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Infinity Blade: Awakening (Page 11)

They continued on their way. About a half hour later, Isa suddenly started laughing—a quick, exuberant bark. He glanced at her, and found her reading in her dictionary.

“Ah yes,” she said to herself, still chuckling, “I see. Peens. No. Pens. Yes, I must learn to pronounce that one right.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “Damn, I wish I’d done that one on purpose . . .”

SIRIS LET ISA pick the camping spot for the evening. He wanted to be off the roadway, but otherwise didn’t know much about picking a campsite. Isa seemed to find that amusing—she had an expectation that people from ‘rural villages’ should be capable trackers and wilderness experts.

Siris shook his head. He’d never even worked the stalactites, let alone left the village to wander the wilderness. His every moment had been needed to train. Leaving Isa for a moment, he went off to test the transportation ring with the sword. It still worked, even though they were away from the castle. He was relieved to find that; since the elemental rings had stopped working, he’d worried that eventually this one would as well.

That confirmed, he went and helped unload the horse, passing Isa with the saddlebags. He began to undo the saddle, and then noticed the crossbow sitting in its strap. A deadly weapon; he’d heard of its type, but hadn’t ever seen one. It was easy enough to figure it out from a short inspection.

Isa walked back a short time later. Their camp was at the base of a small hill. Not on top of it, as Siris would have probably chosen. That might have to do with the small spring Isa had found at the bottom, or with not making them visible from a distance.

“We haven’t talked about price yet,” Siris said, pulling off the last saddlebag.

Isa eyed it, though obviously tried to remain nonchalant. As if he would make off with her goods. That woman is about as trusting as… well, as I am, lately.

“Price?” she asked.

“You’re not going to guide me for free.”

“So far, there hasn’t been much guiding. You don’t know where you want to go.”

“Regardless. You don’t seem the type to provide a service—even a meaningless one—for free.”

She looked at him solemnly, and there were no signs of mirth in her voice. “You die. I get the sword.”

“That—”

“Not if I kill you,” she said. “I mean, my price is this: I’ll be your guide. If you die along the way, the sword is mine. I think you’ll find it a fair price. It doesn’t actually cost you anything.”

“Except my life.”

“I only take the sword if you die because of some something outside our control,” she said, shrugging. “Losing your life is not a cost.”

He rubbed his chin as she went to the horse, slinging her crossbow over her shoulder, then pulling off the saddle. She began scraping at the horse’s coat with a small, handheld tool, which Siris found baffling.

He rounded the hill and settled down in the hollow to care for his armor—the leather needed oiling—and later Isa joined him. The two worked in silence, and eventually Siris moved to take up his logbook and begin writing items down. He’d spent a large part of the walk deciding on things he wanted to try.

See the ocean. Play an instrument. Learn to make my way in the woods. Eat cinnamon bread. Play cards.

She’d probably have laughed at him if he’d mentioned he didn’t know how to play cards. Everyone—even the simplest of men in the town—had played. Not Siris.

Isa started a small fire and boiled some water.

“Any chance of some of that bread you talked about?” Siris asked.

“Do you have sugar, butter, and cinnamon handy?”

“I have some jerky and some oatmeal.” He held up a small jar. “And some armor polish.”

“I suppose I could try to make something out of those three ingredients . . .”

“Uh, no. Thanks.”

Isa smiled, and they dined on travel rations. The things tasted like sawdust. Before long, Siris was pulling his blanket over himself—head resting on his armor pack—and closing his eyes.

He was exhausted. After fighting those golems, making the discovery that the God King lived, then walking for hours… he was worn out, wrung dry.

Yet sleep was elusive. The three peasants weren’t the only ones they’d met on the roadway—they’d passed two other groups, and both had spoken of the Sacrifice. Siris had felt… dishonest speaking to them. How would they react if they knew that he’d lived, yet had also failed to kill the God King?

I could find a way to make the sword work, a piece of his mind whispered. Then go back. Face him in truth. End him.

The next thought was immediate. Why? Why Siris? He’d done his part, hadn’t he? Didn’t he deserve freedom? Didn’t he deserve, for once, to play cards? To go swimming? To see the ocean?

Finish what you began… .

Time passed as he lay in thought. He didn’t toss or turn; that wasn’t his way. He lay, eyes closed, breathing regularly. As if to coax himself to sleep. Also, there was another reason to be still. One he dearly hoped was unjustified.

After about an hour, he heard a soft boot scrape rock.

He snapped his eyes open. Isa crouched beside him, crossbow pointed at his neck. Bathed in moonlight, her expression was grim, her eyes hard.

He exhaled slowly, regretfully.

They exchanged no words; both knew what this was. She reached down for the sword at his side.

He tapped his fingers together, then sat up, grabbing his sword in one hand. She pulled the trigger on her crossbow.

At least, she tried to. Nothing happened. She moved her finger frantically and backed up, eyes going wide. Siris held something up in the moonlight: the trigger mechanism. He pried the transportation disc off it—he’d attached the disc earlier, when inspecting the crossbow—and tossed the trigger into the night. He’d been expecting it to bring the whole crossbow, but this would work as well.

Siris stood in a fluid motion, whipping the Infinity Blade free and leveling it at Isa’s throat.

“In my defense,” she said, “I didn’t try to murder you in your sleep. I waited for you to open your eyes first.”

“You were planning to take the sword and run,” Siris said coldly. “And if I woke and tried to stop you, you’d have killed me.”

“I—”

“You don’t point a crossbow at someone’s throat by accident, Isa,” he whispered. Hell take me! “And you damn well don’t pull the trigger by accident.” He found himself furious. He’d been growing to like her!

“Fine,” Isa said, sounding exhausted. She sat down, tossing aside the crossbow. “But don’t feign the high ground here. Don’t pretend you weren’t planning to do something similar to me one of these nights. I just acted first.”

“Do something similar… Isa, what reason would I have to do that!”

She regarded him flatly, but said nothing more.

Frustrating, intolerable woman! He thought. What in the name of the ancient prayers am I going to do with you?

He struggled to hold himself from ramming the blade into her chest and being done with it. She’d betrayed him! How dare she! He stepped forward and she backed up, tripping on a rock and falling so that he loomed over her.

She looked up, eyes wide in the moonlight. Well, she would know the price of treason. He would—

No! he thought to himself with some effort.

It was the blasted sword. It was doing things to him. Siris forced himself to slam the Infinity Blade back into its sheath. He was going to have to find one that fit it better, eventually.

Isa let out a long breath. She hid her fear well, but her hands were shaking. Couldn’t she have simply been content with her “price”?

She knew things. Much more than she was sharing. He could make her speak of them. He could force her to—

No! Heaven take this cursed blade!

“Go,” he said to her, surprised at how ragged his voice was. “Take your horse and your things. Leave.”

“You’re… you’re letting me go? And I can take the horse?”

Siris said nothing.

“You’re going to stab me as I turn away,” she said. “Run me down. I… You . . .” She was rambling, shaken, as she sat where she had tripped. Her hair was loose, having fallen from its ponytail. She seemed baffled.

“You can take the horse,” Siris said, “because I am no thief. You can leave, because I don’t seek death without reason.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be faceless enemies, fought in honorable duels. Not crossbow bolts in the night from people he was starting to trust.

“Let me stay,” she said.

“Are you mad? You think—”

“Tie me up at nights,” she said. “I’ll give you all of my weapons. You ride the horse; I’ll walk in front. No chance for betrayal. No need for trust. But let me stay.”

“What reason could I possibly have to want you around?”

“Saydhi.”

“Excuse me?”

“She’s one of the Deathless,” Isa said. “She has lands that border those of the God King. She’s less powerful than him, but has managed to remain autonomous. She’s an information dealer. If anyone knows where the Worker of Secrets is, it will be her.”

Siris rubbed the hilt of the Infinity Blade. The Worker of Secrets. Did he really want to find the man?

If he created this weapon, Siris thought, he’ll know how to use it. It would be right to give it up to him. He’d fight the Deathless better than I ever could.

Siris could find the freedom he craved and do something good in the name of his people. It was a tempting, tantalizing prospect.

Isa was still watching him.

“I don’t have anything to offer this Saydhi,” he said. “If she deals in information, I’ll have to pay her something dear to get her to give up the location of the Worker. The only thing of value I have is this blade, and I’m not going to deliver it back into the hands of one of the Deathless.”

“You won’t need to,” Isa said. “Saydhi has a standing invitation. She loves duels. Any man who can best her champions wins a boon. Fight your way to her, and she’ll answer a question for you.”

Siris gripped the blade’s hilt. It could be a lie. Isa could be leading him into a trap. She probably was.

But, hell take him, there was something in her eyes. A frankness, a sincerity, that he hadn’t seen before. This night had shaken her. He couldn’t fathom why she wouldn’t just run, perhaps take the chance to gather reinforcements and hunt him down. Wouldn’t that make more sense than a convoluted trap?

He still wanted to trust her. What was wrong with him? Maybe he should pay more attention to the hateful thoughts the sword seemed to be trying to force on him.

“Fetch your rope,” he said, blinking. Ancient Prayers, but he was tired! “I’ll sleep on it.”

Chapter Five

SIRIS AWOKE, feeling stiff. He groaned, rolling over, looking at the sun, which was just cresting the horizon. That hadn’t been nearly enough sleep.

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