It’s the fourth and final teaser for The Bloodforged!
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“Erik,” she called, “please stop.”
He ignored her. In a few moments, he would disappear over the lip of the hill. Alix hurried after him—or at least, she tried to. Her head swam, and her mouth felt like something had laid eggs in it. She should never have come. She was no good to him in this state, no good to anyone until she recovered her strength. Dragging herself up the slope was like slogging through shin-deep mud.
She crested the hill to find him a good twenty paces up the path. Her shoulders sagged in defeat; she would never catch him now. Resignation opened the floodgates: dizziness crashed over her, sending the world on a mad tilt. Grabbing hold of a tree, she clung there as spots chased each other across her vision. Don’t faint. Don’t you dare faint . . .
And then strong arms were around her, steadying her. “I’ve got you. Here, sit down.”
“We can’t . . . we have to keep moving . . .” In spite of her words, Alix slumped gratefully into his arms.
“In a moment. You need to sit.” Erik started to ease her down.
“I’m sorry . . .”
He sighed, a gentle breath in her ear. “You don’t even know what you’re sorry for, Alix.”
She started to reply, but a snap from the trees nearby drew her head sharply around. Her hand whipped up, demanding silence. Erik eyed her warily, quietly shrugging his bloodbow off his shoulder. Alix scanned the shadows between the trees. It’s Kerta, she thought. Let it be Kerta.
An arrow whizzed over her left shoulder. Alix was moving before it had even buried itself in the tree trunk behind her; she threw herself at Erik, sending them both tumbling over the crest of the slope. The moment she’d stopped rolling, she gave Erik a hard shove. “Take cover!”
He obeyed, diving behind a tree, an arrow already nocked to his bow. “Tribesmen,” he growled, as though she needed to be told. She’d seen the fletching on the arrow, the distinctive stripes of falcon feathers.
Fear lit up every nerve in Alix’s body, sending a shock of strength through her limbs. She scrambled behind a tree and drew her bloodblade, though it would do her little good at range. Not for the first time, she cursed herself for not taking Nevyn up on his offer to prepare a bloodforged dagger for her. She could have thrown it with deadly accuracy; instead, she faced the prospect of charging an unknown number of archers.
She held her breath, listening. Erik shifted behind his tree, trying to peer through the branches for a glimpse of their attacker. Wind sighed through the pines, but all else was still. “Go,” Alix whispered. “I’ll cover you.”
He gave her an incredulous look. “With what?”
“I’ll think of something.”
“I’m not leaving you, Alix.” As if to emphasise the point, he drew back on his bowstring, though he still didn’t have a target in sight.
Alix cursed under her breath. There was no point in arguing. Erik had many kingly instincts, but self-preservation was not among them. “Stay here, then.” Lowering herself onto her belly, she started to worm her way along the slope on elbows and knees. If she could outflank them, come up from behind . . .
Then what? She had no idea how many there might be. Even if she could get the drop on one of them, a second would take her out easily. But what choice did she have? Erik wouldn’t retreat, not without her, and she was in no condition to outrun anyone. So she pressed on, crawling as silently as she could through the undergrowth, praying for a miracle.
The air hissed, twice in rapid succession. An exchange of arrows. Alix propped herself on her elbows, hoping for some sign of the enemy archer. A moment later, Erik took another shot, loosing a shaft into a dense cluster of pines about a hundred feet up the slope. Alix pointed herself toward it, creeping forward with agonising slowness, pausing every few feet like a cat stalking its prey.
She’d covered half the distance when a rustle in the undergrowth drew her head up. She could see something, a bit of brown moving between the trees a few feet away. She waited, head swimming, pulse hammering in her ears.
The brown thing shifted. An elbow, drawing back on a bow. Alix gauged the distance. Ten strides. Maybe less. Cold sweat trickled down her temple. She could feel the surge of strength ebbing away as the shock wore off. The fever was closing in on her again; any moment now, it would pounce. Ten strides, she told herself. You can do this. She tensed, breathed a silent prayer, and sprang.
She didn’t make a sound—she would have sworn it before the gods themselves. Yet somehow, the archer sensed her coming; he turned, bow drawn, the point of his arrow glinting in the sun. Alix’s heart froze in her chest, as though it could hide. A stinging pain pricked the back of her neck. She ignored it, letting her momentum carry her through the undergrowth. For some reason, the archer hadn’t fired; instead he just stood there, watching her barrel through the brush toward him.
She didn’t make it. A wave of dizziness crashed over her, and suddenly her legs wouldn’t carry her another step. She fell at the archer’s feet; her sword tumbled from clumsy fingers. The tribesman loomed over her, dark and alien and terrifying. He sneered at her before turning away as though she were of no consequence.
The back of her neck burned; instinctively, Alix reached up to touch it. Her fingers brushed feathers. An arrow, she thought. They’ve shot me . . . But no, this was too small to be an arrow, and anyway, she’d be dead.
She heard movement behind her. She tried to turn, but her body wouldn’t obey. She tried to call out to Erik, to tell him to run, but her jaw had seized shut. Darkness crowded her vision. Poison. She’d felt this once before, she realised groggily, on a distant battlefield in the midst of a siege . . .
A voice cried out. Erik. He sounded as if he were a half a hundred miles away . . .
Alix pitched forward onto her hands, onto her face, into blackness.