“Give up, Poz,” Nicandros growled from the darkness.
“Question,” Poz said, pressing his back against the stone he’d taken cover behind, his heart pounding in his chest. Keep him talking. It would give Poz time to think, which even with his enhanced intellect he desperately needed. He’d already found an appropriate means of egress from his predicament, but it would high a high probability of resulting in his dismemberment, with a slightly lower risk of death. Slightly. He tore off part of his shirt and wrapped it around the knives to prevent bleeding. “In your experience, how often has demanding someone give up work at this point?”
“At this point?” Nicandros said.
Poz could hear him moving to circle around his cover, but the acoustics of this place made determining his exact location extremely difficult. Perhaps if I were to fashion some sort of amplification device, perhaps utilizing a series of horns linked to spider-web to detect faint vibration, I could pinpoint. The designs were half formed in his head before he reminded himself that doing so would be impossible. He lacked spider-webs, horns, and time. “At the point where it’s certain that defeat means death. What incentive do I have to surrender?”
Nicandros’s movement halted, and in the darkness, Poz could hear a low chuckle. It didn’t sound amused. It sounded more sad than anything. Nicandros was likely feeling sentimental about their time together before. “I forget how much of a pain in the ass you are like this. How long have you been in Manflesh? Clock is ticking, right?”
“Ah, yes. I fully intend to provide you vital intelligence in the middle of an armed conflict.”
“I suppose not. Can’t blame me for trying.”
Poz sighed. “No, I suppose not. I guess I should reward the effort. I have thirty one days, seven hours, and eleven minutes left in Manflesh.”
Nicandros’s movement halted. “You’re lying, Poz. You told me you’d burn out after, at most, half a day.”
“Perhaps I am. Or perhaps I solved that problem already. Perhaps I’ve be sandbagging. I suppose you’ll need to let me survive to test that hypothesis.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that, Poz. If you wanted to survive, you should have handed over the egg when you had the chance.”
“I suppose so,” Poz said, making sure his voice sounded with a bitter irony he didn’t feel. Right now, his only hope of survival depended on Nicandros’s human side. Fortunately, Poz knew exactly where he was most vulnerable. “Can’t blame me for trying.”
The echo of Nicandros’s earlier words drew him up short, and Poz could hear him hesitate again. Poz took the opportunity to pull the two daggers from his arms, clenching his teeth against the pain and moving quickly to staunch the bleeding. Battlefield treatment dictated a puncture wound should not be re-opened like this, but Poz was running low on options. Now, he at least was armed. “It didn’t have to be like this,” Nicandros said. “Light and Shadow, Poz, you could have just given me the damn egg.”
“Yes. And if it had been just you to ask, I would have given it. But you didn’t want it for yourself. You wanted it for the Alohym.”
“I wanted it for Tomah,” Nicandros growled. He was angry now, and his footsteps came quickly.
There’s the opening. Poz rose up, the daggers in his hands. “Then I hope you tell Tomah that Uncle Poz died on his feet.”
Nicandros was in the open, as Poz had predicted, and he stumbled at the words, the reminder of the bond Poz shared with his son. Poz flicked his wrists. The first dagger missed Nicandros by a hair, tumbling past his ear, driven off course by a spasmodic twitch in his injured arm. However, the motion brought Nicandros’s hands up to his face reflexively.
It left him exposed for the second dagger to sink into his gut.
Nicandros doubled over with a quiet grunt of pain. Poz frowned. The plan would not work with just a quiet grunt. He leapt over the barrier. Nicandros lunged for him, his hands outstretched, but the motion was rendered clumsy with pain. Poz wrapped his fingers around Nicandros’s wrist and moved past his bod, twisting as he did. Nicandros’s arm bent so it was stretched behind him, his elbow facing up, and Poz applied pressure to the wrist to drive Nicandros to the floor. “Scream,” Poz said.
“What…” Nicandros gasped. “You’re a sadist now?”
“No. However, the Alohym saved you from the explosion of the bell tower. She has an interest in your survival. Your screams will draw her attention.”
“Never,” Nicandros said, growling the word.
“Then I promise, when I’m back in a more empathetic flesh, I’ll feel terrible about this.”
He drove his free palm into Nicandros’s upturned elbow, bending it almost a perfect forty-five degrees in the opposite direction. To Nicandros’s credit, he didn’t scream at first, not until Poz continued to apply pressure to bend the arm further. However, Nicandros was only human. He couldn’t withstand too much abuse before instinct took over.
At the point his forearm was almost perpendicular to his back, Nicandros started to scream.
Now. Poz released the pressure and dove towards the entrance. The top of the bell tower was being torn apart by some force, a plurality of ink black arms rending stones from stone. “Leave him alive or your screams will echo across a thousand worlds!” Ashliel screamed as she ripped the top of the tower off with greater speed than Poz had calculated would be possible.
She descended towards Nicandros like a comet, one of her arms forming a protective dome to drop around his prone form. Her other arm extended towards Poz, forming an unlight cannon.
Poz dove through the door. The unlight cannon fired. Poz felt something tug on his arm, but he was in the street and running, and Ashliel was sure to waste time checking on Nicandros before she pursued. A simple brace will repair the damage, so long as the stomach wound does not go septic. Alohym medication will likely prevent that. Poz felt lightheaded, and as he ran through the street, people screamed and ran from him.
That surprised him. Humans tended to react with the least fear to his Manflesh form. He glanced at his arm, trying to see what the Alohym had hit him with. Perhaps some brand that marked him as a target, or…
“Oh,” Poz said aloud.
The arm ended in a stump just above the elbow. Shock was the only thing preventing him from keeling over in agony.
Several new variables raced through his head, although he had to remind himself that he couldn’t trust his own calculations. He’d lost a lot of blood already. Have to find Gecko when I’m out of the city. That Flesh can let me regrow the arm. Maybe. He’d be dumb for days, barely better than Grubflesh, but he’d survive if he could get it in time. The regrowth was uncertain, but worth the risk.
Poz saw a smithy and dove through the open door. The huge man behind the counter bellowed in surprise, and Poz hit him in the throat with his remaining hand to silence him as he vaulted over the counter.
The man had an apprentice, one who raised a hot iron in a defensive pose when Poz burst in. “I’ve crushed your master’s trachea,” Poz said, not certain if he’d actually managed that. “If you get him to a healer in time, you can save him. If you give me that hot iron, I’ll let you go. What is more important, his life or his wares?”
The young man couldn’t have been more than fourteen. He blanched at Poz’s words, and although he likely didn’t understand what a trachea, he understood enough. With a curse, he tossed the hot iron to the ground and ran to the front of the store.
Poz shoved his stump against the red-hot metal. No amount of shock could spare him from the pain of cauterization, and his screams chased the blacksmith and his apprentice into the street.