The Mercenary's Tale, Part 15 - Darkheath Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Mercenary's Tale, Part 15

(So, apparently the various italics and fonts I've been using to distinguish the different voices in Thane's head haven't been transferring, making reading this even more confusing. For that, I apologize. Given the amount of work it is to mess with the fonts, I'm not changing things, though. Because I'm lazy.)

From the river, a dank tentacle snapped upward. Thane rolled backwards. It wants the Ringbearer! Protect the Ringbearer! Ragnar’s beard, what was that thing? And what was the Ringbearer?

More tentacles squirmed upward from the water. Shouting for Athera to wake, Thane drew his sword. He flicked his blade through the first of the greasy black appendages. A roar broke the night, and phosphorescent blood gushed forth.

Thane swung again, severing another tentacle. But more thrashed upwards, seeking him. How did this beastie get through the gate? For that matter, how had it survived in the Gaunt? The river seemed an unusual place to find this creature, whatever it was. 

Several tentacles coiled around his sword arm and began to squeeze. He drew his long knife with his left hand and hacked at the things. This was bad. He murmured an invocation to Ragnar. But the god of swords and blood only helped those who helped themselves.

Triggering his deeper power, he freed his sword arm and began to slash at tentacles at a rate that should have been matched only by a Thracian. But the beast in the water kept pace. And for every limb he hacked off the unseen abomination, more, many more, emerged.

One lashed around his left leg and began to squeeze. Too intent on keeping his arms free, Thane did not notice until his greave crumpled and his bone cracked. Losing his balance, Thane fell, his knife arm trapped. Kill it. Use the words. You know them. Use them! Use them fool!

“Beloq, wealm! Hafath frione! Frecan, forthe, onsended!” Thane unleashed searing heat and blistering cold simultaneously, while illuminating the area in a flood of unnatural hell-light. 

Under the freakish purple glow, the flailing tentacles were black. The creature in the river screamed as gouts of fire burned some of its limbs and numbing cold attacked others. But its grip on Thane held, and slowly, it began to drag him toward the river. Thane pushed his powers—both magical and physical—to their limit, and then beyond. But still the creature pulled him.

Then Athera darted in. She had a short, curved knife. No armor, no sword, no magic. She was no Thracian elf, she was no warrior. Thane shouted at her to get away. 

The girl ignored him. Dodging tentacles with unnatural ease, she uttered a word of command. “Dzur! El’fangor dunmaya k’pling!”

For a moment, the monster continued to drag at Thane. Then it shuddered, relaxing its grip, and retreated back into the river.

Thane let the hell-light slip. “What did you do?” 

“What?” Athera, who had been reaching for him, to help him up, recoiled.

“What. Did. You. Do?” Thane roared. Despite his exhaustion, nausea, and impending headache, he readied himself for a wizard’s duel. Girding his mind, he rose to his feet. A shock of pain ran up his damaged leg. They’ll be calling you the Limper, after that one. 

Athera shrank away. “I just told it to go away…” There was panic, a panic Thane remembered, in her voice. 

Painfully, he limped back toward their fire, and sat. “You used words of power. And not just any words. The ones you said were from the highest class. Thracian mages dedicate their lives to mastering those words.”

Athera remained standing, ready for an escape. “Maybe I heard my father say them?”

Well, it was a possibility. Thane said as much. “But I don’t think your da could have taught you that spell, and I doubt he knew those words. I know them, but if I used them, I’d be puking my guts up from now until Ragnar-Ok.”

Carefully, he rolled up the left leg of his trousers. The ruin underneath was bad. When the greave had buckled, it had cut deep into his flesh, and added to the chaos caused by the breaking bone. This was not going to heal well. He thought of the long journey left ahead—a journey into the Dagger Woods, no less—and the return trip after that. It was a pity horses had such an irrational dislike for him.

Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. What in Ragnar’s long mane was that about? You’re maaaaad…Maaaad as a hatter! Tee hee hee… Batty bat batty bat bat man! I’m coming for you, baaaat maaaaan! 

Ah, that’s right. He was insane.

“How do you think I knew those words, then?” Athera had sat down, although across the flames from him. 

“Well… Honestly, I’ve got no idea. A long time ago, I heard a story about some wizard or other who discovered his wizardly-ness by uttering a minor word, but I’ve never heard something about anybody who subconsciously knew magic of the order you worked. If I had to guess, I’d say you were either a fae, a Thracian changeling, or some prodigy…or aberration…of nature. Fae, though, no…you don’t look fae. You’re too sane to be a fae. Thracian is definitely a possibility, with that speed. Otherwise you’re just a fluke. Doesn’t matter to me, as long as you don’t decide to try killing me.”

He did his best to set the bone in his leg, using a combination of healing magics and simple physicking. Unfortunately, he knew no magic of a high enough order to instantly heal the break. Instead, he had to settle for resetting the pieces, applying a brace, bandaging the flesh, and hoping for the best. In the meantime, though, he would need something to lean on. Lean on me, when you’re not strong…I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…

“Am I in trouble? For using the magic?” 

“No. It’s not my business, so no one will hear of it from me. No one should bother you, as long as you don’t go trumpeting the information in every tavern from here to Gomorrah. Thracians are surprisingly tolerant of their ‘lessers’ using magic, but only if it’s minor magic. Big juju can be a rallying point for a rebellion. So if you’ve got lots of power, you might just wake up some morning with your throat slit, courtesy of the Ennead. Lay low, lassie, and you’ll be fine.” 

Nearby, there was a hawthorn tree. Thane limped over to it, bringing with a saw-bladed knife from his pack. If he was going to use a staff, it might as well be a staff with magical properties. Lots of nether beasties despised hawthorn. Supposedly it burnt them on contact or some such.

At any rate, it had some sort of use. He sawed off a length that was strong and reasonably straight. It didn’t have the balance of a spear, but then it wasn’t meant for a spear. It was a staff. A stave. Thrust it into the ground where you find the dragon’s skull, and from your staff shall grow a tree, a tree that brings life in death. Ah. He was prophesying now. 

It was still hours from morning, but Thane wasn’t any more likely to sleep than he had been before the river beast’s attack. He had a splitting headache, and had puked twice. The Shaky Voice was screaming within his skull, gibbering in fear. The Darker Voice was growling, still thirsting for blood. 

He began stripping the bark from the length of wood, smoothing it, shaping it into a staff. As he carved, the beat of his heart, and later in the deepest hours before morning, Athera’s snores, blended with the rasp of his knife, drowning out the madness in his head.

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