They are three former Fangs. Watch them saunter, stepping forward. Fog dances about their ankles as their worn boots scrap the compact earth. gaggle through the forest that embraces their entrance and spilling shadow over all three former Fangs.
It has been six years. There have been trials. Tests. Talks. “To our mutual benefit” they’ve been told. Again and again and again.
Three Fangs have waited six years for this moment. The sun sets in inky displays of brilliant colors these three cannot see. They are ready.
Are you watching closely?
* * *
The attack comes in the early morning hours. Uthrik had set them on a rotational sleeping schedule. Three people were to sleep for half an hour at a time. He wouldn’t chance most of the camp being taken off guard. “We’ve worked six years to gather enough Roamers to return safely to Typhon Quarter,” he’d said. “We’re not about to lose them now.”
The Roamers that accompany them are not, as yet, his own. A man named Steffron commands a few dozen of them, and has lent seven of them to Silas.
They are passing through the forest that is a day’s walk away from the city walls. Silas Cord is weaving around the camp. Ev and Uthrik watch him, closely.
Gorm’s clan is foolish to attack, but Ev’s scouts have told him that Gorm’s Roamers are hungry, and there won’t be a good time to attack in the first place. So.
Silas isn’t the first to see it coming. That’s Uthrik. Always ready. He rips his sword from his holster before the smell of steel can travel downwind to Silas.
“We don’t have to do this,” Ev speaks for the group. “Come with us and there will be food aplenty.”
“You’re wasting your time, Ev.” Uthrik snarls. Silas doesn’t see his whole body, tensed and corded, waiting to spring.
Heedless, Ev plunges down the road at the band of rival Roamers, tensed and waiting. “My name is Ev! We belong to the Fangs—we are escorting the heir to a city gang back into their walls. If you join us, we can help you,” she says. “You’ll not need to fear other Roamer bands in the city.”
They do not speak. They do not move. There is an ambient noise of fidgeting soldiers.
“We’ve got some spare rations,” Ev suggests. “You must be hungry. You don’t need to steal it. We’ve enough to share.”
The Roamers whisper in hushed voices.
And then one of them screams.
And they’re all charging at Ev and Uthrik and Silas and Steffron’s rival band of Roamers.
“They’re attacking!” Uthrik calls.
“No shit!” Ev says.
Silas does not see these Roamers—filthy, emaciated things dressed in faded roughspun cloths, with flashes of color or bright steel they’ve stolen from unfortunate travelers. Some fire spells from iron wands blindly into the band. Silas hears scattered screams. But Steffron and his roamers have iron wands of their own, and they return fire, at first.
Until Ev throws herself into the midst of Gorm’s Roamers, forming precise cuts and bloody cuts with her long blade. She buries herself in the mass of flesh, so close that the iron wands are useless for both sides. No use discharging acrid-smelling spells if it’s just as like to hurt your own forces.
It is less of a battle and more of a butchery. Gorm’s Roamers haven’t even advanced far enough to reach Silas.
But Silas catches a scent above him, which baffles him, as there’s no way anyone could be above—
When he stretches his hand out to a finger’s point, he finds a sheer slab of rock piled high and wide, just off the path. And the figure above has the similar worn leather scent as the rest of Gorm’s Roamers. He hears wooden boards creaking underfoot, and wonders if the man has any way of discerning who is winning this conflict.
So while blades clash and blood runs in rivers down the mat of wet leaves, Silas feels his way around the cleft of cold rock, until he finds a natural staircase. Slowly and quietly he climbs, up and up, and up—
—Until he feels the point of a blade pressed lightly against his upper lip, and the scent is closer now. “Hey,” Silas says. “I just want to talk. Can I come up?”
“You’ve had six years to just talk, Silas Cord.”
He knows this voice. “To be fair, Gorm, I have tried. But best not get into that. May I come up?”
Gorm says nothing.
“I’m sorry. Here.” Silas sits back on his haunches and unclasps his swordbelt, and then tosses it off the precipice. “Is that better?”
He does not see Gorm’s scowl, but he hears him slip his blade back into its holster. He follows Gorm up onto creaking old wooden boards. “I’m just here to talk.”
“And what would you like talk to about?” Silas follows Gorm to the precipice. He’s carved himself his own little lookout on the edge of the forest.
Silas waves the matter aside. “Let’s skip the formalities,” he says. He places his hand, fingers splayed, against the small of Gorm’s back. “And get down to business.”
One hard shove, and Gorm topples headlong over the outpost he’s built. He only has time for whoop of surprise before he hits the ground with a sickening crunch.