Alissa dashed among and around the trees. She leapt over shrubs that
“Do not fear,” they said together, their voices almost exactly the same.
She cried out in frustration and panic. There was no escape. She could only run for so long on her human legs. They were metal and wheels and gears. They would never grow tired. They only had to keep after her, keep pressing her, and eventually she would stumble, fall and they would kill her.
Another brush of air and she felt the back of her dress catch and tear as the Brazen’s blade ripped through the tattered cloth. A new line of pain scratched into the back of her left calf as she kicked away, the very tip of the Brazen’s falchion had caught her. Alissa’s breath was ragged and her lungs burned from the effort. The strength flowed out her arms and legs like water from overturned cup. In minutes they would have her.
She fought her way up another small hill and scrambled down, half falling as she struggled to maintain speed. Alissa rounded a large tree trunk and a thin ravine gaped open before her.
“Go, duchess,” she heard Nitta tell her. “Go!”
Alissa dug deep, used the slant of the hill and pushed her abused body to gain as much speed as possible. A part of her mind told her she’d never make it—the gap was too great. She ignored the warning, and drove herself to the edge and up into the air. The open space of the ravine yawned wider. A jagged pile of rocks loomed beneath her. She wind-milled her arms and legs, as if she should somehow push against the nothingness and thrust her body forward a few precious inches. The edge of the far wall drew closer, almost within reach. Alissa started to fall. The sharp, coppery tang of fear filled her mouth. She reached out her arms, willed the edge into her hands.
Her chest slammed against the edge and she heard a harsh crack in her ribs. The air whooshed from her lungs with an explosive grunt. Alissa scrabbled at the cold, wet dirt, desperate to find a grip. Her nails dug and tore furrows into the ground. None of her attempts were deep enough to hold her. She slipped, her own weight dragged her further off the edge toward the ravine. Her left hand caught on something, a small root or stone. She grabbed at it, and her slide down stopped.
The sound of the pursuing Brazen cut off abruptly. A clang sounded and a moment later a pair of metal boots impacted the edge of the ravine only a stride from where she clung to the wall. The impact from the Brazen rattled through the wall of the ravine and Alissa’s handhold. If she hadn’t been clinging to the side of the ravine for her life, she would have leapt from her skin in fright.
“Do not fear,” the Brazen told her and lifted its falchion for the last time.
This steampunk world, and Aubrey Hartmann, will return in the full novel Constable of Aqualinne: The Constable Comes to Town.