From the in-progress sequel to The Hordes of Chanakra:
Movement in a partially burned building caught Kaila’s eye. She pivoted. A leg, clad in tattered rags, the foot bare passed behind a half-collapsed wall.
Kaila frowned remembering the man in the warehouse. Was this what the people of Trevanta were reduced to? Rats in human form scurrying among the ruins?
Kaila continued moving into the city in the direction she remembered for Merchant’s Row. A glance at the sky showed that her path took her near none of the plumes of smoke.
A part of her mind reminded her that venturing alone into the city like this was the height of foolishness but she shoved it down ruthlessly.
Kaila jerked up short at the sound of the scream. Her head pivoted to face the direction from which it had come. Without conscioius thought she found herself sprinting.
The scream came again. There. On the other side of a low wall. Kaila leaped. Her hands clasped the top of the wall. Her legs swung up, hooking. And then, with a push, she was squatting on the wall, looking down its other side.
Kaila’s eyes widened. In a corner she saw huddled a child, scarcely more than ten or twelve years old, hugging a smaller child to…her? Kaila thought it was a girl. Kaila caught her breath. Kaila had never before seen a creature like the one that menaced the children.
The creature stood on two legs, about the size of a rather short man, its posture hunched. A long pink whiplike tail hung from its back. Despite that, Kaila could almost imagine it was a man until she saw its head.
The head sat on a short neck between heavy shoulders. The face pulled forward into a pointed snout. Long teeth protruded from its upper jaw overlapping its lower lip. Rounded ears sat high on the creatures head.
The creature’s eyes flicked from the children to Kaila, then back to the children. Kaila could see the creature considering, thinking. It lifted its left hand in which it held a short, stabbing spear. Neither steel nor even chipped stone tipped that spear, but a length of jagged bone, no less deadly for all of that.
The creature reached a decision. Its eyes focused on the children. It crouched to spring.
Kaila sprang from the top of the wall to land between the creature and the two children. She drew her sword.
The creature lunged, stabbing with the spear. Kaila deflected the spear and, with quick twist of her wrist, slashed her sword across the creature’s throat.
The creature dropped its spear and clutched with both hands at its spurting neck. It sank the the ground. The spurting weakened, then ceased.
Kaila lowered her sword and turned to the two children.
“Are you well? Did that…” Kaila thought for a moment then came up with a word. “…kinmar harm you?”
Kinmar. “Half man” in the old Aeriochi language. The label seemed to fit.
The girl shook her head.
Kaila crouched, bringing her eyes closer to a level with the girl. “Are you alone? Where are your people?”
“The…the beast men, they stolen us away.” The girl squeezed the child in front of her. “Erek an’ me. We runs. And then Rat Face, he chases us. And…”
Kaila smiled. “Do you know where your people are?”
The girl pointed, a vague gesture in the direction of the city’s main gate.
Kaila looked up. Another plume of smoke had arisen almost on a straight line between where she stood and the main gate. She looked back to the girl.
“I don’t know if I can get you back to your people,” Kaila said, “but I will try. For the nonce, come with me and I will see you safe.”
The smaller child turned its head from the concealing folds of the girl’s clothes. Kaila saw a round face, caked with dirt except where tears had left muddy rivulets down the cheeks.
“I will see you safe,” Kaila said, her voice as soft as she could make it. “I swear it by the Twins.”
The girl pointed past Kaila’s shoulder. “Lady!”
Kaila whirled. Before she had half finished her turn pain bit deep into her right thigh. She glanced down to see a spear protruding from her thigh. Releasing her right hand from her sword, she reached down and jerked the spear free. Blood poured down her leg, not enough to be quickly fatal, but she would have to deal with it and soon. She tossed the spear aside, noting as she did so the discoloration on the bone point. Another thing to deal with later.
From the buildings across the street more of the half-beast creatures, the kinmar, poured. One of them threw another spear which Kaila deflected.
“Stay close behind me,” Kaila told the two children. And when I tell you, flee.” Kaila jerked her head in the direction of a narrow alley.
Her senses hyperaware, Kaila felt the children follow her direction. She deflected another spear, this one with an iron point.
Kaila counted twelve of the kinmar. They spread out along the street, flanking her. Most were armed with crude spears, some with bone points, some merely sharpened wood. One, with a face reminiscent of a fox, carried half a dozen spears bundled under one arm. He selected one and threw it at her. Kaila could easily have sidestepped, but mindful of the children behind her, she licked out with her sword and swatted the spear aside.
Kaila took a step back. A thirteenth kinmar emerged from the building opposite her, this one larger than the others, with a heavy-jowled snout reminiscent of a mastiff. This one carried not a spear, but a sword, the long straight sword popular in Shendar. The mastiff also carried a shield, or most of one. Some previous battle had sheared the top third of the shield away.
The mastiff pointed Kaila’s way.
“Kill them!” The Shendi tongue sounded harsh from the mastiff throat.
Fox threw another spear which Kaila deflected. The others charged.
One of the kinmar, rat faced, ran faster than the others and met Kaila’s sword-point for his trouble. Kaila stepped back again putting herself into the entryway of the alley.
“Kill them!” Mastiff growled again.
Another rat leaped over the body of his fallen compatriot. Kaila swung her sword, the tip slashing across the rat’s midsection, spilling guts onto the ground.
The remaining kinmar crowded close, each striving to outdo the others in their efforts to reach her. For a moment, they blocked the entrance to the alley. She could not see Fox and his remaining spears.
“Now,” Kaila shouted. “Flee.”
Kaila thrust twice, into the eye of the nearest kinmar, and the throat of the next, then turned and ran.