do you have for us?” Valgar asked one of them.

The shorter of the men, blond and wearing a coat with a high collar, sized up both of them and asked, “Were you a team or individual?”

“Whichever gets us more,” he said.

The man turned and rooted through a bag on the table. He turned back to them with a few items. “I’ll give each of you a silver. And Sonya is giving you”—he pointed at Kelly—“her old bow.” He then handed the bow to her.

She took it, dumbfounded. Then she looked back at Sonya, who caught her eye and smiled.

“She also recommends new arrows,” he said.

“Is this the one she was using today?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” the man said.

“Just the silver for me, then?” Valgar said, sounding disappointed.

“You had to be revived twice within the first few minutes of the raid,” he said calmly.

Kelly laughed. “Let’s go, Valgar. You convinced me to do this so we’d get to the Lake.”

Valgar stared at the two men for a little while longer before rolling his good shoulder and following Kelly and Sterj out. She slung the good bow across her shoulder, over her old one.

As they walked east, he held out a sloshing pouch. “I nicked some from the good keg.”

“I don’t really like it,” she said.

“We’ll celebrate when we get there. We’ll drink it and catch some fish while Sterj swims. Before you like the taste, you have to associate it with victory first. How are you going to travel, anyway, with him being so high maintenance?”

“I want to be close to the water, anyway.” Kelly unwrapped the gun and then tucked it back into her belt. She wrapped the cloth around her face.

“We’ll fight the pirates together, yeah?” He nudged her.

“Sure, except that—eventually, I’d like to be one.”

He looked at her to check if she was serious, the sound of their breathing against their masks the only discernible thing in the quiet. Then he shook his head and chuckled. “Pirates are hypocrites as well, so I’m sure they won’t mind if you rough up a few before joining them.”

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