“This Can’t Be Balanced…”

“Your story sounds quite implausible, Lady Ira,” Captain Zarth remarked dryly, tapping his flail against his bare arm.

 

“It does sound implausible,” Lady Ira agreed. “It is also true.”

 

Captain Zarth sighed, tucking his flail through his belt. “I believe you,” he said. “Gnashers!” He barked to his men, drawing his own bronze mace and gesturing. “Arrest them!”

The Gnashers sprang forward in a low, loping gait. They drew ropes with brass weights from their belts, twirling them in circles as they moved to surround the Pilgrims.

 

Lady Ira’s eyes widened. Her string-broken harp fell from her hands. “No!” She gasped. “Stop!”

 

“Tarnation!” Uuco snarled, jabbing a finger forward and hurling a thread of lightning. It struck one of the Gnashers and hurled her back in a spray of flower petals. Uuco stepped forward to throw another bolt. A pair of bolas wrapped themselves around his legs, The elderly Nobble tripped and fell on his face.

 

“Harvest take you all!” Corax cursed, shooting a weak ray of light from his mouth, sending Gnashers leaping back. He charged into their fray, sickle-sword swinging, weighted tail lashing back and forth.

 

Zarth stretched out a hand and caught Corax’s tail mid-swing. Corax hissed and tried to pull his tail free. Zarth held on, still as stone.

 

“You must be the outcaste, then,” Zarth said to Corax in a soft tone. “He has spoken fondly of you…but not that fondly.” He raised his free hand, crooking two fingers into the shape of horns. “Lift your Fury Seals,” he ordered in a cold voice.

 

The other Gnashers mimicked Zarth’s gesture. Flickers of purple mana danced around their crooked fingers, and a change took hold of them. Their faces flushed a bright red. Veins stood out on their well-built arms and tendons swelled beneath the skin of their necks. Their mouths opened and let out keening screeches. Their eyes blazed with a cold fire.

 

In one motion, they leapt on the Pilgrims, maces swinging down. Corax thrashed wildly, hissing and spiting as Gnashers seized him, bore him down and clubbed him with their maces until he stopped moving.

 

Rintha hurl an obsidian stone from his sling at a charging Gnasher. The Gnasher smashed the projectile with a single swing of her mace. Crooked shards blew past her face, etching red cuts in her cheeks she ignored.

 

“Oh,” Rintha breathed. He turned and ran down the steps of the Hidden Temple. The Gnasher pursued him, seized him by his fluttering green cloak, and struck with her mace. Shards of clay flew from Rintha’s cheek as he fell.

 

A Gnasher, foaming at the lips, sprinted towards V’vendy the Deathweaver. Quick as breathing, V’vendy placed an arrow in the Gnasher’s heart. The Gnasher grunted and kept charging. V’vendy, hair-feathers standing on end, crouched and leapt, the wind carrying her over the Gnasher’s head.

 

The Gnasher raised a hand and seized V’vendy’s ankle. V’vendy had enough time to look surprised before being swung like a sack into the ground.

 

Lady Ira herself had enough time to draw her sword and block Zarth’s mace swing. Her sword rang like a bell. She staggered back, arms trembling. Too many draining battles in one day, she realized.

 

“So you Gnashers are traitors too?” She asked Zarth in a monotone.

 

Zarth snorted. “Our allegiance has never changed,” he said scornfully, face flushing red with cultivated battle-fury. “The Gods are not hidden to us. Can you say the same?”

 

Before Ira could answer, he whipped his cudgel around, broke Ira’s sword in half, and smashed her into blackness.

%%%

A shadow fell over Uuco. He looked up, bleeding from a cut in one of his thick eyebrows. A circle of Pelt-wearing Gnashers looked down at him. One of them, a long-nosed fellow with charred hair that stood on end, looked angrier than all the rest.

Uuco’s lips curled into a sneer. “You’ve got…poop on you,” he rasped, wiggling his fingers back and forth.

Brownish stains appeared all over the tunics of the Gnashers. They flinched back, looking at each other’s ruined uniforms with a dawning horror.

“Worth it, ” Uuco muttered, just before they all started kicking him.

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