The Sharpening II (prelude)
The heavy steel shaft stuck clean through the assassin’s shoulder, stapling him to a crack in the rock wall. Before pain or shock could paralyze him he yanked at the bolt. It barely budged. The wounded swordsman advanced on him, and the bowman winched another bolt into place. The assassin moaned as his body registered the tunnel of ragged flesh bored through his shoulder.
The waves of agony crashing against his consciousness all but dragged him into oblivion. He’d have to act fast – the bowman was already sighting down his weapon. And this time he was aiming for the head. The circling swordsman lingered just out of reach, awaiting the shot. His blade would ensure there was no doubt about the fate of their quarry.
The assassin closed his eyes and slipped once more into Samatha.
Time became fluid. To the assassin it seemed like the flow of its passage seized up, allowing a mere trickle to slip through, but to the hunters the world move on unaffected – except for the instant in which their quarry seemed to react with an impossible speed, his movements blurring before their eyes.
The assassin’s hand shot to his shoulder, slicing clean through the solid metal shaft. The bone of his palm splintered against the steel, but he was free, and he slid his trapped shoulder away from the severed bolt, immediately dropping into a sprinter’s crouch, tensed to leap towards the bone arches.
The hunters witnessed these actions as the blur of a moment, their quarry shifted from being pinned against the wall to being crouched and ready to run with no space in between. Most men would recoil in shock at such an impossibility. But not the hunters, for they were expecting it, and in unspoken unison they reacted to this lightning alchemy. The swordsman had already stowed his blade and was bringing his crossbow to bear. Between the two of them, the hunters would be able to get off four shots before the assassin reached the safety of the bone vault.
The bowman’s weapon twanged just as the assassin sprang forward.