Betray: Part 1

Sprawled around him lay the corpses and the dying, muskets cracking in the distance as Julian raced back across the battlefield. Far forward he glimpsed the front through a haze of dust and smoke, rapidly receding even as he hurtled toward it. No longer did any accompany him; his men had been felled by the last hundred yards, and now he was alone amid the enemy horde.

Those infantry pursuing him had no clear target, lifting their rifles and firing blindly toward his displaced image. For some time he had tried to hurl his fear at them, draining every inch of magic in his blood, only to find that adrenaline wasted his efforts. They were primed for war and now, surely, knew they chased an illusionist. It was all he could do to conceal himself.

Perhaps it would have been enough, for ahead of him a charge of cavalry broke through and hasted directly to where he stumbled. Mud and fouler things coated his robe and sucked at his soles, yet in that instant he felt invincible, elated, seeing his salvation ride with true, heroic conviction.

At the head a single horseman galloped hard and pulled away from the others, becoming clear as he halted some fifty yards before Julian‘s flight. Ethereal energies crackled around the saddle, the heavy sensation of being watched washing over him as he tried to fix his eyes on the rider. Chasruid! He knew that man, having studied against him at the College of the Magi but two years ago. The narrow amber eyes and malign smile that shone back were not friendly, however, nor was the call to the other horsemen any less damning. “He is fallen! Retreat! Fall back to the front!”

With laugher, spat as though in Julian‘s face, Chasruid turned and spurred his mount into the distance. In the face of betrayal he kept hope. Whether death was rage or resignation, he did not know, but he felt no desire to stop and discover, throwing himself boldly into his escape with rage in his eyes. Another fifty heartbeats passed before his lungs burned too hard, another five before stray shrapnel caught in him the ankle and sent him sprawling. With his remaining strength he ripped his insignia from his arm and tossed it as far as he could, struggled to rise even as the pain overwhelmed him...
Then they came upon him, and his world was booted feet and cold iron.

You can find the complete version of Betray: Part 1 in issue 45 of TBD.

James Thornberry