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Infinity Blade: Redemption (Page 12)

They continued forward, rounding the mountain cliffs, approaching a stronghold set into the snowy heights, like a slab of iron deposited from orbit.

Orbit, Siris thought. I barely know what that means. A word from the old days, uncovered in his mind like last fall’s leaves.

Their path led around to the back of the iron fortress. Lux and the others would be making their way up the main incline, but with those murder-holes in the face of the fortress, charging the front would be suicide. They needed to get the gates open and hopefully distract the archers inside.

Siris and his team buckled themselves together with ropes, then began a careful scale up and around to the upper back of the fortress. Siris spotted a few guards on the ramparts, walking back and forth, but they mostly kept their eyes forward. Hopefully, in the dusk, they’d miss the small figures climbing along the cliff face.

Not enough guards, Siris thought. The Dark Self knew. There should have been more up there.

“This feels like a trap,” he whispered to Isa as they scaled down the rock face, shadowed by the setting sun. They came down to another ledge.

She nodded, but said nothing more. The four of them rounded the back of the fortress. They didn’t go to the ramparts—that would be suicide. Instead, they made their way to the back right corner of the fortress, about halfway up its side. Steel walls blocked their way into the building. A small window just above—far too small to slip through—indicated there was a room here.

The brothers hung back as the rear guard, leaving Isa and Siris to cover the last distance to the fortress on their own. They kept low, beneath the window. Once they arrived, Isa peeked up, then ducked back down. She nodded. The room beyond was empty.

Siris took a deep breath, pulling out a glove and gauntlet, with a ring affixed to the finger. He slid it on, then made a fist.

“You sure you can handle this?” Isa asked.

“Sure. I’ve used the other rings. How hard can this one be?”

She gave him a flat look. “I’ve seen entire villages sucked into one drop of Incarnate Dark, Siris.”

“What . . . Really?”

“Well, all right. One village—run by one of the lesser Deathless, looking to elevate his position. And I kind of sold the ring to him. But he did ask me to retrieve it.”

She shifted uncomfortably. “It was long ago, before I stopped taking jobs from Deathless. This one thought . . . well, I told him not to play with the stuff. He wouldn’t listen to a mere mortal, and he paid well, so I got it for him. I left just before he activated it.”

“The whole village?” Siris asked.

“It was awful. Whole place just . . . crumpled. Don’t know how to explain it any other way. I was just outside of town, riding as fast as I could. I swear I felt something straining to pull me into it. Like the darkness itself was alive.”

“Hell take me,” Siris said, looking at the gauntlet. Then he pressed it against the wall. His palm shook, but he knew, like always, how to control the element. It felt natural to him.

Even years ago, when he’d first attacked the God King, the Dark Self had protected him. It felt the same way now. Siris didn’t know how to manipulate the Incarnate Dark—but Ausar did. The corner of the wall crumpled, the steel straining and cracking. An opening formed before them. At the end, a small bead of metal—no bigger than a marble—dropped to the ground with a terribly loud thunk, as if it weighed far more than it appeared it should.

The process was louder than he’d have wanted. He nodded to Isa, who slipped through the opening, raising her crossbow. Sure enough, a guard peeked his head into the room just as Siris was following Isa through the hole.

He got a crossbow bolt in the forehead.

Siris caught him and hauled the body into the room. They waited a few tense minutes, but no other guards arrived.

“This really feels like a trap . . .” Siris said.

Isa nodded, peeking out into the fortress hallways. Stark, made of cold steel. Creating something like this would cost a fortune, but for most of Siris’s kin it was a fortune barely missed. Why build a fortress entirely of forged steel in the mountains?

Well, why not?

“I agree,” Isa said. “It’s too quiet, too easy. Do you want to withdraw?”

Siris shook his head. “If it is a trap, then someone already knows too much about us—and our rebellion is doomed anyway. Maybe it’s easy not because we’re expected, but because the Worker’s empire is in such a state of chaos.”

Isa nodded. Siris dug out his helm, slipping it on. Isa went without one, but Dynn and Terr both slid on helms, covering their faces. An old tradition, started by the Deathless.

“Dynn, watch our retreat,” Isa said. “Terr, with us.”

The three of them slipped into the corridors. They were poorly lit, the occasional window slit providing the only light. Siris and the others wound forward and downward through the fortress, but passed no guards. The place had an eerie feeling of having been abandoned.

They reached a crossroad, and Siris grabbed Isa’s arm, pointing to one side.

The gate is this way, she mouthed.

I know, he mouthed back, then led them the other direction.

She followed with a soft sigh of exasperation. However, it was possible a full assault wouldn’t be needed. Their target, the facility’s heart, was just around this way . . .

He reached a corner and peeked around it, expecting to see nothing. Instead, he found himself looking right at a guard.

Siris felt a moment of sudden panic, but held it in. He was looking at the back of a uniformed guard, one of the God King’s elite soldiers. An entire rank of forty or fifty stood here, facing the wrong way. Inward, toward the center of the facility.

What the hell? Siris thought, holding a finger to his lips and gesturing for Isa to look. She peeked, then looked back at him.

What the hell? she mouthed.

He shrugged, then gestured them back the other way. He wasn’t about to try to take an entire rank of elite soldiers on his own.

Once they were a good distance away, Isa took him by the arm. “They’re guarding the wrong way.”

He nodded.

“That’s a rebirthing chamber, right?”

He nodded. It was one—that, and something else he hadn’t yet told her about.

That room was the basis for this entire assault. Yes, the fortress had supplies they could steal—rations, weapons, Deathless technology. Their greatest advantage as a rebellion, however, was Siris himself. One of the Deathless. But to make full use of that advantage, they needed a rebirthing chamber.

Of course, that alone wasn’t going to be enough, not by a long shot. The Dark Self knew it. Siris had really come for something else in that room, another piece of ancient technology—one far more rare.

“Come on,” Siris said. “Whatever has drawn their attention, it’s to our advantage. Let’s break this place open like a walnut.”

The three of them continued on toward the front gates. They crossed almost the entire distance without incident—but then Siris heard a hissing from behind.

He spun, hand on his sword. The daeril must have been prowling the hallways on watch. It wore a mask—it was favored among its kind, then. The wicked, horned thing accompanied a body with twisted limbs, knotted like wood but colored red. It hissed again behind its mask, but raised its sword in a sign of challenge, after the ancient ideal.

“You hit it straight on,” Terr said, voice muffled by his helm. “I’ll come in from the left.”

“No,” Siris said, raising his sword to acknowledge the challenge. “I will face it alone.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Terr said. “I realize that you can’t die, but if you let the thing raise the alarm, we could be done for. We should fight it together—”

“No,” Siris snapped, striding forward. “It showed us honor. I must return that honor.”

“It’s a monster!”

Siris ignored him, falling into a dueling stance.

“This is ridiculous,” Terr hissed.

Honorless peasant, Siris thought, snarling softly. “Go on,” he said to Terr and Isa. “I stay to duel.”

They left, and Siris fought.

He’d practiced with the sword all his life. Fighting was something familiar to him, something noble—one of the few skills he felt that he had earned, rather than just inheriting from another self. True, he likely owed some of his prowess to his ancient self, but he had worked hard during his youth to grow, to progress. Whatever skill his former self had once possessed, he’d added to it during this lifetime.

The beast also fought with skill—it was indeed among the God King’s most elite of creations. The duel ended in the familiar way, however, with Siris slamming his sword into the beast’s chest, sinking it in deep. The thing growled softly, blood from its hidden lips spilling out through the front of the mask.

“You did well,” Siris said to the daeril. “You fought with honor and prowess.”

The thing sighed, almost seeming content as it slid off his sword and stopped moving. In some ways, he envied the creature, created for a single purpose and living its life simply, doing nothing but fulfilling that purpose. He doubted it had ever questioned its existence.

Siris wiped his blade clean as Isa returned.

“I’ve killed the bowmen in their watchposts,” she said. “Terr is at the gate.”

Something thumped in the near distance.

“Onward, then,” Siris said, rising and charging back toward the inner chamber where the God King’s soldiers awaited.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

ISA SURVEYED the dead, stepping carefully to avoid the blood, both human and daerilic. Old instincts itched at her to search the bodies, but she suppressed them. It had been a long, long time since she’d been forced to sink so low as to rob corpses. She held no illusions that she had grown beyond such things—you did what you needed to in order to survive—but this was not the day for looting.

This battle had been far too easy. It had felt like a trap up until the end. The soldiers had been crowded around the entrance to the rebirthing chamber, swords out—as if they fully expected the threat to come from inside. Lux and the troops had been able to take them with a surpising degree of ease.

They’d lost men, of course. That was part of what Isa hated about leading, and was why she had Lux perform the actual management of the troops. Isa avoided looking at the faces of the fallen. She would ask their names. Later. For now, she stepped into the rebirthing chamber, passing Dynn and Terr, still helmed and armored, standing guard at the door.

Don’t deceive yourself, she thought. You might not be robbing bodies, but today is about plunder. You’re still a thief, you’re just a higher-class one.

That thought actually comforted her.

Siris sat inside, hands clasped before him, helm off, blood in his hair. Not his own. It had dried, crusting.

What was she to make of this man? Half the time he seemed so confident, as if he could stride off a cliff and not fall, gravity itself too intimidated to inconvenience him. And then there were the haunted times. Eyes that had seen too much. Shadows moving behind them.

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