Subject: [FFML] [Amber]Dog of War
From: "Matthew Miller" <mille2ml@gmail.com>
Date: 2/14/2007, 2:25 PM
To: ffml@anifics.com

The Chronicles of Amber are the creation of Roger Zelazny. Go read them.

Dog of War, Valentine's Day edition. Part 2 of 3.

Epilogue 2

My orders consisted of "Kill Orpheus now." Except for the 'now' I
would have tried stealth, a more serious attempt at stealth than last
time. That was no longer an option. That left violence or subterfuge.
A single summary glance about the room revealed no weapons. I went out
the door, flicking the lights off. That switch method was ingenious.

"What are you doing?" Someone yelled at me. I turned. It was a servant.

"Leaving."

"Naked?"

I looked down. He had a point. I looked up at him. He also had a full
set of servant's clothes, about my size, that would let me avoid any
number of violent, and delaying, altercations.

"You want to hear something absurd?"

"Does it involve you putting on pants?"

"Yes." I pretended I cared about how I looked and moved over to him.
"Ever hear of mind control?"

"Yes." He continued to watch me curiously.

"I can't do it." I dropped him the hard way and left him in the
antechamber to the painting room. By the time he woke up, it wouldn't
matter if he talked.

A doorway from the same corridor lead to a stairway. That put me on
the ground floor. The torches had burned down, and a few sleepy people
were moving about, extinguishing them, so it must have been almost
dawn. I found a doorway to the courtyard and glanced out. There were
two alert, frightened guards watching the well, and they had several
well tended fires nearby. There was a hint of light in the sky. I shut
the door quietly.

I walked along until I found a tired maid cleaning chamber pots.

"Hey, sorry to interrupt. Where's lord Orpheus?"

"Don't worry about it." She smiled and stared disgusted at her job.
"He's probably in his rooms. Why?"

"With all the excitement last night, the cooks are wondering when
he'll want breakfast. I want to see if he's awake."

She shrugged and waved her hand towards the door to the courtyard.
"Don't know. Just head on up."

I nodded and went out.

There was a wind whipping around outside, blowing the snow into
drifts. It felt fake, unimportant to me, but I hunched my shoulders
and hurried across for appearances sake. I kept a wide berth of the
well, but neither of the guards looked like they cared.

Inside, I found someone else and asked again. "Do you know if the lord
is awake?"

"I don't think so," he answered. "I was just up there to fill his wood
pile, and he was still asleep." He glanced almost straight up as he
said this.

There was something wrong about the way he said that. "Thank you." I
turned and walked back out, across the courtyard and into the tool
shed.

That had almost been way too easy. Armed and armored, I'd spring the
trap but not like this. I searched around and found a scythe, fairly
sharp and the right size. I hefted it a few times and then, out of
paranoia, glanced out a crack in the door.

The two guards were still there, but another two had joined them. They
were standing about a bonfire, no longer watching the well, and
occasionally one would glance at the shed before snapping his eyes
away. All were fingering their guns. I had been made.

There was only one door. The back of the building abutted the main
keep walls. The ceiling was high and slanted, made of slate. Against
one wall was an interior granary that reached thirty feet to the
ceiling. I doubted they would just torch the place and starve next
year. The sun was about to come up.

Subterfuge seemed out. The scythe wasn't exactly a subtle weapon, six
feet tall and two wide, but I doubted I'd be able to get close enough
to use it. Still, it was all I had.

The ceiling was only a few feet above my head at the front of the
shed, supported by thick beams. I hopped up and grabbed one and
climbed like a monkey to where the ceiling met the great wall. There I
could peer between the slates. The guards were still talking, now
doing a much better impression of not caring about the tool shed.

Orpheus wanted me out of the granary. The only really effective weapon
he had against me was useless when I was sitting next to his food
supply for the next year. His warning had been much better than I'd
expected, but also worse, because he should have posted a guard out
front of the granary. Unless he was relying on my own pyrophobia to
guarantee the safety of the food stores and intended use the old
reliable plan b: get a lot of men to stab me until I died from it.

Still, people carried firearms and those outside were touching theirs
nervously, so their uselessness had to be offset by usefulness in
other situations. If the men outside were bait, then they were covered
by snipers, and I knew a bullet could put me down at least
temporarily.

I was thinking in circles, convincing myself my situation was hopeless
without coming up with any alternatives. I dropped to the floor and
considered. The only useful weapon I could find I already had. Staying
here was futile, and attacking was futile. That meant running away.

Fiona would be mad at me, but I couldn't complete my orders if I was dead.

I went through the wattle and daub wall at a dead sprint. The guards
whirled as I ran past and drew their guns, firing at me. Each time the
pistols cracked I expected to feel something but didn't. Unhurt I
reached the edge of the courtyard and crashed shoulder first into a
door.

It splintered but the lock held. I looked behind me. There was a
veritable cornucopia of slow moving bullets, meandering towards me.
The guards kept on firing, and muzzle flashes from various high
windows augmented them. I kicked the door twice more, hard, and it
finally broke in.

The very first ray of sunlight came over distant mountains, past the
high keep walls, and bent most unusually down to bathe the dozens of
airborne projectiles in their stately movement. Kicking the door had
turned my face towards the oncoming bullets, and I could see each one
glow brilliantly in the new dawn.

"Oh, no." I dove through the door.

Over fifty pounds of lead came after me. I hit and rolled, as the
barrage destroyed the servant's quarters, shattering every bit of
furniture, the walls, and most of the floor. Those rounds that didn't
become stuck bounced airborne and paused, slowly rotating until every
single one of them was facing me again.

"Oh, no."

I smashed through the floor as the barrage came hunting me. I ran
through the nameless room I landed in, dove over a table, and received
a split second glance as the table simply exploded from combined
gunfire. Before I made it out the next door, the wall I was intending
to hide behind ceased to exist in any kind of meaningful way, and
debris started crashing down about me also. Some rocks hit my head and
chest, and I fell under them. Above me the ceiling creaked
disturbingly.

The building collapsed.

A ceiling beam splintered and one broken end hit the floor next to me.
The floor gave way and I dropped to a lower level of the castle, more
rocks, a few plates, and a beautiful still life coming down with me as
the floors above began to disintegrate. A bullet found me and shot
through my butt. I was running down an underground passage, being
chased by the continuing avalanche of debris, when the tunnel
branched, and I made a hard left. The collapse followed.

"No!" I refused. A wooden beam a foot across flew out of the rubble
and hit me dead in the chest. I crashed through another wall and
rolled, listening to the snap and crackle of my ribs.

The ceiling groaned and shook, bulging cancerously above me, but held.
Out the hole the sounds of falling rubble were suddenly silent. A very
eerie silence had descended.

My hands felt kind of sticky. I looked down and realized the wooden
beam had completely staved in my chest, and I was able to witness a
number of my vital organs that normally did their business in privacy.
My heart was broken in half.

Words cannot describe how much that hurt.

I unimpaled myself and stood up. The ceiling would not hold much
longer, so I found a side door and stumbled through it. Behind me, the
pile of rubble extended up into the sunlight. Luckily, all of the
gunfire seemed to be trapped in the pile. The scythe was completely
unharmed except for a slight scratch on the haft.

While stumbling down the hallway using the scythe as a crutch I could
hear the normal occupants of the castle fleeing. Everyone was trying
to escape the earthquake. I hobbled along, staying on the bottom level
of cellars and passageways. After a time I came on an empty room
loaded with old clothing, and I wrapped myself in a heavy blanket.

A stairway led to the courtyard. The occupants of castle Orpheus were
gathered at the center in a panicky crowd. Everyone stayed as far from
the walls and houses as they could. Only one of the buildings, a guard
hall and storage facility, had collapsed. A bit of the debris pile
poked above the surface. The earth might as well have swallowed the
building and belched.

Back inside, I leaned against a wall and thought. That earthquake had
been as natural as my ability to keep walking and a good deal more
dangerous. Orpheus had been nowhere to be seen before and was still
missing, which meant he had something to do with it. This sort of
thing could not happen too often. The castle dwellers looked scared
and the fireman had not seemed to believe in black magic. Also, a mere
bullet to the brain had been able to put me down for hours. My
previous incineration had knocked me out for a full day. Now I was
moving about, slowly but surely, and my blood had not had time to scab
over my wounds.

My balance was returning with each step, so I kept walking. If Orpheus
knew I was alive, he would be waiting. I wasn't sure if anything could
permanently kill me and I doubted he did either. If so, he would have
done it. All I needed was a steady, relentless attack, and sooner or
later he would die. Unless he had the same kind of durability I did.

I came around a corner and met a party of guards, walking slowly and
checking for the injured. They froze when they saw me, staring at my
scythe and blood trail.

"Where's Orpheus?"

Two of the four screamed and bolted. The others drew their weapons and
yelled at me to stop.

"Put those away," I ordered. "They won't do you any good and I have no
desire to kill you."

"How do you live?" one whispered. The other was backing up, staring
about with wild eyes.

"I don't. Now take me to Orpheus."

The guard looked at me carefully then slowly drew his weapon. His face
shifted from fear to certainty, and he stepped deliberately to the
center of the hallway. "No, demon. I won't let you kill anyone else."

"Don't be an ass," I spat. "I haven't killed anyone at all."

"Two nights ago you slew Orpheus' personal guard."

"No, I didn't. I hit him in the kidney. He'll be pissing blood for a
few days and that's it."

"You brought down the building-"

"I was in the building! Why would I bring it down atop me? I didn't
kill you, I didn't kill any of your friends, and even when I was in a
pitched fight with your boss, all I did was break a few legs and
fingers. Now take me to him."

"Lies, demon!" Someone yelled behind me. I swayed, let the sword go
by, and whipped the scythe around. The blunt end hit skull. Both of
the guards who had fled earlier were there, one crumpling to the
ground and the other lunging. I let go of the scythe with one hand to
catch his sword and stomped on his knee. The guard I had been talking
to stabbed me in the back.

I went down, but I took his sword with me. I pulled it out of my guts
and swung from the ground, making the guard back off. His panicky
friend had walked back and the two of them stood about ten feet away.
His friend had drawn his own sword, and I doubted I could fight them
off.

"Even now I haven't killed them. Don't do it, because I will not stop
and when I do come back I will return a murderer as surely as I've let
everyone else live."

He looked at me and looked at his two fallen allies. One was lying in
a heap, bleeding from the temple, and snoring. The other had dragged
himself away, his leg twisted so his toes pointed backwards. I was
alone in the center of the hallway.

"Men, back away."

They turned. Orpheus, retinue in tow, was coming down the corridor.
They sighed in relief and backed up, letting their lord pass. He
stopped in front of me, within sword range if I overextended myself.

"Well, demon, you still breathe."

"Not really," I replied. I pulled aside the blanket and let him see
the ruins of my chest. Orpheus watched me stone-faced, but his men
turned white and one fled.

"I was wondering why I couldn't find your heartbeat." Orpheus turned
and waved off his men. "All of you, return to the courtyard and watch
my people. You are no help here, and I will not have your lives thrown
away."

They obeyed without question or argument. From the suicidal way they'd
interfered with me before, I assumed it was more training than
cowardice.

"That's how you found me? My heartbeat?"

"The sound and the fury," Orpheus stepped back out of range. I hadn't
taken the bait. He seemed to have all the advantages, except I still
wasn't dead and he treated me like the unknown menace I was.

"Your men don't know you're a magus, do they? You've carefully kept it
hidden and now you anticipate that magic is the only thing that will
bring me down."

We both knew he'd tried that already, but I was fishing for
information just like he was. He'd dropped the heartbeat comment to
pique my interest, and my response about magic had shown I'd taken the
bait. The game was pretty simple. He played for information, trying to
learn if there was anyway to stop me. I played for information, trying
to learn why I had to kill him. Either of us could end the game with
knives or blows.

"What makes you think I'm a magus?"

"The careful way you've denied it and the inconsistencies within.
Everyone knew Fiera was a witch, yet the denials of black magic have
been uniform. Your men are well trained, yet they react like fools
when they meet the limits of their worldview. I gather you've
programmed that into them."

"Naturally."

"Why?"

"Because magic is a two edged sword. People fear what they do not
understand, and they hate what they fear."

"And so your hated enemies, Nemoch and Fiera, become feared and you,
who defeated them, gain the fear without the hate."

"Again, naturally."

"But now your people fear me. You have to destroy me to stay on top."

"I always did, just to survive." Orpheus smiled. "You're no good for
anything but an assassination. Who built you?"

I had no idea what he was talking about, and if I refused to answer he
might decide there was nothing useful to be gained from me. The longer
we played, the greater the chance of him realizing I was bluffing.
Still, he had given me the magus comment, and I had to reply with
something valuable enough to make him keep playing. All I had was my
bluff.

"Irrelevant."

"Then who owns you now?"

"The witch."

He stared at me impassively, letting the silence grow. Neither of us
volunteered anything.

I had been on my hands and knees, and I sank back until my feet were
under me. Now he could see the full extent of my injuries. He could
also see that while he was two full body lengths away, he was well
within reach of my scythe if I leaped. This wide corridor gave me
enough room to swing. I wanted him to think about mortality and my
seeming lack of it.

He didn't respond, but kept watching me. Sweat was beading on his brow.

"Why does she want you dead?"

"She doesn't like me."

"I figured as much. Let's have some specifics."

"No, I don't think we need to go into that."

"Did you promise to write and forget her address? She seems the type
to take it personally." The best way to irritate someone who's being
serious is to be flippant.

"I lost her number."

He lost her what?

"Too bad. She'd be very pretty if she wasn't so mad."

"Don't you like your women with spunk?"

I like my women unable or at least unwilling to rape my mind on the first date.

Orpheus smiled at me. It was a strained smile, and the sweat was now
running down his body. I checked his position, but his muscles seemed
relaxed. If he rushed he might be able to close range too fast for the
scythe, but I still had the broadsword.

"What makes you think you can kill me, here in my place of power?" He
was staring at me even more intently now. I resisted the urged to look
over my shoulder.

"I've got this little thing I do. It's called not staying dead."

"How do you do it?"

"That would be telling."

"Speak!" And now I felt the real, full force of his command. His will
bore down on me with an awful compulsion to obey.

"No."

"Damn you!"

"Are you trying to read my mind?" I suddenly guessed.

"What are you?" He demanded.

"Don't change the subject. You are! You're trying to get in and you
can't. Stupid choice, Orpheus, or whoever you are. It doesn't seem to
work too well on me."

He glared at me, then took a deep breath. I braced for impact, but he
stayed outside my range.

"Well, it would be nice to know but not necessary. I shall send a
message to your master with your death."

"We've already discussed that. It doesn't work too well."

"Fool, I'm not speaking to you. Hidden master," He was talking at me
but not to me. "I have plumbed his construction and know your secrets.
He syphons power to rebuild himself. When I used great power, he
absorbed great power. But here in this place, I shall destroy him with
cold iron."

"You're being rude."

He didn't deign respond. Instead he twitched, moving forward faster
than I imagined, and kicked me in the face. I sailed twenty yards
backwards and would have gone further but the stone wall broke my
fall. I bounced off and landed, and he was in front of me. He launched
a series of intricate strikes I could barely parry, pulled my guard
far off the the left, and finally cut me across the face.

In a few breaths he made a complete fool of me. His long, light sword
whipped about my own, lacerating my face, arms, and legs. I riposted
and he parried casually, throwing my arm aside and scoring all over my
body. It would have been educational if I could see what he was doing.

Finally, getting desperate and frustrated, I let him score on my
shoulder. When he did I lunged forward, rolling my arm in, and driving
his blade into my shoulder to the hilt. It ground on bone all the way
up and stopped, thoroughly stuck.

"Panicking, construct?"

"Not yet. I've got your sword."

"So you do."

My gambit seemed to have paid off. We circled each other. I couldn't
use my left arm but didn't really need that to fence. Orpheus had his
hands up in front of him, relaxed.

"Who is Fiona?" I demanded.

"I don't know her."

"The hell you don't. You sent me down to that room with her painting
for a reason. You're ruling a pissant little castle with enough power
to rule empires. I don't know where you learned to fight, but you're
much too good at it to be a lazy baron. I'm starting to wonder if you
were asleep at all that night or just used yourself as bait. What is
it I know that you want? I might even be willing to tell you."

Orpheus circled me to my left, trying to get on my bad side. There
wasn't much I could do about it. My previous injuries still slowed me
down, the new ones he'd given me were distracting, and I was trying to
pry a longsword out of my arm. Was he going to call my bluff again?

"What's your purpose here, construct?"

"Fiona told me to kill you."

"And will you?"

"Well, we don't seem to be old friends."

He was going to kill me, permanently this time. I was sure of it. He
wasn't acting cocky, just quietly confident.

"Then why should I tell you anything?"

"Because I'm such a nice guy inside."

"Let's see."

The loss of his sword might have slowed him down. I couldn't tell. He
beat me scientifically, striking and dodging with well trained,
predetermined responses. Two kicks to my legs later I couldn't walk
any more. He did something to my elbow, and my hand spasmed open,
dropping the sword. I tried to bite him but couldn't, and then he
pulled his blade from my body and I fell the last time.

"Good bye, demon."

There was some yelling, and his guards came in. They watched him
decapitate me and my head roll to a stop at Orpheus' feet.

"Bury him." And I was gone.

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