The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic) (2 page)

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
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“Isafesira de Lochenville?” the woman said politely.

Loch noted the name, her full name, and saw Kail tense ever so slightly in the corner of her vision.

“That’s me,” she said. “Why have we been separated from Ambassador Threvein?”

“You have threatened the peace between the Empire and the Republic by transforming the city of Heaven’s Spire into a weapon,” the woman said, her voice cold and calm.

Loch smiled, shut her eyes, and let out a long breath through her nose. Sometimes it was simply a relief to for the trap to finally spring. “As a member of a diplomatic mission, I cannot legally be detained,” she said without looking up.

“Hey, how come those guys get to wear armor?” Kail asked. “I thought this place had sanctity or something.”

The woman ignored him. “Isafesira, if you surrender—”

“Wait, were you just trying to get us to take everything off?” Kail asked, winking at one of the guards and moving to force eye contact in return. “Man, your mother is so much more polite about it.”

Everyone looked at him this time, even the woman.

Everyone but Loch.

She lunged forward, slammed one arm into a guard’s halberd and the other into the inside of his elbow, bashing him in the helmet with his own weapon. As the other guard turned toward her, Kail kicked him in the back of the knee, and Loch wrenched the halberd from the first guard’s grasp and swung it at the woman.

To her credit, the Imperial woman had recovered quickly from Kail’s distraction and Loch’s attack and stepped to the side. The halberd’s blade chopped into the doorframe instead.

Loch pressed forward, and the Imperial woman’s confident smirk was cut off as Loch pinned her to the wall with the haft of the weapon.

“You’re making a mistake, Isafesira,” she said.

She probably would have said more had Loch not head-butted the woman in the face. “Call me Loch.” She let go of her halberd, yanked the broadsword free from the sash at the Imperial woman’s waist, and jumped back as the woman lashed out with a blind kick.

The guard she’d hit in the helmet was still on his feet, but stumbling. The other guard was grappling with Kail, both of them clutching at the guard’s halberd.

Loch swung her new sword two-handed. The rings on the back of the blade rattled and threw the balance of the blade off a bit, but it was a solid weapon nevertheless. It chopped through the shaft of the halberd of the guard grappling with Kail.

Kail twisted the half without the head free and cracked it across the guard’s face. “So you get a new sword, and I get
a stick?”

“I don’t decide these things, Kail.”

As Kail’s guard fell, the Imperial woman swept up the other half of the halberd and swung it at Loch like an ax. Loch parried, saw
her
guard drawing a short blade, spun, grabbed a vase from the wall with her free hand, and smashed it over the guard’s head. He stumbled, shards spraying out everywhere from his helmet, and Loch punched through his open-faced visor and put him down hard.

The door through which they’d come into the room opened, and the guards who’d been by the door charged in. They had already tossed aside their halberds and were drawing short blades, better weapons considering the confines of the room.

“See, Kail, they have swords. Take one of theirs.” Loch stepped back as the Imperial woman swung the half-halberd again. Despite the ungainly weapon, she swung it like she knew how to use it. She was also still on her feet despite Loch head-butting her in the face, which was a bit worrisome.

“Those are just swords.” Kail knocked aside a slash, grabbed a fan from the wall with his free hand, and sidestepped a thrust. “Yours has rings on it.”

Loch slashed high at the Imperial woman, who blocked and spun into a fluid kick that caught Loch in the gut. Loch stumbled back, caught herself, and parried as the Imperial woman came down with an overhand strike. It chopped the very nice stained table in half instead of Loch, sending golden bowls and crystal glasses flying.

“Still not sure what the rings do,” Loch said, kicking half the table at one of the two guards going after Kail. It caught the guard in the shins and he stumbled, then went down when Kail caught him under the chin with his stick.

Kail slashed wildly with his fan, doing no damage whatsoever but making it really hard for anyone to hit him. “Well, ask the crazy woman, Captain. She’s right there.”

“The punishment for touching the Nine-Ringed Dragon is death,” the Imperial woman growled. She stabbed with the halberd’s spearpoint, and Loch parried. By luck, the spearpoint caught in the rings on the back of the blade, and Loch twisted the grip and tore the halberd from the woman’s hands.

“Wait, hang on, I’m getting it.” Loch spun the blade to shake the halberd free, and the Imperial woman glared and raised her hands into a fighting position. Her fingers curled into claws, and lightning crackled between them.

Loch stepped back and lowered the blade until the point touched the floor. “Okay, that’s new.”

“They told me you would be difficult to apprehend, Isafesira,” said the Imperial woman. “They were not mistaken.”

“Thanks.” Loch snapped the blade up,
hooking the point
on a fancy crystal wineglass and snapping it at the Imperial woman’s face. She fell back as it shattered, the lightning around her fingers dying, and Loch stepped past her, kicked her in the back of the knee, and slammed an elbow down into the back of the woman’s head to put her on the ground.

The last guard stabbed at Kail, who caught the blade in his fan and twisted, pulling the sword from the guard’s grip. As the guard fumbled, Kail dropped both the fan
and
the stick, grabbed the guard, and pivoted, slamming the guard face-first into the gong with a booming crash that sent vibrations through Loch’s gut.

“Uribin would be proud, Kail.”

Kail grinned. “So what now? Run, or go for the diplomats?”

The Imperials had called her by name. This wasn’t about the diplomats anymore. “We run,” Loch said. “If we stay and fight, we might cause an incident.”

Kail looked at the shredded fan, shattered crystal wineglass, smashed table, and cracked vase on the ground beside four Imperial guards and what was likely an Imperial noblewoman. “Yeah, we wouldn’t want that,” he said, picking up his stick.

The scene in the courtyard below as they came outside was far different from the training display earlier. The Imperial guards stood in a ring around the unarmed Republic soldiers with their halberds leveled. Most of the fifty monks were coming up the stairs, the ones at the front holding manacles.

Loch took this all in as she jogged toward the stairs. “See you at the bottom?”

“Right behind you.”

Loch leaped from the stairs, slashed through the top of the golden banner, and grabbed hold as it tore. She rode the tearing fabric down, landed in the sand under a pile of golden fabric, and cut free with wild swings of the blade that deflected the incoming halberds’ blows.

When she felt marble rather than sand beneath her feet, Loch looked back and saw that a good number of the Imperial guards were flailing about under the torn banner. A few yards away, Kail was crawling free from a pile of monks at the foot of the stairs. “Threw yourself down the stairs?” she asked.

“They were kicking and stuff. I thought the monks took a vow of non-violence.” He pulled himself up and grimaced. “
Our
Imperial monk took a vow of non-violence.”

“Well, you can ask Icy next time you see . . .” Loch turned at the clash of metal. The Republic soldiers had seized upon the distraction and were grappling with the Imperials, slashing and stabbing with stolen halberds. “Go!” the Urujar guard captain shouted. “They’re after you! Get out of here!”

Loch hesitated for one long, ugly moment. If she went to help the Republic soldiers, they would likely all die fighting there in the courtyard. If she ran, they’d surrender and live, and Loch would go to sleep every night knowing that Republic soldiers were prisoners of the Empire because she’d run away. Prisoners, or dead.

She ran away.

The iron gate at the far end of the courtyard led to the mountain steps on the far side of the Iceford. It was closed, of course, and monks ran to block their path, settling into fighting stances before them.

All except for one of the monks, who walked to the door, set his feet, raised his hands, and then brought his body to the iron gate with a movement that, while not precisely swift, had the full weight and power of his body focused into the palms of his hands.

With a reverberating shriek, the iron gate blasted off its hinges and crashed to the ground. Snowy white doves took to the skies in a flurry of feathers.

“Icy!” Kail shouted, plowing through the monks, who were now turning in surprise. “All these assholes can fight! Why can’t
you
fight?”

Indomitable Courteous “Icy” Fist, former member of Loch’s gang of thieves, smiled. “It is good to see you. I have devised an exit strategy.”

Loch knocked the monks aside, slamming an elbow into the head of one who had recovered enough to try to stop her. “Let’s use it, then!”

“Seriously, Icy,” Kail said as they ran through the gate. “You made it sound like everyone who had your training took a vow, but the rest of these guys can . . . ah, crap.”

A dozen guards were coming up the stairs toward them, headed by a massive, broad-shouldered man whose golden armor bore the Imperial twin swords across the breastplate. A dragon-faced helmet hid his face, and a flowing violet cape flapped in the morning wind. He held a silver-handled war ax whose double-bladed head was golden and etched
with runes.

“It’s funny,” Kail said beside Loch, “from a distance, that ax almost looks like Ghylspwr, which would mean that it was magical, which would be
bad
. Good thing magical weapons like that are—”

“Kutesosh gajair’is
!” shouted the ax. The man wielding the ax put it through a spin.

“—rare,” Kail finished. “And here I seem to have misplaced my stick. Least you’ve got the Undinged Dragon.”

“The Nine-Ringed Dragon?” Icy glanced at Loch’s sword.

“Oh,” said Kail. “Because of the rings. That probably makes more sense.”

Icy had gone pale. “That blade is traditionally carried by the heir to the throne.”

“Pretty woman, braids, can summon lightning in her hands?” Loch asked.

“Princess Veiled Lightning,” Icy said, and shook his head. “And you have stolen her sword.”

“And that’s another thing, Icy,” Kail said. “If this woman can do lightning, you really should be able to freeze things with your hands, just based on name alone.”

Icy continued as if Kail hadn’t interrupted him. “She is unlikely to forgive that, Loch. The man down there is her sworn protector, Gentle Thunder.”

Loch looked at the man with the ax, and then at the sword in her hands. To their right, the mountainside caught the first morning light. To their left, down below, the frigid white waters of the Iceford were a steady roar.

“If he wanted to protect her, he should have been up there while I was hitting her in the face,” she said, and rolled out her shoulders. Raising her voice, she called down, “Gentle Thunder?”

“My orders were to take you alive,” he called back in a rough voice. “I will accept the punishment for killing you instead.”

“Kutesosh gajair’is!”
the ax added.

“Think we can take them?” Kail asked.

“A dozen guards, plus a guy with an ax as powerful as Ghylspwr?” Loch shook her head.

One of the doves from the courtyard winged past them, down toward the frothy white water of the Iceford.

“How far would you say that fall is?” she asked.

“That is a
terrible
question, Captain,” Kail said.

“Slightly more than one sixty feet,” Icy said, glancing off the edge of the steps down at the rushing river below. “It is also very cold.”

Kail snorted. “You think, Icy? Loch,
no
.”

“Any chance we could just withdraw peacefully?” Loch called down to Gentle Thunder, ignoring Kail.

“You have turned Heaven’s Spire into a weapon and threatened the peace between our two nations,” Thunder called back.

“That’s what Veiled Lightning said,” Loch said, “right before I head-butted her in the face.” She looked over at Kail and Icy. “Feet first,” she said, and jumped.

She heard Gentle Thunder’s roar of outrage, Kail’s shout of general terror, and under it all, the roaring of the Iceford itself.

Then she hit, feet first, and the shock and darkness and cold stole her breath. She kicked hard, flailing blindly, and for a moment felt nothing but pain and cold. Her arm banged on a rock painfully, and she realized she was either lying flat or facing down, and she pushed herself up as water went up her nose.

An eternity later, she finally cleared the surface, gasping and coughing above the foaming white water. The mountains on either side of the river were great black walls, with the sky a stream of blue-gold between them.

The numbing cold was already stealing the strength from her arms. She’d managed to keep hold of the Nine-Ringed Dragon, and used it like an oar to turn herself around as best she could in the rushing water. “Kail? Icy?”

They rose from the water a moment later. Kail was coughing and sputtering, and Icy was holding him by the coat, looking slightly chilled but otherwise fine.

Both of them were riding upon the back of an enormous snowy-white sea turtle with a shining white horn glowing upon its brow.

As the swan diving for her morning repast, so have I recovered what was so carelessly dropped, Little One,
came the gentle voice in Loch’s mind.

“Ululenia,” Kail said, and then coughed some more. “So glad you’re here.”

Loch took the hand Icy offered and pulled herself onto the back of the shapeshifting, mind-reading unicorn that, like Icy, had been part of her team of thieves. There was enough room for all three of them to cling to the turtle’s back with only their legs dangling in the water. “Wasn’t sure you’d made it in until I saw you fly down to the river.” Her teeth were chattering, and she stretched her already-numb fingers.

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
4.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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