A Common Enemy
Zared struck, trying to gouge Maximilian's eye out. The older man heaved him off and rolled on top of him. A metallic flash: pain. Zared jerked against the ground, crying out. He kicked out, his legs sprawled awkwardly under Maximilian's knees. Zared felt fingers pressed at the base of his throat, closing in. Fear bubbled. The heel of his palm thrust out, crunching into the vulnerable nose of his opponent.
Blood spurted, spraying his face. Maximilian jerked backwards, a groan erupting. Zared twisted around, his hands wiping madly at his face, trying to get the blood out of his eyes. His legs stumbled against the ground. A blow to his stomach took the breath out of him.
While this went on, no sound came from the men watching. They stood, with swords, javelins or spears dangling from their hands. They were scattered from hilltop to hilltop, staring down at the two fighting in the belly of where two curves met. It seemed as if they forgot everything else. Sheruna stared away from the men, away from the crowd, tears streaming down her face, trembling.
Fists pounded into flesh. Bones crunched under elbows. Her jaw clenched, trying to block the noise. It is their fight. They want to do this.
The silence shattered. Heads flickered around to find the origin of the voice. A man, his red hair a tangled mess, his tunic almost shredded, sprinted madly towards them.
A murmur flickered through the men. Some gave a grim, satisfied smile; others seemed spellbound.
"A ghost." Sheruna caught the whisper from the turning, flashing faces of the Cinah.
Another man came up, his hair golden as the first was red. There were alike in structure, in their proud, rough manner. Side by side, they stood, making an impressive sight: great height, their broad shoulders and their fierce eyes.
A young woman appeared and the first man turned to help her. Sheruna noticed he had an ear missing and a deep seam across temple and cheek. Her eyes flickered to the two men in the circle; they, too, had stopped. Zared was crouching, his hand clasped over a wound on his shoulder, the blood seeping from between his fingers down his belly. Maximilian's hands were on his nose, where the same liquid flowed freely down. She closed her eyes briefly, the pain for both men grinding into her.
"The State is coming to get us. Enough," cried the second man. The air gushed from his lips as he tried to regain his breath. No one responded: they just stared at him like he'd gone mad. Desperate, he grabbed his companion's arm. "Kyros, help me!"
But his companion was standing dark and still as a man made of stone. The breeze stirred, sending strands of hair across his fierce, gaunt features. A chill gripped the onlookers: he was a memory of death. They scarcely breathed.
"They are here." The words almost didn't leave the man's white lips. Heads turned and a muffled cry ascended. People scrambled back, beside the three. For a moment, Sheruna could feel the vague fear of the Winata people as the tidy, blue uniformed Cinah marched over the hilltop, from the harbour. She saw also, something she couldn't understand, distrust, and a feel of betrayal emanating from the Cinah that were not new here.
A gasp rose from the crowd as the front line of the new comers parted, showing prisoners:
"Come." A Cinah stepped forwards from the line, his uniform crisp, new, straight. "The State awaits you. You 'ave done your work well. These barbarians will be useful."
The crowd held a collective breath. Though bodies trembled, no one moved. Eyes flickered to the uniform, collecting information about this new Cinah. The golden thread of needle and silk formed the letter V., for victory.
The Cinah, V., frowned, his eagle-brows connecting in a straight line. There was no disobedience where he came from. "I thought that you 'ad disciplined the natives," he addressed the blue figures in the crowd in general.
Again, no reply.
Thomson struggled against his bonds, his hands twisted tight behind him. His captor backhanded him and the Winatan tasted blood.
"Bastard!" hissed Claire. The soldier holding her brought a punch to her cheek and she cried out, falling to the ground. He jerked her up by her hair, ignoring her cries.
Black felt anger rush through his veins, felt the urge to backhand the men, to make them cry out as they had made his kinsmen do.
A roar of pain came from a third Cinah soldier. Lillian drew her knee back up from stamping full force down. Her heel snagged inwardly and kicked hard where it hurt. He stumbled back, doubling over, howling.
Instead of running towards sanctuary, Lillian shouldered herself against the man who constrained Thomson. It was madness; perhaps she saw her lover in him. Before she even touched him, more Cinah soldiers bore her down. But she would not be put quiet easily. She snarled, twisting this way and that, using her nails, her teeth, her knuckles. A bundle of terror.
A shot rang out.
They were all still.
V. had a pistol out, smoke rising from its nozzle. "No more trouble. Or I'll kill you. I'll kill you all." He strode slowly towards Lillian.
Black noticed the man had turned his back on the rest of them. Bad move: you never turn your back on wild dogs.
V. wiped the saliva off his face. He raised the pistol. Black's calf-muscles tensed, like springs compressed to the limit. Lillian glared hatefully in his face. Black launched onto the Cinah's back, dragging him down. The pistol went off, the bullet bouncing off the ground.
More Cinah detached themselves from the group and though Black struggled, he was soon taken. Arms grabbed behind him, he could only gasp and squeeze his eyes shut as the blows rained down on him, on his face, his stomach, his groin.
He screamed, pure agony boiling from his throat.
Silence following after came as painful as that cry.
"Stop." The simple statement of truth, delivered without emphasis, was breathtaking in its courage.
V. turned around, his eyes flashing.
Maximilian stood forwards, separating himself from the crowd. "Stop it," he said again, and as his heart beat wild, he found that his breathing was steady. "Just leave us alone."
V. lifted a finger and pointed at Maximilian. "Treachery," he hissed.
Maximilian swallowed, but squared his shoulders. "Leave us. Let the people go and leave us." He risked a quick glance back, at the soldiers he'd taught. Slowly, deliberately, he took his first steps forwards.
The people followed. But there were more than he anticipated.
The front line: pistols pulled from their hips. The Cinah army moved as one, as a massive whole. Maximilian stilled. His eyes focused on Claire, on the black nozzle that was pressed against her head. She was sobbing.
His eyes passed to Thomson, and his heart quickened as he recognised the man as Claire's husband. He had not died, after all. She was right, it seemed, that some things were not meant to die. Blood dripped from his lip, down his chin, and the man licked it, his tongue dabbing at the wound. A wound seemed a relatively minor thing when a pistol was pressed to his temple, but he was calm.
Maximilian sucked in a breath. Behind him, Will trembled with anger. A soft hand touched his arm. He flickered a glance at Pan. She showed him a pistol at her hip, and his blood chilled.
Quietly, Pan moved up in front of Will. The blood gushed in her ears, so loud that she swore the enemy was going to shout at her to stop, and a bullet would come straight at her brains.
She felt Will's hand touch the pistol, his thumb trailing by her skin. When he drew it out, she ceased to breathe.
Will felt Gleo's eyes heavy on him. The man had seen everything. A slight nod confirmed Gleo's acknowledgement. Will curled his finger around the trigger and held the pistol steady. The shot could be made to the lead Cinah's stomach…or Maximilian's back.
And Will hesitated.
A/N: Second last chapter guys.