The Godhunter (Excerpt)
Kadi awoke alone, and fought the surge of panic that took her. When she got herself under control she sat up and rubbed her eyes, then let out a soft groan at the pain the movement cost her. Riding a llarmal for marks on end had its price. Every muscle made its displeasure known. She glanced around the small tent. She barely made it into the shelter last night, pulled off her boots and fell asleep. Kadi had a vague recollection of Dzaro holding her, but there was no sign of him. Again the panic came and she quelled it before it could grow, forced her sore muscles to move and pulled on boots, then the quilted coat and hat. She ducked cautiously out of the tent flap and stopped at the sight that met her eyes. Dawn barely split the horizon in shades of pink and gold, but Dzaro stood in a clear section of the tiny meadow and practiced with his swords. He wore only the quilted trousers and a light silk top. A pile of armor rested in a heap nearby. The llarmals were arrayed in a semi circle around him, interest on their long faces, ears cocked forward as they watched. To Kadi's shock, two full grown tigers lounged alongside the llarmals and watched Dzaro also.
Kadi envied the sheer beauty of the man as he spun, turned, and made the slash of twin swords look utterly graceful. His movements were almost silent, broken only by the sounds the blades made slicing through the air. Kadi noticed a slight hitch in his timing when he used his left side and twisted. It gave her perverse satisfaction that at least he felt some pain from his injuries, especially since her muscles twinged in protest at the slightest movement. When Dzaro brought the intricate movements to a stop he wasn't even breathing hard although Kadi noticed a slight sheen of sweat on his upper lip. Dzaro gave her a slight smile and sheathed the swords in a practiced movement.
"I trust I didn't wake you," he said.
"No, you were very quiet. Are you that quiet when you kill people?"
Dzaro wiped a hand over his face before he answered. "War is a messy business, Kadi."
"You told me you were a soldier. Before. Do you miss it?"
"No." Dzaro walked over and frowned down at Kadi. "Not really."
"But it must be hard," Kadi continued, "to be a warrior with no war, no slaughter, no death."
He winced. "I am not bloodthirsty, Kadi, my dear. Most soldiers would rather not kill if they had a choice."
"Don't call me dear," Kadi replied automatically. She stared up at him. Despite the soft gleam in his eyes, he was a powerful man, trained to kill without a second thought. Mage, warrior, god. Which was the real Dzaro? He looked like any other soldier his age, a bit worn around the edges with a weary set to his shoulders. But how many other soldiers were accompanied by two full grown tigers? The felines stared back as Kadi's gaze darted to them. They yawned, revealing the huge fangs and very pink tongues. Could they read her mind? Kadi shivered. When Dzaro was a tiger, his broad head came far above her waist. One sweep of a flexible tail could knock her from her tracks. Were these tigers or men in tiger guise?
Dzaro took a step forward and reached out to run a finger through her hair. "Fear them not, Kadi dearest. The tigers will protect you. As will I."
"And Jibril?" Kadi felt tears sting her eyes. She wiped them hastily with the sleeve of her sherwani.
"I would give my life for her," Dzaro replied.
Kadi stared at him, mind racing. "Can gods die?" she asked abruptly.
He didn't answer for the longest time and Kadi thought he would ignore the question, but instead Dzaro ran a hand over his face, fingered the swords at his waist, then looked her in the eye. "Yes. In a manner of speaking."
"Many ways, Kadi, my love, not that any of them are easy. What you think of as death, and what gods think of as death are different things. Why, did you have plans to kill me?"
"I used to."
"But I need you to find Jibril. And I'm not sure I'm capable of killing anyone, let alone a god." Kadi studied him, eyes flicking up and down the length of his body. "What happens when you kill a god? Do you just explode, into light? Or do you just quit breathing like us mortals? You bleed, so I highly doubt you are a god. I think you're just an arrogant mage."
"Ah, Kadi... you are still angry with me? After all this time?"
"You raped me, Dzaro. Or have you conveniently forgotten that fact?"