Bonds of Blood

Bonds of Blood

A soft click sounded as the device came to life, the first indication it was recording. A moment of silence made that click seem deceptive. Then there came a stirring of heavy breath. It was clear from the sound, whoever drew that breath struggled to do so. Whether fatigued or wounded, it was hard to tell. The first breath was expelled and a second drawn as laboriously as the first.

“Sesha...” the single word was barely more than a whisper, but enough to prove both the voice, and the recording, belonged to Domerin. Another sound followed the name, half-gasp, half-growl. It was immediately followed by a curse.

Anyone who listened to the recording would be unable to see the movement which accompanied the next rustle, as Domerin pressed a finger to the wound at his abdomen. He didn't think the bullet hit any major organs. He should have been in worse condition if that were the case. Stomach wounds were both dangerous and fantastically unpleasant. But he wasn't a doctor, so he couldn't be sure. At least he could still move. He was starting to catch his breath. Pain he could deal with; he was used to it.

Even if his organs were intact, it was bad. He couldn't deny that. He wouldn't have reached for the recording device if he thought otherwise. There wouldn't be an issue if he still had his radio. He wasn't sure how long he had before he lost consciousness from loss of blood, and dragging himself through the woods wasn't going to help. If he started in the wrong direction, help would take longer to find him.

My chances are better if I stay put. Hopefully the sound of gunfire will draw them. The recording didn't include his thoughts, however. Instead it recorded the words he uttered at the same time; "Goddamned bastard…" Not only had the rogue ascendant smashed his radio, he'd managed to get a lucky shot before Domerin could knock him out. "Can't say I'm going to feel too badly if he dies after this." He groaned as he pushed himself to his feet, the sound likely enough to bring the motion to mid, especially for anyone familiar with gunshot wounds.

He got his knees off the ground, but didn't get any further before a jarring impact against his left shoulder drove him back to the ground. His cry of pain was slightly obscured by the blow, since the foot which connected with his shoulder ended up closer to the device than his throat. His impact with the ground registered as a muffled thud on the recording, followed by several seconds of static. Domerin groaned again as he repeated the arduous task of pushing himself up enough to see where the attack came from.

Silently he cursed for letting his guard drop long enough for someone to sneak up on him. He shouldn't have assumed he was safe now that he'd restrained their target. He could have had an accomplice. He could have been leading him into an ambush. But he was fairly sure there had only been one ascendant. They would have noticed if someone else fled from the car. With a stab of dread in his stomach, Domerin lifted his dark eyes to see his attacker. Bile rose in his throat. Part of his numbed mind wondered why he found the sight so shocking, given the man's history.

“So this is how the mighty Oversoul falls,” his father's voice sneered, dripping with disdain. “Not so spectacular as they made you out to be, are you? You don't seem very skilled right now.”

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Domerin pressed his hand hard against his wounded abdomen, willing the throbbing pain to ease and the flow of blood to stop. Getting knocked around and half-rolling across the ground hadn't helped either. He forced himself to his hands and knees, then lifted the upper half of his body, small sounds of pain accompanying the effort though he clenched his teeth firmly against them. It took several seconds before he could offer a reply, his voice tight with anger when he spoke.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Does it make you feel big and powerful and important to kick a man who's just been shot? Are you finished now?"

The audio recorder couldn't snap a picture of the cruel smirk that twisted the former general's lips in response to his son's question, but it made Domerin's blood run cold when he saw it. He guessed what was coming. He forced the horrified part of him to the back of his mind so it couldn't hold him captive.

"Far from it," came the response, the last word becoming a growl as the speaker surged forward.

Only long years of training allowed him to dodge the boot that flew at his face. Certain things became reaction, allowing him to act with little thought. Just as well since pain sapped his energy and shock dulled his wits. Gritting his teeth, Domerin put all his effort into tucking and rolling, harvesting the momentum to bring him back to his feet. Even then he half-stumbled, spreading his legs to keep himself steady. He shook his head in a failed attempt to clear the dark spots dancing in front of his eyes. He faced his opponent in the closest thing to a ready stance he could muster. Blood ran down his leg, hot and sticky. His stomach burned. His temples throbbed. His anger mounted.

“Are you fucking crazy?” he demanded, his voice cracking. “Have you lost it completely?”

"Me?" his father's voice mocked, thick with disapproval. "I'm thinking as clearly as I ever did. I'm surprised you can still stand. Why won't you just die?"

The former general lunged again, this time flinging his fist at Domerin's face. Domerin wasn't sure how, but he summoned the strength to knock the blow away. As his heart pumped, blood rushing behind his ears, chemicals surged through his body, numbing the pain, returning sense and strength enough to buy him a few precious moments. He'd take the adrenaline rush, even if it only gave him desperate seconds. He coiled the new-found power into his arm muscles as he drew back and let his fist fly at the other man's face.

A sharp crack marked the blow's connection and the former general stumbled several steps backward. He couldn't have anticipated his opponent's ability to summon such strength. He growled a curse, though it was muffled on the recording by Domerin's heavy breathing.

"I'm not dead yet, bastard!" Domerin spat, blood glistening on the ground in front of him.

The former general regained his footing and took up a combat stance while Domerin prepared himself for another round of sparring. The two men circled each other like hunting cats, keen senses strained for the next sign of attack. The general broke first and lunged at his son, fists flying.

The recording made events hard to track. It registered the sound of blows striking, heavy breathing, grunts and growls of pain, but it was impossible to tell the origins of each. Somehow, Domerin held his own, wounded though he was. But even he couldn't maintain such effort under the circumstances. Not for very long. His body began to fail. His defenses weakened. He suffered a blow to the head and another to his shoulder. An elbow to his midsection, close to the gunshot wound, drove him to the ground.

“This is what I should have done the first time,” his father's voice mocked, louder in his head than on the recording, ringing like a set of evil bells, echoing back on itself, the words repeated over and over. He grit his teeth, putting all his remaining strength into pushing himself back to his feet.

“I should have handled it myself,” the older man went on. "If you want a job done right, you do it yourself. You can't trust the lower ranks to get it done. Even that blasted ascendant couldn't deal with you properly, and after I went to all that trouble to isolate the two of you. At least one good thing came of putting up with you all these years; your daughter is charming. Somehow, she manages to be nothing like you."

The thought of his father acting sweet and kind to his daughter in the wake of his death gave the strength of fury to his muscles. He surged to his feet. The sounds of struggle resumed. Domerin unleashed a hoarse cry of pain when his father once again broke his defenses. In desperation, he threw himself at the man. They locked arms, pushing, struggling against each other like teenagers in a street brawl.

To hell with clean fighting! Domerin drove his knee into his father's midsection. As soon as the general bent double, gasping for air, he swung his foot at the man's head. His father tumbled to the ground, rolled, struggled to his feet and stumbled a few paces before regaining his balance.

"Not so easy to kill, am I?" Domerin snarled, shaking with pent-up rage. "You lied, you arrogant bastard. You haven't changed! You've just come unhinged! I'm surprised your moral high-horse let's you pick a fight with a man who's shot and bleeding half to death. What part of this makes you better than me?" The pain in his voice was more than just physical. There was an emotional agony there too.

“None of that matters anymore! You stole everything from me, everything I cared for, everything I was." The words sounded half-crazed. "All that matters now is outliving you, freeing myself of your encumbrance."

My encumbrance? I left you alone! I kept your goddamned secrets! I made sure mom never knew – all you had to do was quietly leave me to live my life!”

“After you robbed me of everything it took a lifetime to build?”

Here the conversation stopped as the struggle resumed. Every blow Domerin endured registered in the recording as static distortions through the rest of the sound. They came more rapidly as fatigue and pain sapped Domerin of his strength. He fell again and again, each fall threatening to cut off the recording altogether.

“I'm your son!” Domerin finally screamed, rage and confusion so palpable in his voice they seemed like physical objects he lobbed in the other man's direction. "I'm your blood! Mother's blood! How can my death satisfy you?"

“You're nothing to me! You served your purpose. Our line will go one, with much better stock than yours, I might add. I have no further need of you, nor your disgrace, nor your endless disappointment!”

The final struggle followed; two men desperately fighting for their lives, using every dirty trick there was to keep ahead of the other. By now, the adrenaline rush which sustained Domerin had faded. He'd lost too much blood. His body was slowly failing. It was only a matter of time before his father knocked him unconscious. If that happened, he knew he'd never wake up. Even so, the struggle came to its inevitable conclusion; Domerin was thrown to the ground, skidding several feet from his attacker before he came to rest.

For a moment, he lay still, panting. He tried to get back to his feet, his ragged breath and grunting indicating his struggle on the recording. But for all his desperation, he had no strength left. The fight had gone out of him. It took all his remaining energy to keep his opponent in front of him.

“We'll talk about it again someday,” his father said as the former general circled him, his tone ominous. "I'm sure we'll meet again. Perhaps in hell."

The gunshot was almost deafening. It carried a heavy sort of finality. It was meant to be the end of more than just the struggle between father and son.

The span of a heartbeat passed. Another followed. The recording remained silent. It was easy to imagine the device had malfunctioned, perhaps as a result of the gunshot.

Finally there came the sound of distant footsteps. This, then, must have been the moment they entered the strange scene. The rest they knew. There were no questions left to ask.

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