The Truthspeaker (Citadel of the Last Gathering Supplemental #1)

The Truthspeaker
By: Erin L. Snyder

The guards held Phitole on his back. It took five; one on each arm and leg and one to keep his head still. Even then, others stood ready to take their place if one should slip, for the man needed only to get his fingers around one of their wrists to snap it or to work his teeth around to a guard’s ankle to tear out a mouthful of flesh. The healers were tending to those who’d faltered, while the captain pled with the warlock, Reithe, to allow him to kill Phitole outright, before more of their men were wounded or worse.

But the warlock had made his decree, and his gaze served as a warning. The warlock gave no other response, and the captain did not ask a third time.

Meanwhile, Ulithaine, the hunter, the killer, savior and slaughterer who amassed titles, treasure, enmity, and honor as if they were one and the same, shook the iron gates of his cell and cried out in frustration. “Reithe! Hear me! You’ve lived your last day!”

The warlock sneered and held up a chalice brimming with red blood. “This is your last chance,” he hissed to the dark-skinned man pinned before him. “My word is truth, and I have said you or the butcher are to kill the other in my pit. Swear allegiance, swear that you will serve me, and I will allow you to kill the butcher of your own will.”

Phitole strained against the grip of the man who held his head, and against the guard’s strength, he craned his neck to meet Ulithaine’s eye. “Free me of this!” he cried. “I will not fear his sorcery if I have your word!”

“I swear it on my blood!” Ulithaine shouted back. “Do you hear me, wizard! Your magic won’t save you!”

“Mine is the magic of sight and truth!” Reithe hissed. “What I say shall pass.”

“It is your magic to my rage,” Ulithaine said. “I will feed the dogs of hell your soul!”

“Enough!” the warlock screamed. He reached into the chalice, and blood spilt over the sides. When his hand emerged, dripping red, he held a charm. “Behold the Serpent’s Tooth,” he crowed, displaying it to guards and prisoners alike. “It was plucked from a snake hatched from a blood-red egg. It is the greatest of my greatest creations.” He knelt beside Phitole. “Hold his nose,” he commanded, and his men did so, forcing Phitole to open his mouth. Reithe dangled the tooth into the helpless warrior’s mouth. As soon as it touched his tongue, Phitole’s mouth shut around it, and his eyes emptied. Then, slowly, the chain slipped into his mouth as the object slid down his throat into his gut.

“Release him,” Reithe commanded. The guards traded glances, but none dared oppose him. They drew back, and Phitole climbed to his feet. Reithe looked over and smiled. “Now climb into the pit. Fight the butcher, Ulithaine. Take his life if you can, as quickly or as slowly as you desire.” He turned to face his captive. “No further boasts, Ulithaine? No further promises?”

Ulithaine glared at him. “Say it, then, truthspeaker! Tell me that I will die in that pit, and that you shall live. Say it, if you can!”

The warlock glared at him. “I do not indulge thieves,” he replied, moving to a lever along the far wall.

Now Ulithaine grinned spitefully. “Yours is no magic!” he said, laughing. “It is a curse! Here, at the end, you are blind to your own words. Your tongue knows what you do not, that your death awaits you!”

The warlock pulled the lever, and the floor opened beneath Ulithaine, who landed softly in the dirt below. He was in a small enclosure, which expanded into a large arena. Along the edge were numerous blades, axes, spears, nets, and other weapons. On the far side of the pit stood Phitole with arms hanging limply at his sides and darkness in his eyes.

“Step forth, thief. Enter and look your doom in his eyes,” Reithe commanded.

Ulithaine did step forward and stretched his joints. He nodded towards Phitole, the strongest of his friends, the most beloved of his allies, whose life he valued more than his own blood.

“You are barbarians both,” Reithe sneered. “Brigands and killers. And so I have decreed it that one’s hand shall spill the other’s blood. And so it has come to pass, as all my decrees have come to pass and all shall. Fight or die like a whimpering pup, Ulithaine: it is all the same to me.”

Ulithaine paced the circumference of the circle, waiting to see what Phitole did. There were weapons aplenty, but he knew better than to turn his back and go for one while his opponent stood ready. Phitole charged. He was as quick as a fish in a brook and as strong as the bear that caught it. He was more experienced, and there was little Ulithaine knew of warfare that Phitole had not shown him. He had the advantage of height, standing a head taller. But he was bewitched. His actions and will were not aligned, and this was a disadvantage beyond the warlock’s understanding.

The two fighters struck, and Phitole’s strength and size gave him the edge, but it was not to last. Even before they hit the ground, Ulithaine had curved his body to roll, and he pushed his opponent from him. Both began to stand, with Ulithaine on his feet first. This, he decided, was as good an opportunity as any to make for a weapon, so he leapt back and scooped up the nearest spear. Phitole stepped back and grabbed for a knife and shield. He came forward cautiously.

Ulithaine jabbed at Philtole, forcing him to keep back. Phitole held his shield around the edge and swung sidewise, knocking the tip of Ulithaine’s spear to one side. Ulithaine leapt back, giving himself time to recover before his friend could close the distance. Then he stabbed again, but Phitiole turned the spear aside as easily as before. He leapt forward, swinging his knife at Ulithaine’s wrist, and only missed by inches.

Ulithaine jumped to his left and swept the ground with the spear, knocking Phitole’s feet out from under him. Then he gripped the spear, stepped back, and threw it overhead, sending it hurtling towards the spectators.

He darted away as he heard a blood-curdling scream cry out. He grabbed a club off the ground and had just enough time to turn back before Phitole, having regained his footing, reached him. To one side, the captain crashed against the floor, still twitching, with Ulithaine’s spear sticking out of his chest.

“You shall pay for this!” he heard Reithe call down.

“Keep talking!” Ulithaine shouted back. “It will make my task easier on my next throw!”

“Do not hold back, Phitole!” Reithe shouted. “He will suffer for this insult!”

Phitole, compelled by the charm within him, lurched forward, swinging shield and blade. But while the warlock’s magic was sound, his command was made in anger. Ulithaine caught Phitole’s elbow with the end of his club, and the warrior’s shield slipped from his hands. Phitole, still driven by Reithe’s command, leapt at his foe. Ulithaine caught his arm, and they fell together. Phitole struggled with both hands to press the knife blade closer to Ulithaine’s face, but one arm had been wounded by the club. Ulithaine dropped his weapon and grappled, twisting the knife handle away and plunging into the stomach of his dearest friend.

Phitole, shaking in pain, grabbed hold of Ulithaine’s throat, but not even the warlock’s magic could give him the strength he needed to crush the life from him. Ulithaine gasped but did not try to defend himself. Instead, he pulled the knife to one side, pressed his fingers into the wound, and fulfilled his promise.

A moment later, Phitole rolled off of him. He lay, cringing in pain on the ground. Beside him, coughing, Ulithaine lay on his back, gripping the chain of the warlock’s charm in his bloody hand. He sat up and crawled to Phitole, while Reithe cackled above them.

“Thank you,” Phitole said through grinding teeth. His arms covered the bloody wound in his belly.

“I had no other way,” Ulithaine stuttered.

“No. This is as it must be,” Phitole said. “I will die a man’s death. With my will and wits. No one has done me a greater service.” He was sweating and shaking as he said this.

From above them, the warlock’s voice called out. “Is this not as I said? That one shall die by the other’s hand? Now, Ulithaine, you must answer for the death of my servant! Know that Phitole will not die alone!”

Ulithaine’s gaze shifted to the spear, still sticking out of the captain’s body. “Wait,” Phitole whispered. “Even if you strike him dead, you’ll be stuck here. Easy pickings for their bowmen.”

“The walls are fifteen feet,” Ulithaine replied. “I can’t jump that. I would gladly trade my life to avenge us.” He started to move, but Phitole sat up and grabbed his shoulder.

“Wait. I need you to live. I have… I have more to ask of you. Phaesha’s mother will send for her when she hears of my death. Do you see? I need you to live. I need you to take my daughter away from her. Keep her safe.”

“I cannot make it up the wall,” Ulithaine said again.

Phitole shifted upward. “Do you remember Insill’s tree?” he asked.

Ulithaine eyes opened wide. “Your hands will never hold. Not now.”

“For you, for my daughter, I’ll find the strength,” Phitole whispered back. His face contorted into a scream, and he threw himself forward, so he was leaning. As he did so, Ulithaine stepped back and ran towards him. Phitole cupped his hands together and stood as Ulithaine jumped into the air, one foot landing on his friend’s woven fingers. Again, Phitole cried out in rage and pain, as he arched his back, giving Ulithaine the leverage to leap higher.

As Ulithaine’s arms grabbed the top edge of the pit, Phitole fell to the ground one final time. Ulithaine pulled himself up, level with the startled guards and panicking warlock. “Do something!” Reithe commanded. “Quickly!”

But the nearest guard was too slow. Ulithaine grabbed him by the throat and relieved him of his sword before tossing the hapless man into the pit behind them. Then Ulithaine charged, swinging wildly and crying out. He cut down another of the guards, brutally burying his sword in the man’s neck. That was enough: he reached the warlock before the others could get to him.

As he held Reithe by the neck, he called back, “I will kill the rest of you if I catch you! You can stay and try yourselves against me if you like. But your chances will be better if you run.”

In seconds, he was alone with the warlock on the ledge. Ulithaine loosened his grip on Reithe’s throat, so the warlock could speak. “Release me, and I’ll grant you riches,” he said. “You know I cannot break my word! You know all I say comes to pass! I’ll take an oath to take no vengeance!”

Ulithaine sneered at him. “No man shares your magic,” he said. “All you say comes to pass. Say then that you will live to see the sun rise! Say you survive this!”

The warlock opened his mouth, but no sound emerged but a whimper. Even before Ulithaine wrapped the chain of the snake’s tooth charm around his neck, he couldn’t speak.

No comments:

Post a Comment