The woman took point back towards[i] the camp, Havoc at her shoulder. As they drew closer to the firelight, Havoc could see that her coloring was fair and her eyes light. Bruises of varying sizes, old and new, mottled her skin. If not for the dirt, he guessed her hair would be almost white, though her face looked young. He wondered what she would look like clean. After she’d had a few meals. Then he shook off his speculation and focused on the business at hand.
The woman again had three arrows at the ready, and Havoc wondered how she was going to manage to shoot.
She stopped at a tent that was slightly larger than the rest, but otherwise unremarkable. It was on the outskirts of the camp, and Havoc was glad that the woman had been able to point it out. The original plan was to attack close to the center of camp on the assumption that the leaders would be camped there. They wanted to cause as much chaos as possible with their initial strike, hopefully avoiding an organized counter-attack.
Havoc and the woman positioned themselves on either side of the command tent, while three squad members slit the side and crept in. There was a slight commotion as they dispatched the insurgents inside, but nothing loud enough to draw attention. The squad moved through the camp like ghosts, killing silently in tent after tent. Havoc sensed the woman’s restlessness, but she kept to their bargain. She moved as quietly as anyone in his squad, instinctively positioning herself to cover their flank as they moved.[ii]
Inevitably, someone in a tent saw death coming too soon and managed a shrill scream before he was silenced. His cry was taken up by another who popped out of a tent and spotted the invaders. Just[iii] as Havoc drew back a throwing axe, he saw[iv] what looked like a conjurer’s trick. Three shafts appeared in the man’s body simultaneously: the shaft of one arrow bloomed from the man’s throat, choking off his scream. Another arrow was in his stomach, and a third in his crotch. Havoc looked[v] at the woman, who was standing straight up and firing almost too quickly to follow at insurgents who were now pouring from the tents. Her expression was serene, and at that moment – even dirty and in a borrowed tunic that hung to her knees – she was beautiful.
In the time Havoc had been gawking she dropped nine men. More were coming. Havoc positioned himself at her back, a long sword in his left hand and a throwing axe in his right. A bearded man with a pike charged, and Havoc sent the axe spinning towards him. Another insurgent with a broad sword closed in on the left. Havoc parried and thrust, angling his sword up under the ribs for a quick kill. He shoved the dying man sideways so he slid easily off the blade. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his thrown axe split the pike man’s forehead, bisecting his eyes. The axe shimmered, then reappeared in Havoc’s hand.
A third man had been closing in. When he comprehended the scene, he thought the better of it, turned and ran. Two arrows whistled after him, one striking between his shoulder blades and the other dipping down before ascending and impaling him in his sphincter.
Havoc assessed the melee. The insurgents were scattered and fleeing, so he bellowed orders for search and destroy units to mop up. He turned to the woman.
She walked over and examined the dead and dying. Havoc noticed[vi] that none of her targets would die quickly, though all had fatal wounds. She stepped over the scattered bodies to the pike man that Havoc had slain and nudged him onto his back with her foot. She nodded, walked back over to Havoc and smiled that fey smile of pure pleasure. Havoc grinned back.
“What is your name?” he asked.
She looked down and shook her head firmly.
“Can you speak?”
She met his eyes briefly, looked down again shrugged one shoulder.
Havoc looked around at the slaughter. “With your permission, I’ll call you Karma.”
She smiled an impish smile and nodded.
“I could use a warrior like you. Hell, I could use a battalion of warriors like you. Unless you have a home and family you want to get back to?”
Havoc found himself relieved when she shook her head decisively ‘no.’
“The pay isn’t great, but it’s always on time, and the food is as regular and decent as we can manage. After two weeks, if you want to join for good, I’ll swear you in to the service of the Empress Savant. All right?”
Karma stepped closer to him, laid her tiny hand on his arm and nodded her head. Havoc felt himself getting aroused by her closeness. He put his arm companionably about her shoulder and said “Come on. Let’s get washed up and have something to eat.” She nodded vigorously and he threw back his head and laughed, feeling as lighthearted as he had in a long time.
[i] Awkward. A better phrasing would be “She took point, Havoc at her shoulder. As they drew closer to the camp’s firelight . . .”
[ii] The rhythm of the sentences in the last few paragraphs is monotonous. It’s best to vary sentence lengths and structure
[iii] A good practice after writing a first draft is to find all instances of the word “just” and delete them. It just doesn’t add anything.
[iv] This is not the first (or, lamentably, the last) instance of describing surroundings through the filter of “Havoc saw.” It’s unnecessary.
[v] Told you it wouldn’t be the last.
[vi] And here’s another.