It was the Apostate that spoke back to me. “Huh, money, you think you can bribe me. Just because I work for money doesn’t mean I can accept any counter offer I receive. You must understand that if I did that them my reputation would be ruined and nobody would ever hire me again.”
I could see the man smiling, certain that he had trapped me and won. “Besides any money you have on you or in your room I could take anyway. And offering me money you have back at your manor won’t work either because if I let you retrieve it then you could guard yourself against me and that wouldn’t do now would it.”
“You’ve thought that out I see. Then maybe I can convince you to take me alive instead of dead?”
“No likely.” Said the man with his menacing grin. “There is a small bonus for bringing you in alive but I’ve always found that it is much easier just to do the dead part. It gives the victim less opportunities to try and escape or cause trouble. It save so much time and trouble to just kill them that the bonus isn’t worth it.”
I shook my head, “That is rather disappointing really. I had thought that you would be somebody important but instead I just get a hired Apostate killer after me.”
The Apostate of Yulf cocked his eyebrow at me in confusion. “You sound rather cocky for somebody who is about to be killed.”
I guess I did didn’t I. Maybe Zillk’s power was influencing me more then I thought it should. I had more confidence in my beginner’s usage of an Apostate’s power then I really should. This Apostate probably had lots of practice but I was still inexperienced.
“There is really one problem with your attempting to kill me. And that is that I would rather not be dead. If you leave me now then I won’t have to kill you in self defense.”
“This big noble thinks he will be able to kill us.” Said the Apostate with no amount of amusement. “And how do you plan on doing that?” He motioned his three thugs and the began getting closer to me. They were would for blood, I could see it in their eyes.
“Is now alright?” I asked the Slayer.
“You don’t really have a choice at this time.”
I looked at the Apostate and said, “Like this.” I pulled out my dagger and dipped into Zillk’s power. It guided me and my small blade. The thug closest to me rushed in with the cudgel and I easily dodged out of the way and stuck the knife into her shoulder. I twisted it, maybe that was Zillk’s influence, before pulling it out and turning to another on of them.
That one was more wary. He moved to one side flanking me with the other one. The chill of winter caused goosebumps to spread across my skin as I sprung toward him. Normally his relaxes would have been enough to compensate but chill that spread through him cause his movements to slow and he wasn’t able to block my strike. Instead I cut open his arm causing him to drop his cudgel and scream in pain.
The third one looks nervous and frightened and I took advantage of that by quickly throwing my knife into hip. He screamed in pain and collapsed into the ground. All the thugs had been neutralized in less then a minute. Even with Zillk’s help I could tell that the training that the Slayer had put me through had honed my body, even barely, so that it was easier then it had been before.
I turned toward the Apostate and said, “Was that good enough. What do you want to do now?”
The Apostate pulled his golden talisman out of his pocket and held it tightly in his hand. I knew from personal experience that the more physical contact with the conduit the easier it was to use the god’s power. With the ring just touching my skin under my shirt it was less powerful then if I held it in my hand or put it on my finger.
The Apostate was still smiling, “You think that being a little good with a dagger will let you beat me. Even if you were the best swordsman in the world you wouldn’t be able to beat me. Against the power of a god normal people are helpless. I’ll burn you to a crisp and then nothing will be left of your useless confidence.
He pointed at me and a gout of white hot fire poured toward me. I didn’t bother getting out of the way. I call upon as much of Zillk’s power as I could with my weak link and froze the air around me making it as cold as it could get. It was enough barely. The fire engulfed me and steam billowed in the air. Even through my protective ice shielding I could feel the heat which would have certainly killed me had I not been able to protect myself.
While I was concealed from the Apostate by the fire and the steam I reached into my shirt and pulled out the chain with my signet ring on it. I looped it off my neck and held it in my hand. As the fire and steam cleared I could make out the Apostate again.
“You are right. A normal person would not be able to survive. Unfortunately for you, I am not a normal person.” I slowly opened my hand revealing the golden ring I had held in it. I could see him mouth ‘Apostate’. It was my turn to smile at him. “That’s right, what are you going to do now? Are you going to abandon your precious job? What would that do to your reputation?” I tried resisting the despair influence of Zillk and while I was able to resist the bulk of it I still felt the need to fling those horrible words which certainly stung like barbs to the Apostate.
The Apostate ground his teeth staring at me. “Now I see why he hired somebody like me to kill you. Normal assassins just wouldn’t cut it.” The air between us thrummed. The air shimmered around him and I could feel the chill of the air around me. Somebody looking at us might not realize it but the battle between us was already underway. It was a battle of temperature, his heat versus my cold. If either of us relax for more than a second then that person would be consumed by the other person’s power.
“No way would I lose against an mercenary like you.” I growled back at him. I was barely able to fling words at him without breaking the concentration needed to resist his powers. Right now it was a mental battle, we were each trying to break each other’s concentration with words so that we would be the victor.
“I can tell you are still new at this. Still untrained and inexperienced. You are going to lose against me and there is nothing you can do about it. It is only a matter of time before you die.”
I almost creaked at that statement and he almost killed me at that moment. Only the presence of the Slayer in the back of my mind gave me the peace I needed to resist the urge. He was partially true, I was inexperienced and he was much better trained then me. But this wasn’t a battle of training or experience. It was a battle of power and willpower. Even I knew that the strength of an Apostate had was not determined by how long they had used the power. All Apostates had the same level of power, knowing how to better apply that power was part of experience and the other Apostate would have beaten me already it that mattered.
Now it was the just power of Zillk opposed to the power of Yulf. According to what I learned when the Slayer taught me yesterday it should be Zillk that was strong because he was one of the greater gods. However I was just using his dominion over winter against Yulf’s dominion over fire. In that regard I didn’t know which would be successful. I needed some over advantage to win.
I kept the concentration the best I could and took a step toward the Apostate of Yulf. It was difficult to keep my concentration but I managed to do it. The next step was even harder. The closer it got the more stress the conflict put on my mind. I felt that air around me grow even colder to compensate for the heat it needed to dissipate.
“What are you doing? Are you mad? You are going to kill us both if you keep that up?” Said the Apostate as I got closer.
I grimaced at him, “Better than letting you kill me. Who knows, maybe you will crack first.” I took all my effort to respond. I then took a painful breath, I think I must have been holding me breath for a while. I took another step toward him and I could see sweat appear on his forehead and begin to steam down his face. I felt the same way because the stress from the building energies was beginning to cause me physical pain as ice began to form over my skin.
One more step and we were only a couple of feet a way from each other. I would almost reach out and touch him if I had enough strength left to do anything other then concentrating. I had gotten to this point but I didn’t know where to go next. I had pushed both of us to our limits and I felt just about as close to breaking as I though he was about to do.
Then I heard the thought that I was waiting for, the Slayer speaking into my mind. She had been keeping quiet while I concentrated, I assume to keep me from being distracted. “Another visitor. They might be who we were waiting for.”
I smiled and the Apostate glared. “It looks like it is the end of the line for you. You had better watch out for the person who is approaching you from behind.”
His eyes flickered but he didn’t look. I knew that was well as he did. If he turned to look I would win. If either of us were distracted it would be the end of us. “You’re lying.” He said, “Another useless trick.”
Then there was a whistling sound. “Too bad I’m not.” I said just as a crossbow bold pierced his chest from behind. There was a huge reverberation and I clutched at Zillk’s power keeping it close to me and preventing it from exploding everywhere once the opposing force disappeared. It was painful and the area close to me flash froze leaving a small plane of ice around me.
I looked up at the cloaked man with the crossbow who was now pointing it at me. I probably could kill him, assuming he wasn’t also an Apostate, but that wasn’t my goal. So I opened my hand and let the golden ring drop from it and clang onto the ground beneath me. The man nodded and lowered his crossbow an inch. It was still high enough that he could shoot me if I tried to pick up the ring but it no longer felt as threatening.
He looked me up and now and now that I was no longer having to worry about concentrating my power I could see that he was not alone. There was a cloaked woman standing next to him. I tried to smile at them to show that I wasn’t any threat. Instead I collapsed and felt blackness cover my vision. I had strained myself too much in that dual and hadn’t slept at all today. It was a rather crummy first introduction.