Rakhanar sucked in a huge gulp of air and jerked upright. His eyes were open but still unseeing, still in that place before, though its memory was fading fast, dreamlike.
Stars fled from his vision, chased by the reality of the caves that flooded in to replace their comforting shine with darkness shot by erratic torchlight. He stared for a moment, gasping air, then slapped his hand to the puncture in his armor at his belly, remembering. There was no pain, now.
“Waste of good healing potion, if you ask me.” Shialli’s voice came to him out of the shadows to his right, close to the narrowed passageway leading back down.
“We didn’t.” Lord Toran’s calm voice came close from his left and rear. Rakhanar turned his head to look over his shoulder, meeting the purple eyes of the Erudite, blinking. The Erudite crouched beside him, one hand resting on his knee, clasping a flask. Then Rakhanar looked around, taking in where they were, still gasping. The big doors to his left were familiar. They were at the entranceway of the dungeon.
“Was I…?” he started to say, but Shialli’s sneer cut in.
“Dead? I should be so lucky.”
Surprisingly, it was Lady Lilithna who stepped in for him. “Now Shialli, my pet, don’t be so hard on the boy. Everyone has their, um…” the freeblood paused, snorting softly, then found the word she wanted, “…use. Even a mundane berserker such as he.” Rakhanar snapped his head back to the right, from whence the Lady’s spider silk voice echoed in the caves, sibilant. Bristling at her use of the word “boy,” he tightened his lips as he narrowed his gaze at first her, then the flaxen-haired female at her side, sneering back at him.
Why do you hate me so much? The words formed in his mind but not on his lips. He kept his mouth closed. He knew he had done nothing, unless it was an offense to admire her beauty and her incredible skill with her blades. Bringing it up would only infuriate her further. It could be simply because he was male, or looked like someone who had hurt her before. Or both. And, he was beginning to understand, some people didn’t need a reason to hate.
What he wouldn’t give to have a female look at him the way Siffy had, even when they were only best friends. If only she hadn’t been fae.
Rakhanar turned his gaze back to what he thought might be the slightly more sympathetic gaze of the freeblood, but what he found in her eyes… He barely restrained a shiver. Her lips were slightly parted and her tongue slid along the bottom of her teeth as she looked at him. He knew what “use” she was contemplating.
He tore his eyes from hers, finding it a little more difficult than he liked, then focused to his right, where his helm, now visible, lay. Saying nothing, he reached for it, settling it over his head. It clicked into place and the half gem on its lip met its mate on his now battered cuirass. United, it glowed briefly, and the helm wavered into the unseen again so that his vision was unimpeded.
“We still have orcs to kill,” he growled softly, sliding one booted foot closer to his body. As he turned to shove himself up to his feet, a groan rumbled in his throat. He was stiff and sore, needing to warm up again.
“You haven’t done enough damage?” Shialli demanded, looking incredulous.
“Me?” Rakhanar just looked at her, stretching to his full height and twisting to work out his kinks.
“Rushing in there screaming like a maniac, swinging that useless sword. We just needed to get through that room, not fight the whole damn lot of them in all the connecting ones.”
Rakhanar froze. Standing stock still, he stared for a second, shame flushing his face. He knew his chocolate-toned skin was darkening to near black. Dropping his eyes, he murmured, low, “I got… excited.”
Lady Lilithna took a regal stride forward, and he brought his head up to meet her gaze, watch her threatening advance. Her eyes were gleaming crimson. “Don’t. Do. That.”
She was starting to look like a target. Rakhanar found his ire rising. He knew his eyes stayed green even when he saw red, but he could look fierce too. He straightened, glaring, pulling his shoulders back. But the freeblood’s gaze was pulling him in, death-wish enticing, so he tore his eyes from hers and frowned at Shialli instead. They’re not going to lay all this on me!
“Nice time to tell me. You’ve all been here before, I take it?” Rakhanar did his best to keep his tone adult, with that nice bored touch. A hint of anger but not a trace of boyish whine. Let them think this place was beneath my notice.
“You haven’t?” Shialli twisted her lips, one brow flicking up.
“Why didn’t you tell us that?”
“I didn’t hear anyone ask.”
Lord Toran’s level voice came from behind him. “Enough. You’re right. There are more orcs to kill.” Rakhanar dropped his gaze again, busying himself with checking the dents and rends in his armor, then bending to retrieve his sword, hiding his relief at the intervention. He needed to get his furnace stoked again, but not at the expense of focusing more hatred from these two very dangerous females.
He nodded, pushing his lower lip out slightly. “Let’s go. I’m ready.”
* * *
Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))