Chapter 31: His Most Delicate Practice
The man standing before Vorteez was a giant … for a human. He was dwarfed by the three Deshik War Chiefs that stood in the door of the Master of Pain’s large and elaborate traveling tent. But it was not the size or obvious strength of the man that Vorteez was concerned about. It was how unconcerned the man seemed to be. He was not afraid of the Deshika or Vorteez.
“So, what is it that you want?”
“Your servant asked me to deliver a message for him. He believed that he would be killed if he tried to deliver it himself. Makret Druoth has betrayed the Seven and taken Ra-Diavere for himself. He’s been ordering the city in The Kindler’s name because The Kindler never had Druoth publically branded a traitor.” “Most interesting … Druoth is a gambling man, of an ancient lineage. I wonder if this one lives up to his ancestors. But is Druoth still playing along, and if he isn’t, does he have an army?” “He kept your messenger under watch under the excuse of demanding respect, so I don’t know. The Burning Suns and the Veterans are both in Ra-Diavere, so—” An arrow passed between the whispering lips of one of the War Chiefs as he leaned closer to another. Long blue feathers sliced his upper lip as the arrow continued its flight and buried itself in the neck of Vr’dro Car Thr’gis. Vorteez watched the man die, uncaring, then pulled out the arrow and examined it.
“Hm. Drog … Ancient Drog.” Vorteez’s eyes narrowed as he studied the arrow. “This arrow is almost three hundred thousand years old. Both the bird that these feathers came from and the tree from which it was made went extinct during the Eternal War. So, at least one of the ancient war bows still exists.” The Deshika shifted nervously. “Should we not try to find—”
“That shot was made by a Tai-Aren Coda of the highest quality, aimed by skill and guided by strong magic. Whoever it is has a long sword and a much longer lead. They would not have sacrificed one of these arrows had they needed come close enough to actually be in danger.” The War Chiefs waited silently. “What are you waiting for? I want that assassin.” …
Three Deshik hunting parties had left when Vorteez gave the order to hunt down the Drog assassin. A tattered mixture of all three returned, pulling a bloodied man wearing torn leather armour. A few more Deshika limped in after those with the Drog, carrying the rest of his armour and weapons. Vorteez was sitting in his chair, leaning back, sipping wine. Slowly, he stood and held up the arrow.
“An impressive shot, Drog. How far away?”
The Drog didn’t answer more than to spit out blood.
Vorteez crouched down in front of him. “How far? One mile? Two?”
“One league. Water-sight carries far.”
“A very impressive shot. Tell me, what did you hope to accomplish?”
“I was told that the islander needed to die, so I killed him.”
“But why? Who ordered this man’s death?”
The Drog spat at Vorteez’s feet. “Druoth.”
“Did he think that it would stop me from hearing of his treachery?”
“The islander was the traitor. Traitors die.”
“How many Drog deaths did Makret Druoth cause? And he still lives?”
“His life isn’t mine to take.”
“But the islander’s was?”
The Drog shrugged, but continued to meet Vorteez’s amused, but relentless, stare. “I am a soldier. I follow orders.”
“So devoted, aren’t you.” Vorteez straightened and cracked his knuckles one by one. “But now, your life is mine to take, or to not take. Did you think that through? Your fate will be decided by the Master of Pain. Does that frighten you?” The Drog stared up into Vorteez’ red eyes. Defiance and hatred flowed through his stare. “It seems to not. Good. Stronger people are much more entertaining in the torture chamber.” Vorteez took the bow. He held it up to his eyes, and ran his hand along it, caressing it. He took a deep breath and let out a small laugh. “Yes, I remember you. You feel as alive as you did three hundred thousand years ago. Simple and elegant, beautiful and deadly.” Vorteez’ voice was soft, calm, almost as though he was speaking to a lover and not a weapon. “Few weapons were ever crafted that were the equal of the Drog War Bows. Such simple, raw power. I always envied the Drogs’ magic.” He stopped and placed the bow reverently on the table, then picked up an arrow. “This is the arrow you used to kill the islander. Aimed with skill, guided by its own magic.” Vorteez licked his lips, and in one smooth motion, snapped the arrow in half. “This wood is from an ancient tree, which no longer exists.” He picked up another arrow and held it up to his eye, inspecting the perfection of its craftsmanship. Then, he broke it in half. “I was envious of the Drogs control of war magic, so I found every grove of these trees and burned them.” He broke a third arrow. “The birds are extinct too.” The shards of a fourth arrow fell to the floor. “I broke into the cave where the Drogs hid them, and I slaughtered them all.” A fifth arrow joined the others.
After the shards of each arrow fell to the floor, the Drog crumpled a little more. Vorteez leaned over him, his cruel smile broadening. The Drog listlessly ran his hands over the pieces of arrows, lifting them one at a time, cradling them in his arms. Vorteez was about to start gloating again when the Drog yelled. Tightening his grip on the arrow pieces, he drove them into Vorteez’s arm. The Devil roared in pain, sending out a wave of magic.
The dust that had once made up a Drog warrior fell slowly to the earth.