Chuck Wendig: Cold

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is called Thy Name Is Vengeance.  1,000 words on revenge in any form.  I used exactly 1,000 words and wrote a sequel to a story I wrote earlier this year, which was called “Three For The Road”.  That story was a little light-hearted and cheerful.  The sequel takes it to a darker place.  Please to enjoy.

COLD

Jonneth Eldram was dead.  The warrior known as “the Bull” lay sprawled in a pool of his own blood.  He hadn’t been dead long; the pool was still wet and sticky and its edges were expanding slowly across the smooth floor of the chamber.  His massive sword lay just out of reach, where it must have been flung when Jonneth fell.  His bull-horned war helmet was nowhere to be seen.

Poor bastard.  Gaeta Morningdew looked down on the Bull’s remains with a sad shake of her head.  I tried to warn him.  I told him not to come back here.  Jonneth had surely been either drugged or bewitched.  There was no way that any single person, not even Jonneth Eldram in one of his berserk frenzies, would willingly choose to take on a squatter crew the size of the one in this old mine.  Gaeta shook her head again.  I warned him, yet here I am as well.

From her vantage point on a rocky ledge high above the chamber Gaeta looked down, searching for whatever signs she could discern.  She had no desire to get closer.  Anyone that could dispatch the Bull with that sort of efficiency would deal with her without needing to clear their throat.  She stayed high and out of sight.

Gaeta had been tracker and scout for a party of adventurers who had been waylaid and killed by the squatters in these mines a few weeks earlier.  She had thought herself the only survivor until she met the Bull deep in drink at a tavern several days later.  He had been the group’s muscle.  It was a miracle that he survived.  Now, though, she was certain she was the only one left.

Leave, she thought.  Go back to the Castle.  Take the advice you gave Jonneth.  She knew she couldn’t, though.  Her people were known for having an overdeveloped sense of honor and vengeance.  Her mother would have never turned back, so how could she, especially knowing that she had already done so once before?  That pricked at her.  She had run away the last time.  Perhaps it was guilt driving her now more than honor.  No, she thought, it’s the same thing.  It’s all wrapped up together.

Gaeta began working her way along the ledge towards the passageways that led deeper into the mine.  From her previous explorations she knew the layout of the mines and knew where the crew’s camp was located.  She knew that the ledge she was on led to smaller tunnels that were not part of the mine’s design.  Perhaps they had been carved out to be used for foot traffic by miners who didn’t want to travel the large tunnels below.

She didn’t believe it, though.  She suspected they were natural tunnels and that any use they’d had predated the construction of the mine.  That made them a perfect place for her to hide.  She’d prowled their lengths when her party was here before and she had seen no signs that they were in use by the squatters.  If she was correct, she would have free rein to move through the mines as long as she stayed out of sight.  She was good at staying out of sight.

She moved into the tunnels and crept down until she reached a ledge overlooking another large chamber.  This was the central chamber of the mine.  Tunnels on the floor branched out in all directions.  This was where miners would bring their loads of silver ore for examination and processing.  None of the old mine works survived—the mines had been abandoned for generations.  Instead, the squatters had turned the chamber into a camp.

There were kips all over the floor, with no order to their spread.  A large bonfire was roaring in the center of the floor, smoke drifting up and venting through unseen cavities somewhere in the high ceiling.  Smaller cookfires were sprinkled amongst the sleeping places.  Most were dying; it was late and dinner had been eaten.

The squatters were gathered around the bonfire, laughing and singing.  Gaeta’s eyes went immediately to a man on a seat in the middle of the crowd.  She recognized him.  He was the group’s wizard or shaman or whatever they chose to call him.  Whatever it was, he had powers of some kind.  If Jonneth had been bewitched, this man was behind it.

And he was wearing Jonneth’s helmet.

The helm gleamed dully in the firelight, the bull’s horns curving outward from each side.  The helmet had earned Jonneth his moniker and it filled Gaeta with a red rage to see this…this…creature wearing it.

At that moment she realized that she indeed had her peoples’ sense of vengeance.  She examined her weapons.  She had a quarterstaff strapped to her back.  It was notched at the ends and could be turned into a passable bow.  She reached into her belt pouch and removed a bowstring, rolled and waxed.  Slowly, to avoid quick movements that might be seen, she strung the bow.

She counted the arrows in her quiver.  Twelve.  Not enough.  But she might only need one.  She had a flask of oil that she carried for religious purposes.  It had been stressed to her since she was a girl to keep the oil away from open flame.  Bad things would happen if the oil caught fire.

She removed a bit of cloth from her pouch and wrapped it around one of her arrows.  She poured the oil over the wrap, soaking it.  She figured she would only get one shot.  She had to make it count.  She moved as far back from the ledge as she could and raised up onto one knee.  She steadied herself, taking aim at the glowing embers at the heart of the bonfire.

Gaeta held her breath so that her shot would not be disturbed.  I have heard that revenge is best served cold, she thought, but this serving is going to be hot.  She loosed her arrow.

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