A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Two Pair
Scene One: Deadly Aim
“Run if you want,” Warren said. “We got horses. It won't help.”
Denario fumbled at the drawstring of his waist bag. His poison darts were inside, wrapped in their goat leather. But they weren't actually poisoned yet. That was a problem. He should have re-arranged everything in his pack this morning so the poison would be available. It was too late for regrets.
“And you, boy,” said Warren when he spared Kurt a glance. “You're dead if you stay here. You'd better leave. Now.”
As he felt around for the darts, Denario noticed how Kurt was trembling like a plucked bowstring. Why wasn't he running home? Maybe he was too scared to move his legs. His arms twitched but he stayed where he was.
Denario grabbed the goat leather and unwound it. Warren took another step. He raised his dagger. Far from trembling, Warren's hand looked steady and ready to strike.
Denario succeeded in finding his weapons. Unfortunately they were the wrong ones. He could tell by the feel. They didn't have the steel-tipped, hollow point heads. They had to be his copper darts. No, they couldn't be. He'd switched places between the steel and copper darts. So what ones were these?
He felt one tremble. Then he understood.
In the confusion of his escape, he must have grabbed the golden darts that belonged to the wizard. Yes, that was it. The wizard had returned them to a goat-leather wrap nearly identical to Denario's own. Now the darts writhed in his hand. Phoenix-feather flights wiggled against his fingers.
He tried to remember how this had happened. He hadn't paid close enough attention. And now wasn't the time to think. Warren stepped closer, only seconds away.
Denario pulled out a dart and raised his arm to throw. He was shaking so much, he didn't think he could hit anything. Warren was too close for a good shot.
“Heh, heh, heh.” Warren chuckled quietly. He didn't stop advancing. “You brung the wrong thing to a knife fight.”
Denario had kept backing up but Warren had kept on coming, too, so that if he leaped forward at almost any point now he would be sure to grab and stab. He leaped. Denario jumped away from the knife point but he tripped on a rock. He fell to his back and his skull rang against the hard ground. He caught a brief glimpse of spectacular, colored lights. Then he blinked and stared up at Warren and the dagger, raised high. He knew this was it.
The eye, Denario thought. He focused on Warren's left eye and threw. His desperation put more force behind the point. But he didn't watch his shot. He squinted so hard the world went dark in anticipation of his death.
There was a hideous scream. It took Denario a second to realize it wasn't from him. He lifted his head in time to see Warren stagger. The gambler's legs didn't seem under his control. A trio of flight feathers jutted out of his left eye. Blood and other liquids ran down one side of his face. His hands flew up, possibly under his brain's last, reflexive command, then stopped in mid-air, about shoulder height. The scream came to a halt.
Later, Denario would wonder if Warren was dead before he hit the ground. No one moved. No one said anything for a moment. Warren's body spasmed and it looked like it would go on with spasms for a while.
“I'll kill you!” screamed a voice from behind. It was the man who'd stood at the bridge. He was charging.
Denario didn't look around. He just screamed and sprinted away. Belatedly, he reached into his waist bag again.
A shout from behind got him to turn. He'd been running for a few seconds and not really paying attention to anything except the grass and sticks in front of him. Still, a part of his hindbrain recognized that the high voice couldn't come from one of the gambling men. It had to be Kurt. It was a screech of pain.
Denario's feet turned him around of their own accord. He found himself running back towards the three figures. It looked like Kurt had decided to fight their attackers but he'd gotten his right arm bloodied. The man who'd come directly from the campfire had slashed it open, elbow to wrist. Nevertheless, Kurt managed to raise his fists again in self-defense. Maybe he thought he could grab the short, wide blade. But he wasn't even looking in the direction of the second man.
The bridge guard hit the teen on the side of the head at a full sprint. The force of it snapped Kurt's neck so hard, Denario froze at the sight. But Kurt reacted as he went down. He tried to turn and defend himself with his bloodied arm. He wasn't dead yet. He looked only half-conscious, though, when he thumped the ground.
“Kick him!” said the one with the knife. In the heat of the moment, he and his friend ignored Denario.
His fingers found the remaining two darts in their pouch. One of them wriggled as he grasped it. Its tail flopped like a fish.
“Stand on 'im.”
“No, like this.” The fellow with the knife put his knees onto Kurt's chest and stomach. The teen started to wake and struggle as the breath squeezed out of him in a rush. He got frantic as his eyes focused on the knife.
Against Kurt's futile resistance, the tall man grabbed the boy's jaw and lifted hard to expose his neck. Denario could see Kurt's throat would be slit. He drew back his arm for a dart throw but he was looking at his target from the side. He didn't have a good view of the man's eyes. And he didn't think the dart could change its flight path ninety degrees, which is what it would take. He couldn't risk it.
Ear, thought Denario as he threw. It was the most obvious part of the man available.
“Yaaarrh!” the stricken man swatted at the dart. He forgot about gutting the boy. He jostled the bolt stuck in his head, which only made his pain worse. He ripped a chunk of flesh from his inner ear as the point ripped through it. Then he stabbed himself on the other side of his jaw out of reflex motion with his weapon hand. He howled again and dropped the knife. But he didn't fall. In fact, he stood, enraged, probably deafened, and ready to fight.
His friend also turned on Denario.
“Tricky bastard!” The man from the bridge moved his mouth as if he would say something more. No words occurred to him. He scooped up the fallen knife.
“Denario!” Kurt shouted. He grabbed for the knife and missed. He got a swift kick in the side of his head. Then, taking care not to get caught by Kurt writhing on the ground, the man set his stubbly jaw and advanced. He kept his blade low.
In a second, Denario was backpedaling and pulling out his last dart. Eye, he thought, as he threw. This time, his target dodged. The knife-hand swatted at the needle point as it swooped in. For a moment, Denario thought the blade might have blocked the tip or swept it aside and down to the ground. A deep-throated gurgle of pain ended that worry. The man stumbled forward another two steps and collapsed at Denario's feet. His limbs suffered tremors similar to the ones Warren had experienced. Again the dart had sunk nearly to the flights. For a moment, Denario was horrified, relieved, and fascinated.
It was exactly the wrong moment to relax.
“RRRrrrrruh!” grunted the man with the bleeding ear as he swung. Denario hadn't been paying attention but the tall one had pulled a cudgel from the strap at his waist and followed his partner. Now he'd arrived, barely a second after the other had died, and only by reflex did Denario dodge enough to lessen the damage.
The blow glanced along his left shoulder and left ear. It knocked him sideways and spun him around. He tumbled to the ground and then tumbled some more. The distance he traveled gave him a second to stand up. He got as far as rising to one unsteady knee before his assailant raced to confront him again. The stump of wood in his fist looked as large as a sapling tree. It drew back. Denario raised his arms out of failure to think of anything better. He knew that the next shot would break his bones. Then it would be only a matter of time.
The swing began. But Kurt's adolescent form slammed into Denario's attacker. The cudgel missed entirely. Two figures slashed wildly at each other. Kurt wielded Warren's dagger with astounding ineptness, missing his man almost entirely twice in quick succession. Both the gambler and the farmer's son seemed unnaturally speedy, to Denario, which meant, probably, that he'd been addled by the knock he'd taken on the ear.
But he wasn't brainless. He could run to retrieve one of his darts. That was the best idea he had. He hesitated for a moment at the sight of Warren's body. It had stopped twitching but the feather protruding from the eye socket was gruesome. He scrambled to find the dart that had fallen from the one fellow's ear, conscious of the precious seconds he was losing to his squeamishness.
“Kurt! Run away!” he shouted as he found the golden bolt point down in the dirt.
He spun, hoping to find a target. He got lucky. Kurt had heard him and was running his direction. Behind Kurt came the gambler. He'd heard the shout, too. He stopped, ten feet away, and stared at Denario like a man about to remember something.
Chapter Four, Scene Two