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Metamor Keep: Pyrrhic VictoryBy: Fox Cutter
Fox slipped through the back hall of the Keep, staying hidden from the lutins that were swarming the place. Loud, smelly and noisy, it was a simple matter to stay out of their way well before he could even see them.
He had been on his feet all night, since the assault on his home had begun. Moving freely throughout the Keep, while others were pinned down, he was attempting to locate the major players of the Keep, hopefully to bring everything together so this battle could be ended.
The corridor he was currently in was lit by the soft light of the winter sun. Just past mid-day, and starting to set in the sky, it gave an eerie quality to the stones.
He rubbed his fingers along his neck, where the small dagger hidden inside of his collar was chaffing against his fur. He hadn't worn these clothes in the years since he had arrived at the Keep, and they no longer fit him.
Nor did he fit them. He had become his new self of the Keep librarian so thoroughly that he no longer thought of him self as an assassin, or even an ex-assassin. To return to the reins of the job at this time was startling to him.
It was necessary, though. The lutins in the Keep had most of the people pinned down, and someone had to do reconnaissance. Fox had yet to find anyone to report to, but he suspected that wouldn't last much longer. He had to run into someone with authority sometime soon.
Slipping past another wandering lutin, he started down a short stairway. About halfway down he heard voices in the distance. Nothing he could make out, but they sounded urgent, and were definitely hushed.
He moved slowly down the rest of the steps, the pads of his bare feet making little noise. He stood in the shadows at the bottom, eyes narrowed, glad for the improved night vision his form gave him.
Five humans were huddled a hundred feet away. Crowded tightly around each other, they whispered with some force. Each one was armed with swords, and a few looked dangerous. Help from outside perhaps? or was that too much to hope for.
The group pulled back, and a woman behind the group started giving orders, pointing in different directions. One person went down each hall, for a second leaving the woman standing by herself.
In that instant Fox got a reasonable look at her face. He almost panicked, and did jump back slightly, but landed smoothly enough that he made little noise. If she was here, this was not help! He suspected it would be a direct attack against the Duke.
And one of her men was coming right towards him. He took a deep breath, steadying himself as he pulled a long dagger from his belt. He had no choice, he had to kill all five of these. He was counting on his ability to navigate the Keep to take him to each one. She would be the last, though-- she had to be.
Slowing his breathing down, he pressed himself against the wall. Holding perfectly still, he starting counting his heartbeats. The man came closer, and closer, then walked past without even noticing that he was there. With a single move, so practiced that it was an act of thought, not will, he lunged forward, grabbed the man by his hair, and stabbed his knife through his neck, severing both the artery and windpipe in one swift move.
Still, there was much more than the normal amount of blood. That was to be expected, he was years out of practice. It had been so long since it had been on his hands that Fox started to feel a bit ill. Placing a paw against the wall, he took deep breaths, calming himself. Now was not the time to go about getting sick; he had a job to do.
Wiping the dagger clean on the back of the man's shirt, Fox started down the hallway. Reaching the intersection where they group had split up, he picked one semi-randomly, and started down it.
He moved with as much speed as he could, while remaining stealthy, which wasn't very fast. The claws on his toes had a tendency to click when he went above a fast walk. He tried to keep it quiet, but found that it was almost impossible; it was the price he paid for moving without shoes.
It took a few minutes, but he managed to catch up with the next assassin. Slowing once he saw him, he moved as silently as he could. When he was only a few feet away, he slowed his pace further, creeping up on the lone figure, dagger held at the ready.
He must have done something wrong, because his target spun around. His hands latched onto Fox's arms, and he rolled back, throwing Fox down the hall. Fox's dagger went skittering off on the stones, but he already had another one in his paws as he rolled through the fall, and up into a crouch.
The two glared at each other over the short distance. Each one judging the other, as they both shifted their weight from side to side. Fox wasn't sure how long he could stay in this standoff. He still had three more to go; the human, on the other hand, could keep this up as long as he wanted.
So Fox acted first, faking forward, then jumping back. The human reacted fast, twisting around to block the fake attack, but in the same move lunging at where Fox should be.
Fox was a few feet away. He grabbed the assassin's arm and twisted it hard, throwing out the weapon that was in his hand.
The human spun around, twisting Fox's arm back, while wrapping his own around his neck. Fox gasped at the suddenness of the movie, trying to claw at the man on his back with little luck. He resorted to more forceful methods-- he threw his back against the wall.
The human gasped, the sharp sound of his head connecting with the stone wall filled the corridor. His grip relaxed around Fox's throat, but instead of moving away Fox reached for the assassin's belt, and pulled out his short sword.
Drawing it up under his shoulder, he slammed it into the human's chest. Putting his weight on the sword's hilt, he pulled it down, cutting through the man's chest plate with a snap, and burying it in his gut.
Rolling away from the body, Fox gasped. Two down, three to go... if he didn't get sick first. He held back his bile, taking a few breaths to calm himself. The smell of blood was much stronger than he remembered it ever being. An enhancement brought on by the Keep no doubt. At that moment he didn't appreciate it.
Standing, he turned towards the body, intending to retrieve his dagger. At least that was the plan... instead, he found himself face to face with the assassin's leader.
She smiled, her eyes sparkling as she summoned a light. He winced slightly at the suddenness of the spell, but tried not to show it.
"You killed two of my men," she said in an accusing tone of voice, that was yet somehow playful. She stepped closer, until she was an arm's length away from him, confident that he wouldn't attack her. She was right; for now, Fox wanted this confrontation to play out before he attacked her.
He shrugged his shoulders, his tail flicking back and forth. "Not that you care," he commented, in a stern, harsh tone.
She flinched like she had been hit. "I'm hurt, really I am. I do care about them... but your little game has provided me with more money."
He snorted. "Always money! I see you haven't changed at all. You still gloat to people when you should be killing them."
She tapped the bottom of his muzzle with a blade. "I'm not your normal killer, my dear animal. I have class, style--"
"And an ego the size of Mt. Kara," Fox quipped, with a smile.
That brought her up short, more than his original comment. "How dare you speak to me like that," she protested. Her reply lacked force, but clearly carried her indignation that anyone would even talk like that to her. So much so that she lowered her dagger to chest level.
Fox laughed. "What, you don't remember your husband?" he asked with a smile.
Her face fell, "Kell, is that you?" she asked in soft wonder.
"In the fur, Ki, and I'm Fox now."
She swore. "How dare you call yourself my husband," she said with a growl, "you never showed up at the wedding!"
He waved his paw down the hallway. "I got waylaid."
She snorted, stepping back, dagger in hand. "Damn it, what are you? The horse-king's private killer?"
"Nope," he said with a slight bow, producing a dagger of his own. "I'm the librarian."
Ki laughed, but it was short, and ended quickly. "I always knew you had a soft heart."
Fox shrugged, flicking his ears as well. "People change."
She nodded, "Yes people do! I take it you're not going to join me, you're going to protect the Keep." She wasn't asking a question of him, she was stating the obvious.
"Damn it, that means I'm going to have to kill you. And you look so good in fur," she said with another laugh.
"Or me, you," Fox answered, "It's just like they always said, isn't it? One of us will not survive this encounter."
She took a step back, glancing down the hallway. "A question first-- do you still love me?"
He nodded. "Of course. But you're here to kill the Duke, and I just can't let that happen. I'm sorry it has to be this way."
"So am I," she answered, shaking her head slightly, turning out her magical light as she did so.
In the sudden darkness, Ki was just a shadow, a figure in the black. He could forget who she was, and concentrate on what he had to do.
She started running down the hallway. A good choice-- right then and there was too obvious a place to start the fight. Fox went after her, moving as quietly as he could, allowing her to get ahead of him.
He wasn't too worried, though. He took a side passage, one that moved in a long curve, coming out at a place that was ahead of her. Quietly, he thanked his Gods for allowing him to easily navigate the Keep, before he moved towards her.
Ki wasn't there. She should have been, but she wasn't. It wasn't until he was attacked from the side that he realized what she had done; blended herself with the shadows.
He rolled as he fell, landing hard enough on his side that something cracked. He let out a yelp of pain, but was still able to move out of the way as Ki came down towards him slashing with her dagger. She only grazed the side of his chest, cutting open his skin.
His own blade was out and in the air, meeting her arm, and digging across the muscle. She let out a yell of her own, and punched him in the muzzle.
Fox threw his own punch, but she was gone already, on her feet and running again. "Damn it!" she called back over her shoulder. "That was my good arm."
"Of course," he called back, pulling himself to his feet, wincing as the broken rib grated against itself.
She responded with a short "Ha!" before disappearing around another corner.
He shook his head, trying to lose the pain in his muzzle from her punch, it faded slightly, but he suspected it was injured as well.
It was back to the chase. This time he decided to do something a bit different. He once again cut around her, moving though the Keep's hallways with an ease many would envy.
Once more he was in front of her, but he did not step that way. Instead he drifted back down the intersecting hallway, hiding in the shadows.
He waited quietly, holding his breath, listening to her echoing footfalls as they approached him. A second later her figure passed in the darkness; Fox didn't move, though. This was surely a trap, she would not let the sounds of her travel carry like that.
Biding his time, he continued to wait. No more than half a minute later, another figure appeared, this one moving quietly, barely touching the floor.
Fox charged, knife and claws out. Ki saw him at the last second, twisting around to defend herself. Fox arced his dagger over his chest as he landed, slicing through her clothing, and into her left breast. She rolled as he attacked her, throwing him off before he could reach her heart.
He landed in the hallway on the far side of the intersection, sliding on the stones. He was on his feet almost before he came to a stop, weapon held to attack, as he started a new charge.
There was a flash, and he was presented with a wall of flame. He tried to stop, but found the floor had become like ice, sending him sliding into the flames.
They were hotter than any normal flame, burning through his clothing, to his fur, then his skin. They left burns down his side and back as he fell through them. He crashed to the floor on his shoulder, flipping over and landing on his burnt back.
He let out a howl of pain, then Ki was on him. He rolled, and rose to a crouch, pulling a new blade from his clothing, but she wasn't above him. He twisted around, but a new attack came from the side, throwing him to the ground, as he felt a blade rip through his tail.
His first reaction was to kick at her, before he let out a new yelp of pain. She danced away, holding the bottom third of his tail in her hand.
Fox growled, pulling himself to his feet, glaring at her. She smiled, throwing up another flame wall, then another, and another. He was boxed in the intersection, no way out.
"You stay put, hon," Ki called. "Maybe once this is over we'll get together for dinner."
"You shouldn't spare my life," he growled to her, dropping to the floor, dizzy from the shock. He forced the pain down, though; he couldn't fail now. Instead he took the ragged end of his tail and shoved it into the flame. He bit back his scream of pain this time.
Ki didn't responded to his statement, but he could hear her running down the hallway. He pulled the end of the tail from the fire, finding it in even worse condition, but no longer bleeding
Rising to his feet, he judged his new balance. Finding it lacking, but not severely so, he then turned his attention to the fire.
Only one way out, and that was through. Swearing to himself, he moved all the way back to the far wall of flame, before running and jumping through the front one.
This time the flame wasn't as hot, perhaps because it was spread thin over the four walls, but it burned him none the less. He ignored it, and hit the ground rolling, then was back in his feet, once more at a dead run.
He couldn't keep doing this-- the next encounter had to be the final one. He knew they were close to where Thomas was, a place he had avoided to prevent himself from being ordered to do, well, pretty much what he was doing right now.
There was one last place he could make a stand against her; just outside of the Duke's location. It wasn't going to be easy, but there was nothing else to do.
This time he wouldn't bother trying to get ahead, it wouldn't work. Instead he was going for a simpler approach. He kept after her, slowing down a bit as he got too close, but not within seeing distance.
Ki would be expecting another attack from the front or the side, not from behind. Not after the last time. Anyway, an attack from behind wouldn't work. He had just one chance.
As they neared the proper spot, he started running again, straining to keep his claws from clicking on the floor. He got closer to her, seeing light filtering up from the stairway before her.
Finally he burst into a hard run, using all of the remainder of his strength. She heard him coming, and turned to face him, only to have his shoulder slam right into her chest, forcing her back farther down the hallway, right onto the steps.
They fell together, both fighting to get a weapon as they crashed down the stone steps. Each time they hit caused a new yelp of pain. Fox felt his leg snap as Ki fell on it, twisting in an entirely wrong way as they landed on the hard floor.
They both pulled apart, weapons drawn. Ki was panting, a long and thin dagger in the hand of her unwounded arm, her chest covered in blood. She looked unharmed from the fall, as far as he could tell.
Fox pulled out his last dagger, a squat one, made for close quarters fighting. It was then he realized that just as his dagger was once a gift from her, and the one she held had come from him. The light in the room caused it to shine slightly.
"It ends now," he whispered.
"Yes," she said, smiling. "How appropriate that it's with the weapons we gave to each other."
"A question first," he said, pulling himself to his knees. "Do you still love me?"
She gave him a sad smile. "Yes, with my heart and soul, just as I always did."
"Please surrender?" he whispered, "I don't want to kill you."
She shook her head, "You know I can't do that."
"I know," he answered, wiping away a tear that was starting to run down his face. "I will bury you at your home," he whispered.
She smiled. "I will bury you there, Kell," she answered.
He nodded, taking in a deep breath. "Good-bye."
"Good-bye," she responded.
They attacked as one, both moving toward each other almost as if it was planned, daggers clashing in air as Ki punched at his heart. Fox executed his attack differently, sinking his teeth into her arm, biting deep into the tendon, and pulling his head back, tearing at the skin.
She fell back, slashing at his face before the dagger was lost from her hand. it cut up the right side of his muzzle, shearing off the center two whiskers at the root.
Fox swung his dagger down, slamming it into her chest, right into her heart. She let out a ragged scream, gasping softly as she died.
He didn't move, just stayed on her body, holding the dagger, crying to himself as blood dripped down the end of his muzzle. He told himself over and over again that he had to do it, he had no choice.
One of the large doors of the room opened, and a guard peeked out, a perplexed look on her face.
"There's two more assassins," he gasped, rolling off Ki's body.
The guard vanished, and the two doors opened wide. "I know," Thomas said, looking slightly haggard as he stepped out of the room. "We've already run into them."
Behind him, Fox could see dead bodies in the room; two he recognized as the assassins, the others he couldn't tell.
"That's good, sir," he said with a sigh. "This was their leader," he said by way of explanation for the body in the room. He sighed softly, suddenly feeling drained of all emotion, all feeling, darkness beginning to creep in around his eyes.
"We are moving to Father Hough's Cathedral," the Duke said, looking over Fox. "We will be safer there."
"Good," he said, starting to feel light-headed.
"He needs a healer," someone in the background said, Fox wasn't sure who.
He nodded in response, falling onto his hands. "Yes. not a Lightbringer though; that would be bad." He tried to say something else, but finally fell onto his face.
As darkness wrapped around him, the last thing he heard was someone commenting on his condition. He didn't hear all of it, but they did say that none of his visible wounds were deadly.
He thought that was a good thing, as he drifted off into his dreams, to spend them with his wife.
Pyrrhic Victory: a victory gained at a ruinous loss.
This story is copyright 2000 by Fox Cutter, hardcopy reprints limited to one a person, all other rights reserved. This story may not be distributed for a fee except by permission of the author, and this copyright notice may not be removed.
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Metamor Keep: Pyrrhic Victory
Page last updated: 02/19/2012
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