Shift placed the short spear on the rock and stepped out of the shadows. “Take it. You’re not going to get a better offer.”
Abiga hesitated. A weapon would help, but being bound to Shift’s clan meant more violence and more death than she cared to be a part of.
Crawling out from under the tied-together branches, she snatched the spear and stayed out of the light. Two clansmen stood to her right, holding torches and looking more like sentries than undesirables. One had a foot missing, and the other looked pretty old. They both had that hard look on their faces—the look a person gets when he’s treated like trash and has to earn the right to breathe. Neither looked like they had much more than anger left in them.
“You only brought two?” She tapped the spearhead on the rock and nodded toward Shift’s companions.
Shift glared. “Don’t be stupid girl. I’m not going to ask twice, and you know, like I do, that living out here alone is more reckless than you can afford to be. Bad things happen to girls on the run in the woods.” His smile pulled at the cold despair she had been trying to ignore. Bad things had already happened. That threat didn’t hold as much influence as he probably wanted it to. Sometimes things just can’t get any worse.
“What’s in it for me? A spear?” She mocked him, but inside her body shook. The intersection in front of her held no good option. Staying alone meant more running and hiding, but making a deal with this vindictive pack might not be much different.
“Well, I’d say you get to live, but evidently, you don’t hold that in as much regard as the rest of us.” He wasn’t like the rest of them. He didn’t know death like she did. It kept her running. He didn’t have a companion like that. There was no notable disability or handicap in him, and he couldn’t have been more than 30 turns. Too young to be discarded. Too strong to have needed mercy. “So how about we offer you a taste of power and a vow to help you make your revenge.”
“Revenge?” She met his calculating eyes. How much did he know about her loss?
“Yes.” His grin came back. He held out his arm and pulled up his green cover-up sleeve revealing a brand in the shape of a U with an X on top of it. “I can find the men who killed the female. Was she your mother?” He chuckled and took a step closer.
Swallowing the fear in her throat, she lifted her chin and pretended to be bigger than her skinny frame suggested. She hated him for talking about Magdie.
He kept prodding. “She was amazing, I hear. They say she maimed one sentry and nearly had the other one before he introduced her to his scinter. The forest sentries always carry two, you know.” He pushed his sleeve back down. “I guess you know that now.”
“You’re one of them.” She said the words almost the instant they came to her mind. Shift had been a sentry. “How?”
“You mean why would I have traded all of that for all of this?” He pointed toward the village as he spoke, and then lifted both hands up. “Here I am a king. Here I take what I want and destroy what I want, and no one tells me what to do.” He lowered his arms and took another step closer.
“How nice for you.” She forced herself to keep his gaze. Thinking through her options got harder the closer he came. Now the other two were grinning, and Shift looked bigger than he had at first. She held the spear out in front of her. Nothing would happen without a fight. He needed to know that. “What if I don’t wish to bow down to the king?”
Shift’s smile melted into the sharper lines in his face. “Well, then—“ Faster than his big form predicted, he twisted the spear from her hand and pulled her around holding her in place with his forearm across her chest and the tip of the spear at her chin. “I suppose you can be persuaded.”
Panic pounded its way through Abiga’s veins, and stupid tears sprang to her eyes. He would kill her before he’d let her go. He probably never intended to let her live anyway.
“What’s this?” His warm breath dampened her neck. “Is this fear? Fear from the wild child who crippled two of my clan and escaped the sentry who hunted them? Fear from the girl in the woods who runs alone?” He was grinning again. She couldn’t see him but she knew it. “Fear that 16 turns is all you’ll ever see?”
“Sir.” The older man broke in. “It’s the boy.” He pointed toward the top of the hill. A boy dressed in white stood like a beacon in the night and watched them.
Shift growled like an animal, and loosened his grip. “Is he coming for you?” Was there fear behind his fury?
“What do you think?” Abiga reached for the strap under her coverup top. She didn’t know the boy, but he could be her ally if he made this monster shake.
“I think he’s going to be too late.” He touched the tip of the spear to her chin.
She pressed her head back into him, but he kept the blade on her. “There’s something you should know Shift.”
“And what’s that?”
“Wild girls always carry two.” She tore the knife from its place and shoved it into his leg. As he jolted from the shock, she grabbed the spear and skewered the older guy in the shoulder. The lackey with one leg drew his weapon and flung it, but it missed Abiga’s head and landed in the middle of Shift’s chest. She couldn’t tell from the look on the executer’s face if he had meant to do it or was just a bad shot, and she didn’t wait to find out.
Grabbing her pack from the bushes where she’d hidden it, she took off toward the creek. The men were shouting and that would bring more of them. The boy was gone, and she would keep running.
Want to read more? Check out Through the Balustrade to find out what happens to Abiga!