School of Shadows

by

Toutomoutochan

Chapter Twenty-five: To the Death

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A note from Toutomoutochan

When in doubt, write an action scene.

It was ten days after Maddie's failure to show up in Caer Lug thar Tereus began sending people after her. First he sent a phalanx of soldiers. The commander rode up to her on the road.

“We're here to escort you to Caer Lug,” he informed her.

“You'll have to go back by yourself, I'm afraid. I have other places to be.”

“If you refuse to come with us, we're authorized to use force.”

Maddie flicked her hair out if her face. “You shouldn't.”

The commander laughed at her. “I'll make that decision. Do you still refuse?”

“I do.”

The commander rode back to his soldiers and gave the order to move on her.

She slaughtered the lot of them. It was simple: she stepped into the center of their formation and let loose with her blade. The soldiers closest to her were cut down by the actual blade, while those further away were hit with shadow blades. She offered the commander a chance to surrender, but he declined. She walked away from that the sole survivor.

Two nights later they came for her in her sleep. Two of the Army of Mars’s greatest assassin -- excepting Maddie herself, of course -- snuck into her room. Though their footfalls were silent, Maddie could sense them as they moved through the darkness of the room. One of them placed a hand over her mouth while the other poised a dagger over her heart.

Maddie wanted to gag from the assassin's dirty hand over her face, but she knew it would be over soon enough. Tendrils of shadow wrapped the hand like a glove, and the other assassin felt the icy coils of shadow move up her foot. She tried to lunge forward to finish the job, but the darkness held her like puppet strings. They yanked and she plunged the knife into her own belly, a painful but not fatal wound. The other assassin found himself bound as if in a spider's cocoon, his hands now tightly at his sides. Slowly the darkness crept up his face until it was suffocating him. He passed out a few minutes later. The other assassin made a series of shallow cuts all over her body, manipulated by the shadows. After a few minutes, when she hadn't passed out from the pain, the tendrils strangled her into unconsciousness. Maddie decided to leave early, but not before fishing the mirrors out of their pockets and tossing them through a shadow into who-knows-where. Inexorably she moved toward Londinium.

It took Tereus a few more days to marshal up another force to stop her. Truth be told, she wasn't sure where she was going or why, but the fact that these attacks kept happening told her she was moving in the right direction. Or at least not moving on the wrong one.

She was racing along the road when an arrow flew out of the brush and hit her in the shoulder, penetrating her armor. She was just barely able to react in time to avoid three more arrows in quick succession. A woman stepped out from cover and sent another flurry of arrows her way. Maddie managed to avoid most of them, but one hit her in the gut, knocking the wind out of her. Another arrow hit the ground next her foot. A vine broke out of the ground and curled around Maddie's boot, locking her in place.

This time her attacker was one of her own kind. A daughter of Diana named after her mother. Maddie had met her a few times; the woman was enamored with Tereus and took any opportunity to be near him. Diana was a good match in a fight against Maddie, since she also had a divine weapon.

The Bow of Artemis was a beautiful recurve bow. It was carved with flowers and vines that seemed to shift if you looked too hard at them. The bow’s edges, where the bowstring attached, were carved to look like the heads of Artemis’s faithful hunting hounds. Their mouths gripped the string.

Maddie tried to shadow step to avoid the vines trapping her foot, but it held her in place. She tried a short teleport but the vine still wouldn't let her move. Another vine burst out of the ground and tangled her other foot. While she was trying to escape, Diana sent several more arrows at her. Several hit, sticking out of her armor. She managed to get her sword up to block another volley. She sent a shadow slash at Diana and hacked through the vines while trying to avoid the archeress’s continued assault. Finally, after way too long, the vines parted and Maddie immediately stepped off the road into the shadow of some trees.

“Trying to hide from a daughter of Artemis in the woods?” Diana asked mockingly, “That’s like hiding from a fish by swimming into the ocean.”

Maddie didn’t respond. She wrapped the shadows around her so that Diana couldn’t see her and waited.

Diana closed her eyes, sensing the flow of nature through the trees. She easily spotted Maddie’s cocoon of shadows. She opened her eyes and fired off several shots in quick succession.

But Maddie was no longer there. She had stepped behind Diana as soon as she felt herself be spotted, leaving a bit of shadow still wrapped around the tree. Her sword came crashing down on Diana’s back. But the archeress dropped to the ground and rolled to the side to avoid the blow. Maddie took another two-handed swing, which Diana blocked with her mother’s bow. Normally that would be no contest, but divine objects were very hard to break. On the defensive with no time to take a shot, Diana blocked and dodged a few more blows before managing to push herself to her feet. Vines started breaking through the packed dirt of the road, reaching for Maddie’s feet. She dodged to the side and more vines started covering the road, trying to figure out where her feet would land next. Maddie ramped up her attack. While Diana was busy summoning vines, she sent a few shadow slashes at her. Diana managed to dodge most of them, but one caught her on the shoulder, knocking her back and breaking her concentration. With the vines suddenly flailing aimlessly, Maddie blurred toward her with a sudden burst of speed. Her blade plunged down into the other woman’s chest, not stopping until it had hit the ground. Diana let out a bloody gasp.Maddie pulled her sword out and reached down to grab the bow. With her last bit of strength, the woman threw it into the woods where it hit a tree and vanished.

Maddie stayed for a few minutes, looking at the corpse on the road laying amid the vines. Diana was on her side, blood leaking from her mouth. Next to her was a cut in the road where Maddie’s blade had hit. Blood was pooling in it. Maddie considered going through Diana’s belongings, perhaps finding and breaking another mirror, or using it to report her death to Tereus. Ultimately she decided it didn’t matter. His agents had found her every time. He probably knew where she was going, who these mysterious friends of hers were, where they could be found. There was so much she didn’t know, didn’t remember. Tereus had that advantage over her. But one thing Maddie knew was that the whole thing would end soon, one way or another. Diana was Tereus’s strongest agent and possibly the only one a match for Maddie. The only one stronger was Tereus himself.

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About the author

Toutomoutochan

  • Brooklyn, NY
  • The Arctic Wolf

Bio: Brooklyn native, sci-fi / fantasy enthusiast, reader and writer.

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Dragrath @Dragrath ago

Hmm had this open on chapter 2 for months but caught up now. One thing that felt off was how the developments occured quite fast but given she was lured into being a mind slave for some time it isn't surprising that there were such large jumps. Hope she can meet her friends again now that she isn't super gulible since they haven't given up on her...