Frost and Flame (Gods of War)

By: Gena Showalter

103rd All War, Month 5

Somewhere in the Arctic Circle

Assembly of Combatants

FOR THE PAST three months, Bane had kept his mind on his goals, burying his grief beneath layers of seething hatred for Aveline. Somehow, he’d held the beast at bay without the aid of a lover. He hadn’t killed anyone else, or destroyed any more weapons. Of course, that meant he hadn’t won the healing sword or magic wand, either.

Another mistake on Bane’s part.

Minutes ago, the Assembly of Combatants kicked off. A mandatory roll call. Soon after, an army of vikings had attacked the combatants in droves.

Now, the remaining twenty-five combatants worked together. Immortals against humans, the immortals trapped inside an icy mountain valley, unable to leave until the conclusion of the meeting. Yet, their assailants could move in and out at will.

Metal clashed against metal, the scent of blood permeating the frigid breeze. Grunts, groans and bellows echoed, the battle as savage as the terrain. Above, streaks of green and purple lit up the night sky.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in his stitched shoulder, Bane swiped up a discarded sword and lopped off a mortal’s head. Since battling Valor, the wound in his shoulder had only worsened. Blood loss winded him far too easily, and slowed his reflexes.

Footsteps. Challengers approached at a clipped pace. The beast roared, enraged, thirsty for blood and hungry for flesh. As usual.

Calm, steady. If Bane transformed, he would slaughter the vikings, yes, but also the combatants, winning the war before he’d found the Terran princess. If that happened, he would remain bound to Aveline.

Unacceptable! Her downfall trumped everything. Right now, the vikings were obstacles in his path. Obstacles got mowed down.

Bane twisted and lurched. He ripped out one man’s throat with his teeth, and punched into the other man’s chest cavity, removing his heart. An action that pained his own heart, reminding him of the worst day of his existence.

Inner shake. Blank your mind. Another viking raced toward him, an ax raised and ready. But, just before they collided, an arrow pierced the man’s eye, and he dropped.

“Thank you,” he grumbled.

Emberelle of Loandria nodded and pivoted to unleash a volley of arrows upon the mortals outside the circle.

Usually she fought with a viking sword. She must have known she’d need a different method today. Possible. From home, she’d brought a metal band that fit over her forehead and allowed her to read the minds of anyone around her. Early on, she’d won a pair of wrist cuffs that might or might not grant the wearer the ability to time travel. Weapons Bane could utilize.

He placed her at the top of his hit list. Find the princess, make my kills.

When the skylights brightened, reflecting off the ice, his eyes burned and watered. He cursed. He’d left his goggles in his lair, knowing there would be a battle at the assembly’s conclusion; there was always a battle after an assembly. In the chaos, weapons were often lost, stolen or destroyed.

Should have risked it.

Another mortal approached, brandishing an ax, and the beast fought harder for release, sending a lance of pain through his temples. Bane blocked the human’s swing, spun and clawed out his trachea.

Behind him, a war cry sounded. Again, he spun and blocked—a plunging seax this time. Bane rammed his claws through the male’s torso, ripping out his intestines.

No time to rest. The next challenger arrived. In a (literal) snap, Bane ripped off his arms—and used them as clubs.

A horn erupted, blaring through the mountains. The vikings went still before rushing backward, forming a circle around the combatants, remaining outside the strike zone.

A male wearing a horned helmet split from the group and stalked closer. Blood smeared his tanned skin, scars marred one side of his face and a thick black beard covered his jaw. He wore leather, fur and sheepskin, and held a long staff with a bulbous tip. The Rod of Clima.

Bane stiffened. The Rod belonged to a combatant named Cannon. Had the viking killed him? If so... The viking had joined the All War.

Immortals drew together, watching as two soldiers dragged a decapitated body forward. Someone else pitched the head. It rolled, rolled... Oh, yes. Cannon was dead.

Hisses of fury blended with shouted threats, combatants throwing themselves against the invisible wall that trapped them inside the clearing, only to bounce back.

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