A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 10: Flight

‘It’s here,’ the voice inside her head said.

Ada stirred and opened her eyes. ‘We must go,’ she said.

She untangled herself from Rayn, who had fallen asleep on top of her on the bench. Draping the blanket over her shoulders, she covered her naked back.

‘Get up, Rayn, we must run!’

As Rayn got to her feet, a man screamed outside the inn. Moments later, the door was flung open, and a soaking wet man entered. His clothing was torn, and his pale skin shone through in several places. Despite his dishevelled state, there was no doubt it was the same man who had attacked them in Rayn’s shop the night before. A deep cut bared the bone right below his left shoulder and caused the arm to swing unnaturally along the side of his body. The most notable difference, however, was the sword that was stuck in his chest. It protruded a foot or so out of his back.

They ran. Through the kitchen and out the back door, past the stables and over the grazing fields.

‘Where?’ Rayn asked.

Ada turned her head while she ran and found the dead man chasing them, some fifty yards behind. ‘Head for the trees!’

Ada had made her mind up in a beat. She based her decision on the assumption that the dead man’s sheer size would be a disadvantage when running through a forest. Soon, she questioned her wisdom, as several options came to mind. They were running away from other people, away from anyone who could have helped them. Instead, they should have entered a barge at the pier, or even dived into the sea. Surely, the guards would be able to keep their pursuer occupied for long enough for them to slip away.

Or would they?

She remembered the sword lodged in the dead man’s torso. Of course, the guards had tried to stop him, only to learn that their killing blows hardly slowed their opponent at all.

How do you kill something already dead? How do you fight it? How do you outrun it?

Again, Ada turned to look behind. The dead man had not gained on them.

‘We run faster than him!’ she said, a hint of hope in her voice.

‘Yes,’ Rayn replied, short of breath, ‘but for how long?’

Any hope Ada harboured, left her. They could run a mile, perhaps two, at this pace. Maybe more in favourable terrain. But sooner or later they would tire, and their unyielding hunter would catch them. Fuelled by desperation, they reached the woods.

Ada’s assumptions proved to be right. Between the trees, the two slender women moved faster than the sluggish brute chasing them. But there was a price: Before long, they were bleeding from dozens of cuts from the branches and bushes that had whipped them as they fled. Dodging branches, changing direction and jumping over roots and streams drained their stamina fast. Caution and exhaustion eventually forced them to slow the pace and soon after they heard heavy steps behind them, gaining on them.

Seeing a clearing to the right, they seized the opportunity and left the forest. Their flight had taken them far from Sandcastle and Bargetown by the coast, and the Jaw Mountains loomed in the east, another two or three leagues away. Far beyond their reach.

Their initial relief of being able to run in a straight line without worrying about when a branch would take an eye, was short-lived. They soon learned that the soft ground and tall grass favoured the man chasing them. Every step more laborious, like running through water, they could no longer keep their distance to the dead man.

‘Drop the stone!’ Ada yelled to her friend in front of her.

‘No!’ Rayn cried.

Ada didn’t dare to look behind. She knew that each heavy step brought him closer, and she almost felt his cold fingers around her neck. In desperation, she veered to the left, choosing a different route than her friend. As she expected, the dead man followed Rayn, followed the stone.

Ada was soon back on his trail, hunting the hunter. Somehow, the sword was still stuck, and the tip that protruded from his back bobbed up and down as he ran. Spending her last breaths of air, she closed the distance between her and the dead man and threw herself at his ankles. His feet momentarily entwined, he fell flat on the ground. The impact pushed the sword up to the hilt. Foul-smelling pus squirted out from his back as another foot of blade was forced out of his back.

‘No!’ Ada shouted as the dead man got to his feet in front of her. He paid no attention to her but examined the sword hilt as if he just then noticed that he was carrying the extra burden. Clutching both hands around the pommel, he pulled. Slowly, the sword wedged between his ribs loosened, and he drew it out and tossed it to the ground before resuming his chase.

‘No!’ Ada screamed again, lying helpless in the tall grass as the dead man hunted down Rayn. She closed her eyes and reached out, searching for the half-elf’s spirit. Ignoring the mindless chattering of nearby creatures, she found Rayn, unguarded and afraid, facing the predator’s cold presence. The noise coalesced into a high-pitched shriek, as Ada trespassed on her friend’s mind, forcing her own will through the barrier that separated them.

Drop the stone!’ Ada commanded, without uttering a single word.

Rayn yelped like a kicked dog, and tossed her shard pendant to the ground

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