Cerdic the Usual – Ch. 7

Srathek didn’t like being in human form. Humans were the weakest of creatures he could appear as, but that was the only creature that was on Earth. Sighing to himself he approached a non-descript warehouse in Blackpool, Lancashire. The warehouse seemed abandoned, but Srathek knew better. This was likely a base for the Guardians of Humanity council. One of the few still guarded by people who listened for certain passphrases.

With a swift knock on the door Srathek stated the passphrase. “May Gormaliev not calculate against you.”

The door opened slowly. “And may The Calculating turn her schemes away from you, as well. Enter.”

Srathek walked into the warehouse. “I believe Shane is waiting for me. I’m Stan.”

“Yes, he is. Down the hall, third door on the right, Stan.” The guard closed the door and locked it before sitting back down behind a set of monitors watching the exterior of the building.

“I see you’ve added cameras to the setup.”

The guard grunted an affirmative then motioned back to the hallway.

Shrugging Srathek walked down the hall. “Third door on the right…ah, here we go.” He knocked on the door in rapid succession, three knocks. “It’s Stan.”

The door opened so fast it practically flew off the hinges. “Stan? I thought you weren’t being serious about meeting here!”

Srathek looked amusedly at Shane. “My, my Shane. You sure set the appointment, though.”

Shane pushed his round glasses back onto his face and brushed his long, sweaty, black hair to one side. “I was making the precaution. Do you want to go for a walk, perhaps?”

“That would probably be best, Shane.” Srathek looked him up and down. “You look like you need the sun.”

– – –

Cerdic and Veron sat at a petrol station in the town of Hurst Green. They were waiting for the tank to fill and Cerdic was polishing off a hamburger.

“So, we’re just going to drive back down to Rawtenstall, then?” Cerdic fed the last bite of the hamburger to Grimm.

Veron sighed. “Yes, we are. We need to get you back to your handler and the railroad may be compromised. You remember the hyb-” He caught himself and looked around to see if anyone was listening. “The guy you met on the train?”

“Yes.”

“He may have been working for Albrite. We can’t be too careful.” Veron paid for the petrol and started the car back up. “Let’s get going. Southward bound.”

Cerdic shrugged in the left seat. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school, or something?”

An annoyed expression crossed Veron’s face. “First, it’s summer, and second no. I finished school and am a full-time agent.”

“Well, don’t you need to be on your assignment, then?” Cerdic said sheepishly.

“I guess they think I don’t need to worry about it.” Veron shrugged. “Let’s just get you home and back to work, shall we?”

“Sure.”

– – –

Veron and Cerdic sat on the shoulder of a country road next to the car. Grimm sat nearby, watching the road, though there weren’t any cars in sight. The back-right tire was flat, and the spare tire was on the road. The jack kit was lying open without a spanner in the kit.

“Well, I could have sworn I kept a spanner in there.” Veron leaned against the car. “My phone died and yours doesn’t have service. Man, we’re so lucky.”

“I know, I know.” Cerdic checked his phone again. “I just have the wrong carrier, I guess. Do you think your phone is charged up now?”

“Doubtful. It doesn’t turn on until it’s at 20% or more battery.”

With a sigh Cerdic stood again. “I’m going to take a look at that tire. Something’s bothering me about it.”

Veron shrugged and patted Grimm on the head. “He’s a strange one, you know. Maybe you should bond with me instead.”

Grimm cocked his head to the side and barked lightly.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Gormaliev didn’t make a pact with me for a reason.” He slumped a little. “Don’t know why, but she has her reasons.”

Cerdic looked over the flat tire. When he looked at the right angle, he could see some sort of collection of triangles slowly fading away. They seemed to be made of shadows. Shrugging, Cerdic pulled on the rubber of the tire. It flaked away, as if it had become brittle. With a tug the rubber ripped from the wheel and Cerdic was able to see the inside of the tire. The tube was torn to shreds, but the inside of the tire had score marks all along it perpendicular to the rotation. He picked up the rubber and walked back over to Veron.

“Hey, Veron. Does this look like a normal flat to you?”

“What?” Veron stood and looked at the rubber Cerdic was holding. “Is that flaking off?”

Cerdic flicked the side of the tire and rubber flakes fell to the ground. “Yeah, I think we’ve been sabotaged.”

“That’s not good. Looks like necrotic magics.” Veron pulled an amulet out of his trouser pocket. “This is an emergency amulet. Do I need to use it?”

“There’s another thing, I saw something. It looked li-” Cerdic was cut off as a series of popping sounds went off.

“Shast!” Veron gripped the amulet and said something that sounded latin. “Help will be here soon. Keep your head down until then.” He dragged Cerdic down and around the car. He reached up and pulled a sheet from the back of the car. “Umbra,” he whispered as he pulled the fabric over Grimm, Cerdic, and himself.

The fabric was see-through from the inside, but Cerdic could have sworn the fabric was tan like the interior of the car.

A pair of feet worked their way around the car and when the person came into view Cerdic put a hand over his mouth to keep himself from gasping. He was a lanky with sunglasses, and blood streaming from his mouth.

“Pah, the local wildlife taste disgusting. Too bad we have orders not to feast on the targets.’

“Do you see them?”

“Nah, there’s nothing over here. Did Shane know who they were, exactly?”

A burly man came around the other end of the car. “Uh, a pactless Aelfson and a Usual.” He froze mid-step. “Grak! They activated an emergency amulet. Someone’s coming.”

“Well, let’s hurry, then. They must be cloaked. I’ll try sniffing for them.”

The burly man sighed. “And why, pray tell, were you not already doing that, dear vampire?”

With a sigh the vampire sniffed the air. “Because I still had the smell of my meal in my nostrils…they have a dog with them.” He walked right next to Cerdic, Veron, and Grimm. “Should be right here.” He groped in the air over their heads. “Odd.”

Rolling his eyes, the burly man started to bring back his leg as if to kick. He never completed the action, as a new set of popping noises surprised the man. “Quick, let’s get out of here.” The burly man made motions in the air with his hands and Cerdic saw geometric shapes forming around it. As the shapes started to intertwine a dagger-like triangle smashed through them, breaking them to pieces. As the shattered shapes dissipated two other men circled the car.

“Ah, Jeremy and Patrick.” Eric said. “What are you doing here?”

“Treeft,” the vampire swore. “I told you this was a trap, Jer.”

Jeremy sighed. “No, Pat. I told you to hurry. You were taking your time.”

“Grimm. Bite the vampire, will you?” Eric looked directly at Grimm, through the fabric.

Breaking out of hiding, with a snarl, Grimm chomped onto Patrick’s leg. The vampire cried out and started striking at Grimm. Most of the blows passed right through the grim.

With the fabric moved Cerdic and Veron were in the open. The second man that had arrived with Eric pulled the two of them to their feet. “I’m glad you used the amulet. I remember you telling me once you’d rather die than be rescued by me.”

Veron half-heartedly punched the man in the shoulder. “Shut up, cuz. Just deal with these guys. Henry won’t give Eric all the credit, will he?”

“Oh, fine.” Henry made a series of jerking motions with his hands. “Lux!” A ray of sunlight went directly into the vampire’s face. Cerdic noticed that the geometry that made up the spell was also designed to melt his sunglasses, and they did so readily.

With a loud shriek Patrick fell to his knees. “My eyes! My eyes!” He groped at his leg, trying to grip Grimm. “I need blood, now!”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 17

Automatons were long thought of as machines without sapience. They had enough sentience, people thought, to follow the orders of The Commander and little else. However, whenever The Commander was not commanding the automatons around, they did things of their own accord. At first, they took care of the creation and repair of themselves – which they still do – but eventually they began to leave The Commander’s army. Amir knew that this was happening, but he had long known that automatons were sapient. He knew that any who left would return to his call if he truly needed them, but he doubted any such time would come.
In my interactions, limited as they are, with this god I have heard the tale of how automatons came to be. The souls of ancient humans, not ready to become gods, were included in the great ascension and, instead of becoming immortal in their own flesh, their souls were bonded to the automatons they were creating. Amir knew these people before and said that afterwards he always had a feeling they were more than they seemed.

Excerpt from the works of Jergolt, The Scholar

Burner, Dreekt, Gaemacirch, and Julian found themselves in a much smaller cavern than the first. In this cavern there were piles of metal and wires all over.

Julian handed the quarterstaff back to Dreekt whose taloned hand strapped it back to his pack.

Gaemacirch’s ferret head was turning left and right, scanning the room.

The glow of Burner’s eyes under her hood did little to light the room, but Julian’s lantern did light up the room.

As they surveyed the bare wires and metal Dreekt wished they had a dwarf with them. They would’ve been able to tell what kind of metals there were, and what they were most commonly used for. He moved forward slowly, careful not to cut himself on any jagged pieces.

The four adventurers rounded the corner and found a humanoid automaton lying on its back. Its lower face was missing, and its legs were pinned under a large piece of metal. Its head swiveled around at the sound of their arrival and it motioned at its legs, uttering no sound but that of metal sliding across metal.

With concern Gaemacirch approached in his ferret form. “Don’t worry, we’re here to help.” He nosed at the piece of metal, tested the weight and shook his head. “It’s too heavy, I cannot move it and none of you can. We’ll need to rig something together to deal with this.”

“Dreekt, why don’t you and Julian stay here to work on that while Gaem and I scout further ahead?” Burner motioned forward.

“No, I think we should all work on this.” Dreekt made eye contact with Burner. “I don’t want you two going off alone.”

Gaemacirch sighed. “Look, we need to keep moving, Dreekt I-”

“No, either I go with you two or you stay here. The gem showed me something. You two need to stay with someone while we’re down here.”

Burner broke Dreekt’s eye contact and turned to Julian. “Can you handle this yourself?”

“Only if Dreekt leaves his rope.” Julian started to take the coil from Dreekt’s pack. “I have an idea and there’s a lot of material to work with here. We’ll catch up. If there’s a fork wait there.”

“Alright, Dreekt. You come with us.” Burner motioned forward. “We need to keep moving. The longer we spend down here the thicker the darkness seems.”

Julian watched his three traveling companions leave and turned to the pile of metal covering the automaton. “Ok, automaton, I’m going to do something. Don’t worry about it.”

Some of the automaton’s gears started spinning in its neck where its mouth would be if it hadn’t been torn off.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” Julian sat cross-legged, pulled out a small notebook, set one of his hands on the metal and started reading something in a grating tongue.

After ten minutes of this he stood up, careful to keep his hand still on the metal. Once he was standing upright, he put his other hand under the lip of the metal and pulled. The metal seemed to grow where he pulled it, but the automaton soon realized that as he pulled the metal into a long, thick bar the metal that was on its legs was moving, almost as if Julian was sucking up water with a straw. Eventually Julian pulled enough of the metal away that the automaton’s feet were no longer pinned.

The automaton stood and felt surveyed its overall condition. It smiled at Julian and moved in to hug him.

“Wait, let me end the spell first. You’re made of metal.” Julian removed his hands from the metal, now in the shape of a bar, and said a few words in the same grating tongue as before. “Ok, now you’re fine. Not that I want the hug, but-” Julian was cut off by the automaton hugging him. “Right, now we need to go find the others. It’s been at least twenty minutes.” He picked the rope back up from the ground, uncoiled it, and recoiled it. “There, now it looks like I actually used this. Let’s go. Oh, I’m Julian by the way. The large ferret is Gaemacirch who is a zarx, the skravyn is Dreekt, and the wick is Burner.”

– – –

The tunnel cleared of metal after a few dozen feet. The concern Dreekt felt grew as they approached the small cavern he had seen in his vision.

“Here,” Dreekt said. “Be on the lookout for-” he was cut short as a giant spider attacked Gaemacirch by spitting acid at him.

“Spiders!” Gaemacirch loped towards the giant spider that had spit at him to slash at it with his claws. He missed, but as the spider avoided the attack an opening was created for Dreekt to shoot magic at the creature.

Seeing the opening Dreekt cast a bolt of fire at the creature who seemed to shrug most of the hit off.

Reaching for her bow and arrows Burner noticed another spider. “There’s a second one approaching!” She shot at the first spider, hoping that by focusing they would hold out long enough for Julian to show up to help. One giant spider would be no problem, but two? Big problem.

The second spider jumped forward and attempted to bite Burner but misjudged the distance and moved back again.

The first spider bit at Gaemacirch and managed to sink its fangs in. Venom injected into him, but Gaemacirch was able to shrug off the effects.

Burner turned and shot at the second spider, now realizing that if they ignored one of the spiders it would be problematic. The arrow found a gap in the spider’s protective carapace, dealing some damage.

Deciding it wouldn’t hurt to try again Dreekt shot another bolt of fire at the first spider. Once again, the fire seemed to bounce off the hide. He quickly addressed his spirit. Any ideas?

Don’t use fire, use force?

Good idea.

Large ferret claws ripped into the first spider, heavily damaging its front legs and making it harder for it to attack.

The second spider ran back up to Burner, not willing to judge a leap again, and bit at her. The bite took a large chunk out of Burner’s side but did not inject any venom into her.

The first spider bit at Gaemacirch again, but he was to swift for it. The spider backed off by climbing up the wall.

A wave of arcane energy blasted from between Dreekt’s outstretched hands and knocked the spider off the wall and back to the ground where Gaemacirch could get to it.

Expecting the spider to still be on the wall, Gaemacirch had leapt toward it and missed when it fell back to the ground, but he ended up between the spider and the cave wall.

Pulling out her rapier Burner stabbed at the second spider, but the spider saw the attack coming and moved out of range before moving forward again biting at Burner. This bite knocked Burner out and the spider moved to close on her two companions, planning to deal with her later.

The first spider turned to attack Dreekt, but he saw it coming and jumped back, out of range. He then pulled out his quarterstaff and attempted to break off one of the spider’s mandibles but missed.

With a slash of his paw Gaemacirch dealt another blow to the first spider. “Dreekt! Burner went down! There’s a second spider!”

As Gaemacirch called out the second spider moved in to bite at Gaemacirch who scuttled to the side, barely avoiding the bite.

With a quick strike that Dreekt couldn’t avoid the first spider sunk its fangs into his arm. The venom entered his blood and he could feel it work it burning through his veins. He swung at the spider with his quarterstaff, missing before falling to one knee, barely able to stand.

Turning back into his humanoid form, Gaemacirch gripped his large, katana-like weapon in his hands, but was unable to strike before the second spider bit his leg. This ended up knocking him over and he hit his head hard against the hard floor of the cavern. He went out at once.

Julian and the automaton entered the cavern just as Gaemacirch went down and then ran over to help. The first spider noticed this and with a swift motion injected more venom into Dreekt, knocking him the rest of the way to the ground and making him lose consciousness. Oddly there was a smile on Dreekt’s face as he went out.

With the sound of metal on metal the automaton charged forward and struck at the first spider, dealing minor damage to it.

A scream loosed from Julian’s lips and he swung and the same spider with both his axes. He was blind in his rage and was unable to connect with the spider.

Circling around, the second spider struck at the automaton and pulled some chunks of metal away.

The first spider bit into Julian’s arm, but he was able to break the hold before the venom was injected into his veins. With the momentum from pulling away Julian attempted to strike at the other spider and missed but created a small opening for the automaton.

Seeing the opening the automaton grabbed Gaemacirch’s katana-like sword from the ground and beheaded the first spider with it.

In anger at having its mate killed the second spider bit at the automaton twice, the second bite finding purchase on the metal, pulling more away from it.

The automaton sliced a slab from the spider’s side just as Julian threw both of his axes at it. Together they dealt a heavy blow against it.

In retaliation the spider backed off and spit acid on the automaton, eating through enough of the metal to cause it to fall, useless, to the floor of the cavern.

Picking up one of his axes Julian tossed it into the spider and picked up his other axe.

Backing away further the spider spit more acid at Julian who was able to avoid some of the acid, but he knew he would be unable to take another hit. Picking up the other axe that had dropped back to the ground Julian threw them both into the spider’s head, killing it.

Exhausted from the battle Julian quickly made his way to Burner, who he knew had the magic to heal his companions. He bound her wounds to stop the bleeding and fed some herbs he had picked up in town to her to wake her up.

With a gasp Burner opened her eyes. “The others, how are they?”

“They’re unconscious, but Dreekt seemed satisfied when I arrived with the automaton. Can you heal them?”

“I can. It will probably take a while, though.” Burner moved over to her friends and started sending healing energy over them. After a while they woke up.

While Burner was distracted with healing Dreekt and Gaemacirch, Julian was using some of his magic to put the automaton back together. With a flash of insight, he cut open the spiders and fished around in their guts. He found parts of other automatons in there, mostly deteriorated by the acid they had spit, but in one he found a voice box.

He brought the voice box over to the mostly repaired automaton and pressed it against the automaton’s throat. After a moment the automaton lifted its hands to hold the box in place while gears and wires snaked from its throat and from the box to join up. In a moment the automaton could speak again.

“Thank you, Julian. You are a wonder among men.” The voice had a metallic echo to it.

Julian shook his head. “Don’t mention it…what’s your name?”

“Enress, call me Enress.”

“Hey, Julian.” Dreekt walked over slowly, his wounds no longer visible with regrown feathers covering them. “How’s he doing?”

“I’m a she, and my name is Enress.” The automaton held out her right hand and offered it to Dreekt. “I believe your name is Dreekt?”

“Yes, it is.” He took the offered hand and shook. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 16

The four adventurers approached an opening in the ground. Instead of a cave, as Dreekt had expected, there was just a tunnel mouth flush with the ground. It wasn’t a hole in the ground, but instead it sloped underground at a 40-degree angle. If they didn’t know it was the opening to the Dark Under the entrance would look like a jagged, oval hole in the ground.

“So,” Julian said, “this looks like the entrance to Dark Under the governor described.”

“Right.” Gaemacirch shrugged his pack from his ferret form. “Hey, Dreekt, can you put on my armor for me?”

With a quick nod Dreekt kneeled at the bag next to Gaemacirch’s head. “Sure, but you’ll need to talk me through it.”

“What,” Gaemacirch whispered, “is wrong? You keep looking at Julian like you’re seeing a specter.”

“Remember when I used the dagger?” Dreekt whispered back, pulling the armor from the pack.

Gaemacirch glanced at Julian who was arguing with Burner about something. “Yes, but what’s that have to do with him?”

“Well, I remember being at Hereweald and Wassa’s house for that, first, and the events in the forest seem to be different.” Dreekt started sorting the armor to the best of his ability. “Head or tail?” He pointed to a triangular piece.

“Head. See the concave rounded spots? Those go next to my ears.” Gaemacirch sighed deeply. “So, in the forest Julian got killed? I assume it was Mad Cedar. It knocked him out against a root, did he hit harder and break his neck?”

“No, that would’ve been quick and clean. He was impaled through the chest with a branch. I don’t know what happened to his heart, but it was gone.”

Gaemacirch shuddered at that. “Ok,” he said louder, “that’s the correct arrangement. Start putting it on starting at my tail and working toward my head.”

“So that from the front it’s harder to get under the plates.” Dreekt was clearly making a statement and not asking a question.

“Exactly.”

The work of attaching the armor went quickly. The leather tabs had been designed to easily clasp but would take more work to remove them. Dreekt knew, however, that if Gaemacirch transformed into his humanoid form the armor would be forced off and only his undergarments would remain on his frame.

– – –

“So, Gaem, why stay in the ferret form?” Dreekt suddenly ducked under a low-hanging rock. “Question withdrawn.”

Gaemacirch chuckled. “Exactly why.”

After a few minutes of traveling along a winding, branchless tunnel Burner, Dreekt, Gaemacirch, and Julian found themselves in a large cavern. Looking around they spotted at least four exits from the cavern.

“Well, what direction should we go?” Burner spoke softly, but in the silence of the cavern it sounded much louder.

In the distance they heard the scratch of claws against rocks and the sound of rushing air.

Julian turned the dimmer down on his hooded lantern. He spoke even more softly than Burner had, “I’ll try to keep the light down, but I need this to see.”

A large sack of flesh with tentacle-like tendrils growing from the sides floated over a rock and into view.

“Shast.” Burner swore under her breath. “Looks like we’re going to have to deal with gaseous tendrils whether we like it or not.” She pulled her short bow from her back and nocked an arrow wrapped in cloth. “Give me some of that flame, Julian.”

With a sigh Julian opened the lantern enough for Burner to light the arrow off the flame. The arrow burned a strange green color, close to Julian’s skin tone.

“This is a little something I picked up to deal with these guys.” Burner loosed the arrow at the gaseous tendril and when it struck the creature exploded in a purple light. “Oh, that was more intense than I expected.”

The skittering grew louder as the group looked for cover. They quickly realized there would be no cover as more of the gaseous tendrils floated into view.

“Can they give away our position, Gaem?”

Gaemacirch nodded at Dreekt. “Yes, the gaseous tendrils and the skittering creepers have a symbiotic relationship. The creepers follow the tendrils around because they’re drawn to creatures that the creepers see as prey and the creepers attack them, protecting the tendrils. Then, when a gaseous tendril gets old enough, the gasses inside can no longer provide enough ballast and the skittering creepers get a free meal.”

“That sounded nice until the end, then it got dark.” Dreekt shuddered.

“Welcome to Dark Under, where the name says all.” Julian readied a hatchet, brandishing it menacingly while still holding the lantern in his other hand.

Dreekt noticed a second hatchet on Julian’s belt and realized that when he was threatening Mad Cedar he had done so with only one weapon. As he was thinking about this Dreekt’s memory split and he remembered what happened in this version of events. Julian had threatened the tree, raised his hatchet against Burner, realized what he was doing before he struck, dropped the axe, and then the tree conked him over the head. He had never struck Burner, and in this version of events Gaemacirch had not arrived to slice through his shoulder tendon with a throwing knife.

“Dreekt! Head here and now!” Gaemacirch intercepted a skittering creeper that had leapt at the distracted skravyn.

Shaking the thoughts from his head Dreekt readied his dagger and started to ready a spell. “Thanks, Gaem. If you can hold them off, I’m going to conjure something.” He turned to address Burner and Julian. “Once I do this you guys can decide if you want to light it or leave it to hinder them.”

Burner lit a candle and used some of the melted wax to attach it to a rock. She nocked another arrow, lit it, and fired at another gaseous tendril. “I’m focusing on the tendrils. You really don’t want to deal with those.”

With an annoyed sigh Julian set his lantern on top of a different rock and opened the hood all the way, creating a large circle of light for himself. He pulled the second hatchet from his belt and hacked through a skittering creeper. “I forget, are these things good to eat?”

“Do you see a paladin or cleric here?” Gaemacirch pounced on a creeper, gouging deep into its hide. “Oh, or a druid.” He bounced off the creature and landed next to Julian, prepared for another attack.

Dreekt finished some chanting and plucked a small spiderweb from the cave floor. He motioned with his free hand at the area the skittering creepers were coming from and a web formed out of the energies he had summoned, covering the ground five feet deep, using various rocks and low-hanging sections of the ceiling as anchor points.

One of the skittering creepers had been mid-jump when the web had appeared and was caught above the ground, unable to find purchase to break free of the web.

Burner put her shortbow away and grabbed the candle. She walked over to the web. “I’m going to light it. The skittering creepers will just follow us later if we don’t deal with them now.” She bent over and put the flame to the webbing. Instantly the immediate web was ablaze and it didn’t take long for the rest of it to catch. There were screeches of pain followed by silence as many of the skittering creepers died at the same time.

“That was eerie.” Julian’s green skin turned a slightly paler shade and he started swaying slightly.

Dreekt instinctively steadied Julian by tossing Julian’s arm over his shoulders and his arm over Julian’s shoulders. “I don’t think we have time to be queasy. I’m sure that fire’s going to attract something else, so we need to move.”

“Agreed.” Gaemacirch nosed Julian. “Look, if you need to ride for a little that’s fine, but I’m wearing armor so it won’t be very comfortable.”

Julian grabbed Dreekt’s staff from his pack and leaned on it a little. “No, I think this will help, if you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead. We’ll move faster if you can move on your own.”

“I’ll give it back in a few minutes, I’m sure.” Julian stuffed some small pieces of cloth up his nostrils. “And this helbs with the snell.”

“Well, which tunnel should we venture down?” Burner pointed at two tunnels that were to the left of the tunnel they entered through. “Left, or right?”

“Heroes go left,” offered Dreekt.

Burner nodded. “Well, that’s fine with me. Left it is.”

“Why would heroes go left?” Gaemacirch asked. “I thought right is always right.”

“I’m left-handed. That’s why.” Dreekt motioned at the dagger in his left hand.

Gaemacirch rolled his ferret eyes and followed behind Burner.

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Medakus Grimoires: Iaceo – Ch. 1

[Author’s Note: I started writing this book…around ten years ago or so? Wow. Anyway, this is the third time I started over writing Iaceo and this is a better draft than the first two, in my opinion. As with the other books and stories here I am working on this wile I post it. Enjoy.]

After school Daren Medakus worked a part-time job at Shadow Trading Cards and Hobbies. The third trimester of his senior year was starting tomorrow, and he was only half paying attention at the register. The shop closed in five minutes and it was empty, so he let his mind wander to his weekend training. Up until recently he had trained with his father every Saturday morning. Now, though, his father was on a long assignment from the council and wouldn’t be back anytime soon.

“Oi, Daren! Pay attention!”

Looking up from his thoughts Daren saw a customer waiting silently in front of the counter. “Sorry, didn’t hear you.”

The customer put a few card packs and a board game onto the counter.

“Silent, eh?” He started ringing up the items, the customer still said nothing. “That’ll be thirty-five fifteen.”

The customer handed him a fifty. Daren held it up to the light to check for the watermark. There was none.

Daren looked over to where Cal was restocking. “Hey, Cal! Can you double check this for me?”

Cal Stver set down a box of board games and walked to the counter. “What’s up?”

“Please tell me I’m just blind.” He handed the bill to Cal.

The bill was held up to the light once again. “Yup, you’re just blind. You want me to ring him up?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna go home.” Daren swapped locations with Cal and went to the employee room to time out. He picked up his school bag and walked out the back of the store.

Daren went to get in his pickup and realized his vision was too blurry to drive. Something was wrong. Very wrong. He pulled out his phone to call his father the phone dialed but then came back with a busy tone. Cursing under his breath Daren started to call his mother but stopped and walked back into the store. Cal had his key in the lock when Daren opened the door.

“Yo, something wrong?” Cal asked.

“I don’t feel so…” Daren fell forward and Cal caught him, laying him down gently.

“Well, that’s not good.” Cal pulled out his cell and called Daren’s mother. She picked up immediately. “Hey, Neta it’s Cal. Daren just passed out on the floor. You may want to get down here. I’m calling a medic.”

“I’m coming. Don’t call a medic though, I know what’s wrong. Give him water and something to eat when he wakes up.” Neta hung up the phone and grabbed a few bottles from the cellar shelf before rushing to get in her car. “Now he’s gone and done it. Why didn’t he listen to me this morning?”

– –

Daren woke up in a chair in the staff room of Shadow Trading Cards and Hobbies. Cal sat in front of him with a bottle of water and a snack bar.

“Good morning sleepy head. Your mom’s on the way.” He held out the water and snack bar. “Your mom said to get you something to eat and drink. Are you okay?”

“I think so, mom warned me this morning. She said to drink that brew before I left.” Daren looked for his backpack. “Something about the flow of energy in the area or something.” The words left his mouth before he realized who he was talking to.

Cal chuckled. “Yeah, you magical types always slip up around me. I must just have that kind of face or something.” He held up the snack bar again. “Eat. I’ll get your grimoire for you.”

Daren took the snack bar and water in stunned silence. How did Cal know he was looking for his grimoire? How did he even know what a grimoire was? He opened the snack bar and took a bite. “Tastes vaguely of aloe…a little weird.”

“Yeah, just had a sample case brought in. I don’t think we need them for anything, though.” Cal was rummaging through Daren’s messenger bag. “Ah, grimoire.” He set the book in the seat next to Daren. “So, you aren’t going to kiss a vampire later, are you? The aloe tends to burn.”

“If I was I’d be taking my life in my hands already.” Daren finished the bar and drank some of the water. “So, what are you, anyway?”

“Your boss. If you need something more specific than that we can talk about it later. I think your mom’s here now.” The sound of a car engine reached the staff room. “I’ll go let her in.” Cal stood up and started toward the door. “Oh,” he said without turning back to Daren, “if you want to know more just look up my family. The Stver line is an interesting one. I don’t know everything myself. I don’t have the resources you probably do.” He left the room.

As soon as Cal was out of sight Daren opened his grimoire to somewhere in the middle and pulled out a pressed flower. He then turned to a section near the front and started reading from it. He instantly felt better as the flower disintegrated and a protective layer of magic surrounded him.

Neta walked into the room and saw Daren’s grimoire open. “Close that now, young man. You’re in enough trouble as it is.” She got closer and whispered. “What if Cal found out?”

“He already knew.” Daren closed the grimoire and held his hand out. “Just give me the potion. My mana’s out of whack.”

Neta sighed and handed two vials of thin powders to him. One was blue and the other was orange. “Mix it in the water and drink it all. The blue one is Blue Ash.”

The powder was already mixing into the water. Daren put the cap on and shook it. “What’s the other?”

“Orange flavoring. Blue Ash tastes terrible.” Neta watched as Daren started to drink. “Good. I’ll go talk to Cal.”

“Before you do that, do you know anything about the Stver family?”

“They run a cult in Armenia. Cal has no ties to them, though. I checked”

“I don’t think that’s what he meant when he mentioned his line. Do they have any abilities?”

Neta shook her head. “If they do you have the thing that might tell you right there.” She pointed at his grimoire. “That was your grandfather’s and his grandfather’s and his. Maybe it has something on the Stver line.” She walked back into the main part of the store.

Daren drank the rest of the water and felt his mana balance back out. “Stupid mana flux. I thought the report said it was over. Whatever.” He started to flip through his grimoire. “Hmm…Stver line. Armenia.”

– –

Cal was waiting for Neta behind the store counter busying himself with some inventory. “Ah, is he doing okay?”

“Who are you?” Neta looked him up and down with menacing eyes. “How did you know what Daren was?”

“I’m a seeker.”

Relief washed over Neta’s face. “Why didn’t you just tell him that?”

“Because I’m not with the council. I technically don’t have to tell you either.” Cal turned back to the inventory and continued counting.

“Do you have any connections in Armenia I should be worried about.”

Giving up trying to count while having a conversation Cal walked to the same side of the counter as Neta. “If I did then Daren wouldn’t be working here, would he?”

“No, he’d be dead.”

Daren walked into the main store room. He didn’t seem to have caught the last sentence. He was reading aloud from his grimoire. “The Stver line split into two distinct groups around the time that the Armenian Apostolic Church was founded. Half the family moved to Europe and eventually to America while the other half remained in Armenia. The group that moved to Europe, and eventually America, took a peaceful role in their new home while the group that remained in Armenia worked against peace. One thing remains the same, however. Every fifth generation of the Stver line one of the children is a seeker.”

Cal nodded. “That’s right. Who wrote that?”

“My great grandfather. He seems to have had an interest in seekers. There’s a lot of information in here.” Daren thumbed through a few pages and read again. “Only exceptionally strong seekers can sense a warlocke. Most of the seekers of the Stver line are such seekers. Well, that explains that.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 15

In front of Dreekt the mist formed into a man. A human man. The man was familiar, but Dreekt couldn’t place where he’d seen the man before.

“Ah, Dreekt. I believe that at this point in your story we haven’t met yet.” The man smiled crookedly.

Blinking a few times Dreekt looked around the man, trying to remember who he was. No matter how hard he tried the identity slipped away from him but was always just on the edge of awareness. “No, I don’t believe we’ve met before, mister…”

The man smiled. “The man who has control over time, yet that time forgot. I know you’ve heard of me, and probably have a feeling you should know me. Almost everyone does.” He sighed and sat on a chair that hadn’t been there before. “I’m The Pathfinder. The god of time and prophecy. This is the second time you visited this place, and the first time you’ve done so on purpose. What knowledge do you seek?”

“I didn’t come with anything specific in mind, I just wanted to see if the dagger worked.” Dreekt thought about what The Pathfinder had said, about having not met yet. “So, you really can travel through time.”

The Pathfinder nodded. “You know, I had assumed you acted so calm with me before because you have seen me here many times before. Now I know it’s just how you are. Calm even in the face of a god.”

A chuckled escaped from Dreekt’s beak. “No, I think it’s because my physical form isn’t here, so I don’t have adrenaline pumping through me.”

“That’s possible, I suppose.” The Pathfinder motioned to the mist. “Well, what do you want to see?”

“How the excursion into the Dark Under goes in general.” Dreekt put all of his mental awareness towards the mist and it started to swirl, revealing flashes of images. The Pathfinder watched, silently, as he focused more on the details. The scene slowed and Dreekt saw Burner and Gaemacirch again. This time they weren’t talking, but were fighting a large, arachnoid creature. Behind them another arachnoid dropped from the ceiling and blocked them in.

“Shast, we need to get out of here!” Burner said as she stabbed at the first arachnoid. “Quick, call for Dreekt.

“You told him to stay behind. He’s at the tunnel where we found-” Dreekt couldn’t make out the name. “He’ll protect them and get them out of here. We’re on our own.”

The arachnoids attacked then and Dreekt dropped his focus on the scene when it was obvious they would fall to the arachnoids.

“So,” The Pathfinder asked, “what will you do about it?”

Dreekt shrugged. “I’ll try to set things up so they don’t get separated from me, but as you must know, that doesn’t always work.”

“Right, some things can’t be avoided once you set foot that way.”

“I know that an easy way to avoid this is to not go in the first place, but if I can save someone’s life by going there and have a chance of getting everyone in my party out alive, I have to take that chance.”

The Pathfinder nodded knowingly. “I understand. Now, go back to your body. Try to save your friends from their own future, it’s not inevitable.”

– – –

Dreekt woke up in a chair in the Blue Flagon. “Wasn’t I Hereweald’s house when I activated the dagger?”

Gaemacirch looked at Dreekt, confused. “No, we were talking with Wassa in the Blue Flagon when you activated the dagger, weren’t we?”

Is that right? Dreekt silently asked the spirit within himself.

Most definitely not. We were in the house when you entered the trance. I went with you, though The Pathfinder seemed not to notice me.

I didn’t either…or I guess I don’t usually notice you, so I didn’t notice you weren’t there.

::I knew about your friend. Oh, and sometimes small details change when you use the dagger and stone together. I think you’ll enjoy the next plot twist.::

Dreekt wasn’t sure how, but he knew that the person that just spoke was The Pathfinder and that he communicated in a way different from Dreekt’s spirit.

“So,” Julian said, “the tree whisperer awakes.”

Dreekt stared wide-eyed at Julian, then immediately hid his surprise. “Yeah, that was different than the first time.”

Burner walked up the stairs from the basement level. “Oh, good. Dreekt’s awake. Let’s get going.”

Julian stiffened up when Burner approached. “Yes, boss.” He spoke in a tone that made it clear he didn’t like taking orders from her.

“Julian, I know you don’t like what happened with Adalet, but she attacked the three of us first. You were the one who retaliated first.”

“Right,” Julian agreed, “but I wasn’t the one who killed her instead of capturing her.”

Gaemacirch stood between the two. “Look, I understand you’re upset, Julian, but you know that you can’t break the contract with Burner. The Wanderer’s travel laws protect our actions, and you know it.”

“Whatever, let’s just get going.” Julian picked up his pack and moved towards the door. “Maybe that tree should’ve killed me instead of knocking me out. Then I wouldn’t have to know Adalet died.”

::She didn’t die, the poor fool.::

What?!

::Oops, spoilers.::

Dreekt shrugged and put the dagger into his pack, then he pulled it back out, wrapped it in cloth, and put it back in the pack. “Don’t want to misuse this,” he mumbled to himself.

“Come on, Dreekt!” Burner was already at the door to the Blue Flagon.

A wizened old hand grabbed Dreekt’s shoulder right before he followed his companions out of the door. He turned to see The Desecrator for the second time in two days. “You unknowingly snatched someone from my hands. Next time that happens I will take something from you.”

Dreekt’s retort froze in his throat as The Desecrator turned into a column of black smoke and dissipated.

That’s not good. Dreekt thought to no one in particular.

I agree.

::Don’t worry about him, The Balance approves of your inadvertent action. Julian shouldn’t have died before.::

Are you always going to be in my head now?

::No, just until midnight. That’s the rules of The Black Gem.::

Dreekt turned back toward the door and ran after his adventuring party.

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Rebuilding Brangmar – Pt. 10

The tarrasque looked at the small guard outpost. A group of creatures left the building. It cocked its head to the side, trying to decide what to do. It shrugged slightly and moved back to its original path. It passed within two meters of the guard outpost, knocking it over with the tremor from its passing.

“What was that?” Throbor asked. He glanced at Tribst who was sketching the creature in his spellbook.

“Yes, tell me what it was called so I can title this sketch.” Tribst put a few finishing touches on the drawing.

Erin shook her head and sighed. “That was a tarrasque. Apparently they just walk around the plains here.” She fell silent and looked over towards Aram.

Aram was kneeling and seemed to be praying. The rest of the party waited for him to finish before turning and walking back toward the forest. It was still raining, but now they had nothing under which to take cover.

The trek to the forest was mostly uninterrupted. They saw few beasts during the day, and those they noticed at night kept their distance. Lurking just outside the firelight, eyes aglow. During one such night Aram’s and Erin’s watches overlapped.

“So, what’s it like?” Erin asked.

Aram sat up from his bedroll. “What’s what like?” He pulled his sword from the ground beside him and stood to belt it to his side. He strapped his shield to his arm with the quickness of long practice.

“Living among non-human creatures. It probably just feels normal to you.” Erin shook her head at her self-perceived naivete.

“Actually, on Yerkir, the humans are on a pogrom against winged snake creatures.” Aram shrugged. “I don’t know how it started, but both sides are vehement about killing. At least most of them…I don’t really want to talk about it.” He motioned at Erin’s bedroll. “You should sleep. Long day tomorrow.”

Erin shook her head and went to her bedroll. To her surprise there was a suit of studded leather armor next to the bedroll with a note on top.

“Erin, this is the armor I made for you. It should fit pretty well because I was praying to the metal while I did the ritual. Don’t worry, I stayed in the camp while I did the ritual.”

With a grateful sigh Erin lowered herself into her bedroll and let sleep wash over her.

– – –

Tribst shook Erin awake with his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. He whispered to her as he pulled his hand away. “Shh. We’ve surrounded by creatures all night, but some of them are getting closer. I think they’ve been following us since the tarrasque passed by.”

Looking around the camp Erin noticed a pride of lions surrounding them. The sun was slowly rising from the horizon.

“Well, at least they don’t have a blue aura.” Erin said, now knowing that silence would make no difference. “Teblats would not be a welcome sight.” She started putting her new armor on with the help of Tribst.

One of the lionesses approached the camp. In an instant all eyes were on the creature, prepared to fight it off. Then, to everyone’s surprise the creature changed shape into an elf. The elf had short pointed ears, one of which had several wooden earrings.

“Greetings, outsiders. We have been tracking you for the past few days. Why do you go to our forest, and how did you escape Domhan?” The elf stared at the four of them, awaiting an answer.

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 14

The snow fell lazily on the strange salamander’s corpse in the morning light. It had taken hours to kill the creature, but they had done it. More footmen had joined the fight as it progressed, but they still lost the majority of them.

The sixteen remaining men stood near Gaemacirch’s humanoid form. The ferret armor sat in a heap and Gaemacirch wore simple, tight-fitting clothes. He was helping the men move the bodies of their comrades. Four of the survivors were footmen who had thrown spears at the strange salamander. Only two of the archers were remaining beside Burner, the acid breath of the creature reached as far as the arrows had.

Dreekt was helping put the bodies onto a cart to take back to Dregton for a funeral and burial. Gaemacirch approached, carrying the captain’s body.

“He fought well. Do you know if he had any family?” The captain’s face was untouched, but acid had eaten at his body.

“Yes, a wife.” Dreekt helped place the body carefully onto the cart. “He said to talk to her about a dagger if he couldn’t explain it.” Dreekt handed the scimitar-like weapon to Gaemacirch. “It looks elven, almost.”

Gaemacirch studied the dagger for a moment. “Hmm. Well, Dreekt, I need to get back to helping the men.” He handed the dagger back. “Your cart should head in to be emptied.” Gaemacirch turned away then half collapsed.

“Gaem!” Dreekt steadied him. “I think maybe you need to come with me.”

Looking at his shaking arms Gaemacirch nodded. “Yeah, I probably just need some rest.”

Dreekt nodded then helped Gaemacirch onto the driver’s bench. He pulled himself up next to him. “The men can handle the rest.”

One of the men waved. Almost all the men helping clean up the dead were the archers from the wall. “Hey, Gaem, go get some rest! We won’t start burning the Dark Under creatures until you get back!”

“Remember to harvest the strange salamander!” Gaemacirch yelled back as Dreekt started driving the horses forward.

“We will!”

Part way back to the wall Dreekt slowed down and waved to Burner. She was throwing a skittering creeper onto a pile. She had changed into black robes instead of her purple ones. Dreekt assumed it was so the ichor wouldn’t show up as a stain later.

Burner waved back and started walking toward the cart. The weariness in her eyes shone through the falling snow. “We going to get some rest?”

Nodding Dreekt motioned to the captain’s body. “We found him.”

A deep sigh escaped from Burner. “Well, that’s good. It would’ve been better to find him alive, though.”

He’s not dead yet. Dreekt heard in his head.

“Hey, did we check for a pulse?” Dreekt hopped off the seat and went behind the wagon. He climbed a small ladder and reached for the captain’s neck.

Burner shrugged at Gaemacirch and walked to meet Dreekt at the back of the wagon as he pulled the captain down. She helped lower him to the ground and pulled a small mirror from within her robe. She held it to the captain’s nose, reflective side towards the nose. The mirror fogged very slightly. “Shast!” She pulled a flask from inside her robe and poured it on the captain’s acid burns while humming a dirge and casting a healing spell. After the spell the captain’s breathing became steadier.

The captain’s eyes fluttered open slowly. “Water.”

Dreekt pulled his waterskin from his belt and slowly dripped water into the captain’s mouth.

“How did you know, Dreekt?” Burner put away the now empty flask and pulled her pack off. She was waiting for an answer as she searched for bandages for the man.

Dreekt paused from giving the captain water and looked at Burner. “I just had a feeling. We can discuss later. We need to get him back into town.”

Burner nodded and started binding the captain’s wounds. “What’s your name, anyway? We never got it.”

“Hereweald.”

“Well, hold on Hereweald. We’ll get you back to your family soon. I just need to clean and bind these burns.” She motioned for the flask of water from Dreekt. “If it weren’t for Dreekt here you’d be counted among the dead.”

“Thank.”

Gaemacirch made his way around to the back of the cart, leaning on it the whole way. “Well, the old soldier is alive after all.” He nodded to Hereweald.

“I’ll be right back.” Dreekt stood back up and jogged over to one of the archers who was tossing a skittering creeper on a pile. He quickly told her that the captain was alive and to send for a stretcher. He jogged back with her. “Take the cart and Gaem back to town. Burner and I will stay with Hereweald.”

Gaemacirch nodded. “I would prefer to stay here, but I need my rest. I collapsed earlier.”

– – –

Hereweald sat on a bed on the first basement floor of his house. His wife, Wassa, was watching as Burner applied a new set of bandages and hummed a healing spell.

Burner got him to drink a sleeping draft and eased his head back onto his pillow. She looked back at Wassa. “He’ll need his bandages changed twice a day. I don’t have anything for the pain other than making him sleep. I’m not an alchemist, you’ll need to get one to make you medicines.”

“Of course, there’s one near the Flagon. If you’ll go and explain what we need I’ll send Johnny with you to pay and bring it back.”

“Oh,” Burner said “the mayor said he’ll pay for any medicine for the first month. He says it’s the least he could do and wishes he could do more.”

“Thank The Kindness. That man has been the best mayor this town has had in a long time.” Wassa motioned to the house around her. “If you need a place to lay your heads, you and your two friends, you will always be welcome here.”

Burner smiled, her eyes glowing under her cowl. “Oh, I’ll be sure to take you up on that offer the next time we’re in town. We’re leaving tomorrow to the cave where these creatures are coming from. With these many casualties you won’t be able to defend yourselves against even a small fraction of the numbers we fought.”

Wassa nodded. “Tell Dreekt I need to talk to him about that dagger Hereweald gave to him before you leave.”

“Right. He told me about that as we came back into town. He’s on the ground floor. Let’s go to the alchemist.” Burner nodded at the young human in his early twenties who looked like Hereweald and Wassa’s son. He had been on inner defense in case the dark under creatures had broken through.

Gaemacirch and Dreekt were waiting for Burner on the ground floor. Dreekt sat in a chair and Gaemacirch was curled up in his ferret form on a rug in the center of the room. When Burner walked up the stairs they stood up to leave with her.

“Wassa is coming to talk to you about the dagger.” Burner motioned for them to stay put.

Dreekt nodded but stayed standing. He pulled his pack off the floor and set it on the chair. He started rummaging through it as Burner left and Wassa walked up the stairs.

“Getting the dagger out?” Wassa nodded to Gaemacirch and approached Dreekt. “Show me the dagger and I’ll explain it.”

Dreekt pulled the dagger out of his, pulled it out of the sheath, and set it on a nearby table.

“You see the hole in the hilt? There’s a gemstone that’s supposed to go there.” She motioned at the hole. “It’s called The Black Gem. It looks like an onyx stone, but with less of an albedo.”

Dreekt looked at Gaemacirch with wide eyes. “Umm…Gaem?”

“Hold on. I’ll go get it.” Gaemacirch stood in his ferret form and started loping out the door toward the Blue Flagon.

Wassa’s eyes went wide. “You have The Black Gem?”

“Maybe. It’s the right size, matches your description, and definitely has magic energy surrounding it.”

“Ok, umm.” Wassa took a deep breath. “Well, the dagger allows the wielder to channel The Black Gem effectively without suffering the ill effects. It allows you to tap into its powers without succumbing to them. It also stores the blood of your enemies when paired with the dagger.” She pointed at a series of small, intricate runes in a shallow trench along the curved blade. “It becomes more effective against those enemies for a short while and allows you to react to them faster in combat.”

Gaemacirch loped back through the door, a small bundle in his maw. He placed the bundle on the table next to the dagger. The wrap around the stone burnt off and the stone floated into the air. The dagger also lifted off the table and the two started spinning rapidly. Dreekt pulled Wassa away from the table and watched as the two objects got closer together then the dagger dropped, still spinning, onto the table with the gem in its hilt.

“Well, that answers that question.” Dreekt reached out for the blade and it floated into his hand. “Uhh, is it supposed to do that?”

“I’ll go out on a limb here and say yes.” Gaemacirch said, keeping a close eye on Dreekt. He positioned himself where he would cushion Dreekt if he fell.

“Think about something you’re going to do soon that you want to know more about. Burner told me you’re going to clear out the dark under caves. Maybe focus on that?” Wassa watched anxiously, also ready to catch Dreekt if he fell.

“I’ll try.” Dreekt focused on the mission and saw the mist he had seen when he touched the stone the first time, only this time he had control. He didn’t feel it, but he somehow knew that his body had fallen and been caught by both Gaemacirch and Wassa. As he focused on the mist a scene began to play in front of him.

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