Read The Colour of Vengeance Online

Authors: Rob J. Hayes

Tags: #Fantasy

The Colour of Vengeance

The Colour of Vengeance
(Book 2 of The Ties that Bind)

by

Rob J. Hayes

Copyright © 2013 by Rob J. Hayes

(http://www.robjhayes.co.uk)

Cover design © 2013 by Julio Real

(http://realnoir13.deviantart.com)

All rights reserved.

This ebook may not be re-sold.

For Rhian and Frances
my first and most important fans.

Contents

Part 1 - You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

Part 2 - Old Friends, New Enemies

Part 3 – The Enemy of My Enemy

Other books by Rob J. Hayes

"The Ties That Bind" series

Book 1 - The Heresy Within

Book 3 - The Price of Faith

Part 1 - You Can Run, But You Can't Hide
Thorn

The first time he woke everything was a blur of pain and sound and more pain. Every part of Betrim hurt except for the parts that were numb and that, he knew, was worse. Then there was the thumping. A constant and rhythmic
thump thump thump
that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. It synchronised with the pounding in his head and became so loud he wanted to scream but the Black Thorn wasn't the type of man for such vocal admittance of discomfort. Instead he chose the more manly option of passing out.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

The second time he woke things were worse. His face felt raw and stiff. His chest felt tight and constrained. It hurt to breathe and he could only suck in short, gasping mouthfuls of air. The pounding was still there, still present, still everywhere and nowhere. Betrim thought he heard a voice, cold and methodical but he couldn't seem to work up the effort to find it, instead he lapsed back into unconsciousness.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

The third time he woke something was different. Took him a moment to realise he could see again. Everything had been dark. The type of dark a man can't see through. Darker than black. Now there was light coming from somewhere, not much, little more than a glow but he could see again non-the-less. Problem was there weren't much worth seeing; just a bumpy stretch of rock that most likely passed for a ceiling... that and his nose; seemed a bloody big thing when he focused on it, rising up on the left side of his face like a giant, bent tower. Seemed odd that, but then he had to admit nothing about the situation seemed right.

The
thump thump thump
was still present but it no longer
thump thump thumped
in time to the pounding of his head. Betrim let out a weary groan and tried to sit up. Turns out he couldn't move. He could feel his weakened muscles tense but they wouldn’t budge. He wriggled his fingers; all eight of them, the two missing on his left hand had long since stopped itching. Seemed he was lying on something hard and stone-like, rough to the touch and cold. He wriggled his toes; all nine of them, seemed he wasn't wearing any boots. He tried to move his legs, nothing but resistance, something was holding him down.

Slowly Betrim tried to raise his head but that too seemed to be stuck. He could feel something pressing onto his forehead but the back of his head wasn't on stone, it felt cushioned behind his skull.

“Hello,” Betrim tried to say but all that came out was a harsh, and painful, rasp that burned his throat and left him gasping for air. It didn't take long for him to decide to drift back to oblivion.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Betrim dreamed. He knew he was dreaming; the world had that strange,
everything is alright
feel to it despite the events taking place. He was fighting someone; an Arbiter. Seemed those damned witch hunters could even invade his dreams these days. Only he knew this Arbiter. A name manifested from somewhere.
Kessick
.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Betrim watched from above as Arbiter Kessick punched the Black Thorn, broke his jaw by the looks of it. Then the witch hunter started speaking, problem was there was no noise. Betrim could see the man's lips moving but nothing came out. Then the Black Thorn attacked, rushed the Arbiter. Betrim could see how useless it was. The Black Thorn was still half drunk and squinting from the pain in his head despite the darkness. His movements were slow, clumsy and over exaggerated. It was an easy thing for Kessick to take the dagger away, as easy as taking the shoes from a drunk.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Kessick was speaking again, his thin lips flapping away in his handsome face. Betrim had never been one to comment on being pretty but this Arbiter was without a doubt. His jaw and chin were strong and clean shaven, his cheekbones were sharp and symmetrical. His eyes were two azure crystals, cold as ice and his hair was cropped short and smart and the colour of expensive oak.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Betrim watched as Kessick stabbed the Black Thorn again and again and again. Seemed to Betrim it probably hurt. Certainly looked like the Black Thorn was in pain.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

When Kessick let go of the Black Thorn the sell-sword dropped and hit the floor heavy. Didn't move, just stared up into the night sky and bled a lot, red so dark it almost looked black. Betrim watched on as the Black Thorn, one of the most famous and feared names in all the untamed wilds lay there dying on the streets of Sarth while a pretty Arbiter reached down and plucked out his eyeball.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Betrim woke to a harsh screaming. Might have been his own and full of fear it sounded. The Black Thorn didn't fear nothing though and Betrim wasn't about to let on that was a lie. He calmed himself and looked around, at least as much as he could given his head was still strapped down tight.

Lots of black rock loomed above him. A ways off to his right, in the corner of his eyes, he could just about see a black wall with a single orange torch burning away. Hungry flames licked at the wall but found nothing to consume there. To his left all he could was his gigantic nose rising out of his face.

With a rising sense of something most men would name dread Betrim closed his left eye. No change. He opened it again and closed his right eye. The world went dark. He repeated the process once more to be certain then let out a long shuddering sigh. His left eye was gone. Arbiter Kessick had taken it, tore it from its socket and left Betrim half blind.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Seemed to Betrim all the bad things happened to his left side. Two fingers missing on his left hand. One big burn scar on the left side of his face, given to him by Arbiter number four. Now an empty eye socket to go with the burn. One thing Betrim Thorn could never claim to have been was pretty but now he reckoned he looked a right mess.

At least his jaw didn't hurt so much. Seemed stiff and clicked a bit when he moved it but felt fixed for the most part. The question begged itself to be asked though. Who had fixed him up?

Betrim was no stranger to injuries, nor death, and he reckoned that four knife wounds to the chest ought to have resulted in his demise. He knew it had felt a lot like dying as he lay there bleeding on the streets of Sarth. But someone had taken him, kept him from fading off and patched him back up. Of course now they appeared to have him strapped to some slab of stone and had yet to give any sort of introduction.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Truth was Betrim had a sinking feeling he knew who had him tied up. He'd seen a man kept alive past when they should be dead before. Truth was Betrim was all but certain he was a prisoner of the Inquisition and that did not bode well for a man infamous for killing its Arbiters.

The
thump thumping
never stopped. It filled Betrim's waking hours and even slipped inside his dreams. It provided a constant, beating pulse that drove his nightmares along at a steady pace, never stopping, never letting up until he awoke to find the same pulse driving his need to move, to get free.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Every time he woke he struggled, flexed every muscle, tensed against the bonds that held him down and tried to wriggle free. It never took long before he found himself tiring. Back in the old days, before Sarth, back in the wilds, Betrim would never have thought he could get so tired, so weary that he could no longer stay awake. Sleep rushed up to claim him no matter how hard he tried to fight but it never lasted long. Not with the dreams. Not with the constant
thump thump thump
.

He knew someone was looking after him while he slept. Truth was Betrim couldn't tell how long he'd been here but he was still alive and pretty sure he hadn't eaten or drunk anything, at least not while conscious. Someone was cleaning him too; the lack of stink convinced him of that. Wasn't the first time Betrim had been naked and unconscious in front of folk he didn't know but it was the first time he'd been naked, unconscious and strapped to a stone block.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

His world receded to the blurred and boring hours of being awake and the harrowing nightmares of Kessick stabbing him and tearing out his eye. Dreams of the Arbiter's pretty face staring into his own.

Truth was Betrim wasn't sure how long he had been wherever he was. Truth was Betrim was only sure of two things; he had to get free and he had to find and kill Kessick.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Suzku

“I'm here ta buy a contract,” said the man wishing to buy a contract.

“Of course. Would you like to select one yourself?” responded the elder.

“Jus' gimme the best one ya got,” the man said grinning. He was not tall, nor short. He was handsome-looking in a way that Pern was sure the women liked. They had a name for them here in the wilds; blooded. The man looked to be blooded.

“The best we have is very expensive. We only sell contracts in multiples of ten,” the elder said. It was clear he did not much like the customer. The blooded were known to be rich, rich enough even to afford a contract, but the elder was questioning the customer's resources.

The customer stared at the elder and grinned, a very nasty curling of the corner of his mouth, a predator's grin. Pern was good, more than good, Pern was the best but something about the customer screamed
danger
. It was probably the swirling aura of orange that enveloped the man like a flame. Orange, Pern had long ago discovered, was the colour of violence.

“I got the money, ol' man. Got 'nuff ta buy every contract here if I wanted. Thing is I only want the one an' I want it ta be the best ya got.”

The elder's gaze flicked from the customer to the five guards standing behind him and then back to the customer. Then the elder turned to Pern and motioned him forward. Pern obeyed without question.

“This is Haarin Pern Suzku. He is the most accomplished Haarin not already out on contract. I...”

“You the best?” the customer asked Pern. Pern said nothing.

“He is,” the elder answered.

“Don't reckon I asked you, ol' man. So Haarin Pern Suzku, I wanna know from you. You the best?”

The customer shifted his footing. Pern had seen it before, despite the man's fine clothing; his bright red silk shirt, the soft-soled brown shoes, the single wooden earing; he was a warrior.

It was all in the way people held themselves, Pern realised at an early age. The good folk had a resigned feel to them; they trudged along, sighed a lot, stood with their arms slack and hanging useless by their sides, their shoulders forward. Scholars and the learned folk such as the elders tended to have a gracious and peaceful air about them; they stood with their arms open and welcoming and were always willing to smile. The noble folk, the blooded, had a different quality to them altogether; they were careless with their movements, arrogant in the way they stood, overconfident in the way they spoke. Warriors held themselves apart from all the others; they had a readiness about them, as if they were always prepared to spring into action at a moment's notice. They’re shoulders held back and their eyes were always searching for a target, just like a hunter. The customer was a warrior and a good one by the way he held himself.

“The Haarin are not contracted to have opinions,” the elder spoke again. “They are contracted to protect.”

“Aye,” said the customer, “an' what if I order him ta have an opinion?”

“The Haarin are not slaves...”

“Near as no matter far as I see. Only difference is ya don't give most slaves a sword.” The customer wasn't even looking at the elder anymore; his eyes were fixed on Pern. “'Sides, got enough o' the unarmed kind. Need one that'll watch my back, cut a man ta pieces if the need arises. You that man?”

The elder started to speak but Pern spoke over him. “I am the best that this clan has to offer at this time.”

The customer spat into the dusty earth. “Ya reckon ya can take me?”

The question made no sense to Pern but he kept his expression neutral. “If you purchase a contract with the clan the situation would never arise.”

The customer grinned and looked around at the other Haarin. Six others there were and all fully trained and contract free. There was Jade, fairer to the eyes and almost as skilful as Pern but not as strong. She might suit this customer better but no Haarin would ever sleep with a clan client and Pern guessed the customer knew that. Kole was bigger, stronger and near tireless but he had taken a knock on the head as a child and lacked intelligence though he was still a more than capable Haarin. Feyl would only suit a special type of client; she was strong and wiry but an uglier woman Pern had never seen. This customer would want any women in his service to be pretty, that much was obvious.

“Ten years, with option ta extend at the end of the contract,” the customer said with a grin.

“There is no such thing,” the elder replied his voice solemn. “You may purchase a ten year contract and at the end of the contract you may purchase a new contract.”

Pern stood, his back as straight as a spear, his brow wet with perspiration in the baking midday sun, and waited for the haggling over price to begin. New customers always tried to haggle over the price.

“So ten year contract with this one. How much?” the customer asked with a grin.

“Four hundred thousand gold bits in wilds currency,” the elder said with a cool gaze.

The customer grinned even wider. “Done.”

“Payment up front.”

“Aye. An' what happens if he dies 'fore the ten years is done?”

“Then the contract is complete.”

“An' I gotta take out a new one...”

The elder nodded. “It is a steep price but it is the price we put on the life of a Haarin to protect the life of a client. What price would you put on your own life?”

“Aye. Watch my back, keep my secrets. Most expensive fuckin’ bodyguards in the game.” The customer's grin disappeared for a moment. “You best be worth it, Haarin Pern Suzku.”

Other books

Sugar Coated Sins by Jessica Beck
Chill Factor by Stuart Pawson
Armageddon Rules by J. C. Nelson
The Mogul by Marquis, Michelle
Surviving Summer Vacation by Willo Davis Roberts
The Gringo: A Memoir by Crawford, J. Grigsby
Torrid Affair by Callie Anderson