Kaoz sat in the stuffy wagon as it rolled slowly through the blinding heat in the Vastitas. They had been traveling only for a day but it felt immensely longer from where she lay sweating and listless. This was Ilana’s CaraWagon and the bed was soft with plenty of pillows spread about. There were extra skins in case the weather turned chili, which it always did at night. Sometimes it was so cold the Slavers on guard duty had to enter the keep so they wouldn’t freeze to death. Kaoz had never seen it happen but she supposed it was possible and hoped Skitzo would stay out one of those nights.
“It’s so hot…” she grumbled turning to look out the round holes that served as windows. She wondered why the other CaraWagon’s didn’t have them as well.
‘Mugwump. If they did they wouldn’t be safe from enemy attacks.’ She thought. An army of arrows could come through the small windows.
“Just one good shot…wham!” Kaoz smiled humorlessly and turned onto her side. She pictured Skitzo standing in front of the window and being slammed into the opposite wall by dozens of crossbolts. Kaoz shook her head and turned onto her back. She hated being cooped up in the CaraWagon. She wasn’t even allowed to wear her leathers on this trail, at all!
‘He gives, now he takes and he locks me away to suffocate.’
Kaoz sat up slowly feeling just a little dizzy. She reached for the pitcher of crant juice instead of the water and poured a cup.
The purplish liquid felt cool and soothing as it went down her throat. Kaoz sat for a moment feeling the slow rocking of the CaraWagon. She could hear the muffled voices of the Slavers and horses neighs. Skitzo had ordered Phylo’s caravan and Ennius to accompany him.
This wasn’t the first time Kaoz went to the Guilds festival. They held it every three years in the major city of Kylion. The 1st part of the event was the tournament where the entire apprentice Slavers performed to their best ability in order to get a posting. That lasted about 7 days and while the guild heads conferred every one else was free to enjoy the festival.
Kaoz liked walking through the booths in the market with Ilana. They were accompanied by dozens of ladies and their daughters each had an escort of Slavers for their protection. It was the only draw back she could think of.
The caravan jolted to a halt and Kaoz found herself lying on her side. She mumbled curses under her breath as she got up. On her knees she carefully peeked out the window.
“Humph!” Kaoz pushed away from the window dissatisfied. They had reached the moors, which meant they were close to the Gateways and Skitzo had pushed the Caravans hard.
Kaoz lifted the daggers from their sheaths before stepping to the door and carefully lifting it open. She glanced over her shoulder at the covered archway through which her Mother rested. ‘I’m supposed to be wearing a dress.’ She thought and not hearing any sound she jumped down landing lightly. ‘So what’s another beating in this heat?’ Kaoz shrugged knowing that this close to the Guilds festival Skitzo wouldn’t risk leaving a mark on either of them. At least she hoped so. This was one of the only times Ilana could rest easy, at least until after the festival.
Kaoz peered around the wagon and saw all the Slavers in Skitzo’s caravan huddled around him. She glanced back and quickly ducked under the CaraWagon as Phylo rode past.
‘Duncoon! If he knocks Mother will know I’m out!’ Kaoz closed her eyes and fervently hoped he would ride past. She heard the hooves slow then stop by the CaraWagon door. The horse neighed closely and for a moment she thought she’d hear her Mothers light steps above her head. Kaoz pictured him moving on towards the clump of Slavers and barely heard the clomp of hooves as he cantered off. She let out a heavy sigh, opening her eyes and quickly stepped out from under the wagon. Kaoz looked behind then hurried into the sparse brush of trees in the moors. It wasn’t much cooler under the branches. She moved silently and efficiently through the underbrush until she was close enough to hear the Slavers. She saw Phylo dismount and another Slaver take his horse. They were huddled around Skitzo while he issued orders.
‘Everything out of his hole is an order.’
Kaoz had never heard him say any thing nice to any one not even Ilana and he was supposed to love her, wasn’t he?
Kaoz hid behind a tree listening and wondering why if he loved Ilana did he treat her badly. Why did he beat her? Why did he use her as if she were some animal? Kaoz squeezed her eyes tightly trying to blot out the echo of his grunts and squeals from her memory when a heavy hand clamped over her mouth. She was pulled back into the sparse trees of the moors.
“Mph!” Kaoz grabbed at the wrist panicked and tried to shout except the arm around her waist tightened cutting off her air supply as it lifted her off her feet. Kaoz kicked wildly unable to see her attacker or break his hold.
‘What’s wrong with me? I’m a Slaver!’
Kaoz reached down and pulled her dragon dagger from its sheath at the same time she clamped her teeth down on the fleshy part of the hand over her mouth. Her attacker released her mouth with a grunt and blocked her hand as she slashed backwards. She used his distraction to her advantage and banged her head backwards just hard enough to hit his nose painfully. The arm around her waist disappeared and as soon as her feet hit the ground she turned kicking. Her heel made contact with his chest. Kaoz caught a glimpse of brown and pulled out the other dragon dagger turning to face the Slaver.
“Ooph!” Gavin hunched over and switched his hands form his nose to his stomach. This was quickly going from teaching her a lesson to annoying.
Kaoz knew she wasn’t good enough at close hand combat and quickly turned to her dragon daggers. Gavin looked up just as Kaoz turned towards him. She was twirling the daggers.
’Oh, no.’ he thought seeing her arm pull back. She raised her arm to throw the dagger and heard Gavin.
“Wait!” He raised his palms out and turned to duck behind the tree.
She hesitated only a second before she let it loose. The dagger stuck to the trunk of the tree and Kaoz stomped towards it.
Gavin sighed dropping his head against the tree trunk. ‘Thank the Gods…’
“You bungo bessy! Are you mental?” Kaoz exclaimed as she rounded the tree.
Gavin sighed and looked down at her. Kaoz was all fire and brimstone most of the time, like now, though she had her moments… he could count on one hand the times he’d seen her smile or laughed. Sometimes he wondered if he’d dreamed them.
“Quit the yelling blue hen.” Gavin smirked knowing it would annoy her further. Kaoz narrowed her eyes and slid her dagger into its sheath.
“You have sand in your brain? What’d you do that for?” she turned to pull out the other dragon dagger only to have Gavin reach over her head for it.
“You, dribble puss,” Gavin pointed at her with the tip of the blade before handing it over. He knew she detested being called a child, “are supposed to be in the CaraWagon not nosing about.”
“So you think it’s fair that I’m stuck in the wagon while the rest of you roam about out here.” She stated shaking her head as she turned back towards the CaraWagon. “It’s a wonder you’re not amalgamated, you duncoon.”
Gavin laughed, what else was he going to do? This was Kaoz. He winced remembering the bite on his hand.
“Your bite is just as bad as your bark.” He called after her. Her teeth were clearly marked on the fleshy part of his palm and it was oozing small droplets of blood where she’d broken the skin and the redness was already beginning to darken.
“I’m lucky she didn’t take the whole chunk!” he grumbled heading towards Nardek’s wagon. Gavin groaned thinking he’d probably get a shot.
Kaoz stomped towards Ilana’s CaraWagon wondering why they all treated her like a child. Hadn’t she been going on trails since she was nine? Hadn’t it been she who’d lured all those children to the cages? Wasn’t it she they’d used as bait for the fluffy people? And hadn’t she been the one to find the new portals?
“There you are.” Ilana sighed in relief opening the door wider. “Come inside before your father sees you.”
Kaoz rolled her eyes. “Gods with a father like that…” she pulled herself up immediately groaning at the suffocating heat inside.
‘Why? Why is it this way?’ Kaoz wondered wishing she was riding alongside the others even if it was hot and the sun burned her skin. She was a Slaver!
Kaoz flopped onto the cushioned bed looking up at the wooden beams. ‘Yippee, I’m a Slaver.’ She closed her eyes and tried to sleep. It was still another day to the gateway and from there another three to the Palace.
‘At least it’ll be cooler in Kylion.’
“What were you doing?” Nardek asked turning Gavin’s hand over. The swelling wasn’t so bad though the bruising would hinder Gavin for a couple of days. Nardek applied some cherry salve and sprinkled mint powder over it to keep it cool.
“Teaching a lesson.” Gavin grunted as Nardek pressed down on the meaty part of his palm then watched him bandage his hand.
“What did she do now?” Nardek asked his eyes on the bandage.
“Why does it have to be her? Why-.” Gavin sighed. Who was he kidding? Nardek knew everything.
“She snuck out of Ilana’s CaraWagon and spied on the others.”
Nardek smiled turning to retrieve a small chest on the shelf. He opened it taking a cylinder, which he placed inside another tube with a needle.
“Aw! Nardek, is that necessary? It’s just Kaoz.” Gavin shuffled his feet pulling his hand closer to his body.
“Precisely.” Nardek arched an eyebrow resting the antidote on the table. “Would you rather die?” he asked.
“What!” Gavin sat up straighter not understanding the healer. “How-?”
“I’ve been plying Kaoz with small doses of venom fo-.”
“YOU WHAT!” Gavin shouted getting to his feet; the stool fell over with a clatter. “You’re poisoning her! Why-?”
“Sit down boy!” Nardek’s sharp voice froze him in place. “Sit down.” he ordered. Seeing the narrowing of Gavin’s eyes and the hard set of his jaw Nardek sighed.
“I’ve been doing it for years. Ever since she was bitten by the sand snakes.” Nardek pulled down another jar and opened it slowly to show Gavin its contents.
“When Kaoz was a young girl she ran out into the Vastitas. No one knows how and to this day she claims not to remember how she got out of the Keep.
Gavin looked into the pot and sniffed the pinkish slop inside. The smell was softly sweet reminding him of the flowers in Ilana’s garden.
“Yes, this is the poison.” Nardek covered the pot and put it away. “Hendrix’s wife found Kaoz just outside the first gate. She recognized the child immediately having seen her ride out with Phylo’s caravan. She was taken to the Keep and the lady sent for a healer. As it happens I had just been appointed to the post.” Nardek sighed. He absently rolled the cylinder between his fingers remembering.
“I didn’t think about the consequences if she died.” Nardek looked to Gavin. He understood the old man, Ilana’s grief would’ve angered Skitzo and Nardek, well, he wouldn’t be here.
“I gave her more of the snake venom with powdered dragon scale. I even added some snake meat to the broth. She ate all of it.” Nardek smiled with pride.
Gavin raised his bandaged hand making a face. “What about this?” he asked. Nardek sat up taking Gavin’s wrist in a firm grip.
“One of the side effects. Her bite is deadly though not immediately.” He smiled plunging the needle into Gavin’s arm. He grunted at the sharp sting then held his arm bent while Nardek cleaned up.
“I imagine her blood is as well, though I haven’t tested that theory.” Nardek sat back thoughtfully.
“What about the rest of us?” Gavin exclaimed.
“What about you?” Nardek looked at him absently then sighed heavily sitting up. “You are men. You are strong and can take care of your selves.” He shook his head exasperated. “Kaoz is a woman.”
Gavin snorted thinking of her constant annoying bad tempered manner.
“She may not be as weak as other women but she is not as strong as a man. So…I gave her an added advantage.” Nardek slapped the palm of his hand on the table clearly annoyed with the young Slaver. “Try and avoid her bite.” He arched an eyebrow and waited for him to leave.
Once he grumbled his way out Nardek returned to his potions. He set them aside and took down a scroll where he had written all of Kaoz’s symptoms since the day he began treating her. He added another paragraph to the already long list then read over the notes regarding the experiment he hadn’t brought himself to execute.
‘What if her blood is poisonous?’
The Gods would need a champion and as the God of War it fell to Kaladan…