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Xenolith, Page 33

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 25: Pana Pursued.

  Pana fled along the long wall of brick and windows that lined the waterfront. Each time he tried to work back to Vul and Pari, Crasacs blocked his way. They stalked in pairs, one flushing him out of hiding to create an easy kill for another in waiting. Several times their bolts nearly took him down. Now he could only focus on preserving himself.

  He stopped and stood panting against the back wall, expecting another trap around the corner. A bolt careened off the wall just above his right temple, sparking as it struck. Another tore through the sleeve at his elbow, grazing his skin. He ducked in between the buildings, snatching a bolt off the pavement on the run, adding it the one remaining in his quiver. A stack of large, wooden spindles provided the only cover. He slipped behind them, looking towards the central lane, hoping Vul or Pari might appear to provide support on his flank.

  In an open bay the next building over, a Crasac emerged, unaware of Pana’s presence several strides away. Hands shaking, Pana slipped the nock of his new bolt over the gut cord and cranked back the nut as quietly as he could manage. It should have been an easy shot, but the narrow gaps between the stacks of spindles restricted his angles. The Crasac turned towards the river, crossbow ready, waiting for Pana to turn a corner he had already turned. Pana smacked the wing of his own crossbow against the center of a spindle trying to line up a shot. The Crasac heard, and whirled to face him. He drew his blade and advanced on the spindles. Pana released the trigger. The bolt caught the Crasac squarely in the chest, felling him in the middle of the alley.

  Pana slipped out and checked the body. The man gasped and quivered, heart shot. He no longer posed a threat. Pana kicked aside his weapons and removed some bolts from his quiver. They were a thicker gauge, incompatible with the slot in Pana’s lighter weapon. He tossed them down.

  He picked up a spindle and rolled it forcefully down the alley towards the central avenue of the plant. It exited the alley with just enough momentum to roll up the crown of the wide lane and back towards the alley. Before it could return, several bolts thudded into it and knocked it over wobbling on its rim.

  Pana backed away. He fished the last bolt out of his quiver and cocked his weapon. He turned and ran back towards the river, stopping at the end of the building to peek around with one eye. For the moment anyway, the space between the buildings and the river bank stayed vacant. He burst out and ran along the river front, scanning the area ahead for any type of cover. With an empty quiver, he had no chance in a shootout.

  He spotted a pile of decayed leaves and branches on the riverbank, accumulated from years of dumping. He lifted the upper layer of branches and slipped under them carefully to leave no sign of disturbance. He lay back and wiggled his shoulders, burrowing deep into the musty wastes. Dampness seeped into his back. Creatures squeezed beneath his shoulder blades, crawled across his brow.

  He reached under his shirt for the amulet that his lover, Ikarin, had given him before they had departed to serve their respective militias. He ran his thumb over the dimpled cabochon, a fertility symbol of the Western Tribes where her family originated. She gave it to him as a promise of a life together after the wars, if the wars ever ended. He closed his eyes and lay still as a corpse, maintaining the discipline of concealment. He would wait for the cover of darkness before attempting to move.

  Ikarin too, held orders for Gi. They would have met at the assembly point had Pana’s unit not been diverted by Gondelfi for their secret mission. He wondered as he traveled through Gi if she breathed the same winds, drank from the same streams as he.

  Shouts erupted from the other side of the buildings. A man screamed. He heard several loud pops. The noises puzzled and alarmed Pana, but he remained ensconced beneath the branches. Peace reigned for several minutes, until a series of vehicles came screaming into the factory complex. More shouts and crackling reports echoed down the alleys. He hoped that Vul and Pari were safe. He knew he could not help them.

  Dozens more pops and crackles burst from the other side of the buildings. He heard a breathless runner pounding down the lane beside his hiding place. The explosions built to a crescendo, then stopped.

  He heard the syncopated clop of three men running, jabbering excitedly as they passed. Once he heard them go, he shifted slightly, nudging aside a stub of wood that jabbed into ribs. He heard soft soles pad slowly up to the brush pile, deliberate, directed. A pause. An unsteady step. The full weight of a large man stepped onto a bough above his head, pressing his cheek into a tangle of thorns. Pana touched his dagger, held his breath.