The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 19

Dreekt sat cross legged with a large flat rock on his lap. He had another, smaller rock in his left hand. He was doing some geometry and vectors. He looked at what was written on the rock. So that’s what a spell looks like when the mana is swirling around it?

Kwase chuckled, when a mage, channeler, or warlock casts a spell, yes. When a priest casts a spell, I imagine it looks a little different, and when a sorcerer casts a spell it’s more of a maelstrom. If you had the eyes of the magus, you would know what I mean.

What about bards? Somewhere in-between. Their spells are based off performance which is more of an art than a science.

Dreekt stared at his taloned hands. How does one get the eyes of the magus?

I doubt you will need them on your journey, but if ever you feel the need speak to me. You will have to give something up, but the eyes are permanent.

Very well. I see the others returning. Let’s call this meditation here, yes?

Yes, but tonight I will be training you in your dreams.

Dreekt wiped the arcane formulae off the rock and stood up. “Well, are we ready to move on?”

With a curt nod Burner motioned toward a tunnel between the entrances to the curving tunnel. “Right is always right, I suppose.” She smiled at Enress. “Though, I suppose it’s a good thing we went left first.”

“Whole heartedly agreed.” Enress bowed slightly at Burner. “I will follow where you lead, dear wick.”

– – –

After a long walk down a narrow tunnel the adventurers found themselves at a fork in the tunnel. On the left the tunnel continued as normal, and on the right, it appeared to open into a large cavern. Visible at the back of the cavern, barely visible to Julian and Enress in the darkness, was a honeycomb structure, like a beehive, but much, much bigger.

“Looks like there’s some sort of nest in the back of that cavern. Do you think we should check it out, or see where the tunnel leads?” Burner glanced over the group. “Rather, are we feeling healed up enough to try to take it on?”

“I feel fit as a fiddle.” Enress pulled Gaemacirch’s sword from her back. “Let’s go crush some larvae.”

Gaemacirch nodded his large ferret head. “Be extra careful. Skittering creeper elders watch the nest. They are nastier than the ones we’ve been fighting.” He dragged his metal claws against the floor a few times, sharpening them. “They’re bigger too, so don’t let them surround you.”

“Well, let’s go. I want to get this over with so I can see the sky again. It’s been a long time.” Enress motioned with the jagged katana.

Gaemacirch and Enress moved ahead with Julian close behind. Burner and Dreekt kept some distance so they could cast their spells without worry of being interrupted. After a few yards of this movement two large skittering creepers appeared next to the honeycomb structure.

“The mother and father. The mother will be more vicious, she’s the bigger one.” Gaemacirch started loping forward. “For Dregton!” He crashed into the female and gashed her across the face.

Immediately the father turned to protect his mate, biting at Gaemacirch, but was unable to break through his metal armor. As he did so Dreekt took a second to focus on a spell, then summoned a large rock above the male. It fell on it with a glancing blow, but it got his attention away from Gaemacirch.

Seeing the slight opening, Julian rushed forward with his twin axes. He did a slashing motion with both and took some chitin off the creature. The skittering creeper elder howled in pain.

The matriarch skittering creeper brought down her large front paws in an attempt to smash Gaemacirch’s head into the ground. She succeeded, and Gaemacirch felt a large headache beginning to throb through his temples.

With a few bars of a strange melody, Burner attempted to bolster her companions’ attacks. Her allies felt a surge of confidence come over them.

The surge of confidence fresh in her steel, Enress surged forward with Gaemacirch’s katana. “Die, foul stain upon the land!” She struck out at the patriarch and dealt a glancing blow.

Gaemacirch slashed at the matriarch, but she dodged out of the way. She bit at him in retaliation, and got a mouth-full of air.

Dreekt focused his energy on transporting the rock he had attempted to use earlier, hoping to crush the matriarch this time, but she was still pulling back from her bite and he misjudged the distance.

The patriarch swung his large paw at Enress and connected with her metallic frame. He wasn’t expecting so much resistance and only scratched the surface. In response, Enress swung the katana at him. She caught the chitin where its ear would be, causing the creature to leak ichor.

The axes in Julian’s hands swung at the patriarch, and sunk them both into him. The creeper cried out in pain and turned to face Julian.

Seeing a small opening, Burner pulled her shortbow from her back and loosed an arrow at the patriarch. She wasn’t able to get a good shot and pulled up at the last second to avoid hitting her allies. The arrow thudded harmlessly into the honeycomb structure.

Seeing the arrow strike the nest, the matriarch roared in motherly rage. It ran away from Gaemacirch, and lunged at Burner. Under the weight of the elder, Burner lost consciousness. The boost she had been giving herself and her allies fell away.

As Gaemacirch’s opponent ran away and took out Burner, he glanced at the patriarch and realized he was heavily wounded. With a bestial, guttural roar he lunged at the patriarch, mouth aimed for his throat. He ripped the patriarch’s throat so violently that his head was torn from his body. With shock in his eyes Gaemacirch spit the visceral from his maw and started heaving.

Dreekt saw Burner go down and rage boiled up inside him. “Not again! I will not let you do this. Pulling at the air like pulling the strings of puppets Dreekt caused many large rocks to fall on the matriarch. When the dust settled pieces of skittering creeper chitin and black ichor littered the scene. Realizing that he could have just killed Burner Dreekt ran to the rubble and began to pull it away.

“I’m here. I’m trapped, but I’m still alive.” Burner’s voice echoed out from under the rubble. “Just get me out of here. Then we take care of this nest and leave. The Dark Under is seeping into you and Gaem. We can’t let it consume you.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 18

After a short rest to get their breaths back the four adventurers and the automaton started moving again. It didn’t take long for the tunnel to start looping to the right. When they noticed it had turned almost all the way back around again, they were able to smell burning skittering creepers.

“Great, it loops.” Julian sighed with annoyance. “I think we’re going to have a welcoming party.”

“Don’t worry, friends, you have me now. I won’t let you die on my watch.” Enress saluted by clanging her fist on her chest.

Burner smiled slightly. “Yes, I know. You and Julian saved our hides back there. Thanks again, Enress.”

Enress shook her head. “No thanks required. We have shown we will help each other. I trust you, and I hope that goes both ways.”

With a nod Burner moved out of the tunnel and looked around. “Stay sharp. There’s some skittering creepers out here.”

Gaemacirch lumbered forward in his ferret shape and motioned with his snout at Enress. “Hey, take my sword. Consider it yours until we find you your own weapon.” Enress took it and nodded in thanks. Gaemacirch jumped into a group of creepers, distracting them for long enough for Enress to attack them and she took quite a few out. After a few scrapes the five came through just fine.

“Okay, Enress, do you know where we need to go to get deeper into Dark Under and seal the darkness?” Julian leaned against a wall, a little winded.

With a sigh Enress nodded. “I was afraid that was why you were here.” She sat down with a thud. “Yes, but only if you make me a better face, Julian.”

“Fine.” Julian motioned back towards the tunnel they had just come back through. “Let’s go.”

Burner, Dreekt, and Gaemacirch looked at each other and shrugged.

“So, should we come with, or…?” Burner asked.

“No, we’ll only be a few minutes.” Julian waved as he went into the entrance of the tunnel that they had gone in first. “The metal’s pretty close to this end of the tunnel.”

– – –

“Magnus, sir, more news from the realm.” A man in a beautifully crafted grey tunic handed a parchment to another, slightly taller man with short blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and a golden tan wearing a deep blue robe.

“Thank you, Jersun, I’ll just take a look at that.” Magnus took the parchment from his manservant. “I wonder what lies they’ve been spreading about me.”

“Well, sir, they’ve done something worse. I think maybe you should sit down before I tell you.”

Shrugging, Magnus sat down on a cushioned stool. “Well, tell me.”

“It’s about your wife, sir.” Jersun paused for a moment. “They’ve kidnapped her.”

“What?!” Magnus Overton stood at his full six-foot, two inches. “Where have they taken her?”

A popping noise resounded through the halls as a woman with orange skin appeared next to Magnus’ table. “That’s a good question, Magnus. I’ll tell you where they have her, but only if you make a deal with me.”

Magnus looked aghast. “Adalet! The Sorceress told me you were missing!”

“The Vengeance is never gone for long.” Adalet smiled broadly. “If I tell you where they have her you hire a certain group to save her. You don’t go yourself.”

“This will be binding? If so, I will get the appropriate components.” Jersun motioned towards a door out of the small dining hall.”

A small, insincere smile came to Magnus’ lips. “I believe she does intend that. Grab the components.”

“Very well, sir.” Jersun turned and walked out of the hall.

“Another thing. Next time you marry the offspring of the gods? Make sure not to lose her.”

Magnus’ eyes grew wide. “Surely The Warrior and The Vicious are not out for my blood. Their daughter can hold her own against fifty armed men.”

The Vengeance shook her head. “Not when she’s been drugged, she can’t.”

Jersun entered the room with an odd collection of spell components. “Here you are sir,” he turned and nodded at Magnus, “goddess,” he nodded at The Vengeance.

“Thankyou, Jersun. You may take the rest of the night off, if you wish.” Magnus took the components from him.

“I believe you will need a friend, sir, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes. I believe I shall. Please, stay.”

Magnus and The Vengeance mixed a thick brew out of the spell components and soaked a rag in them. They then tied the rag around their right hands, which were in a clasp.

“I will tell you where your wife is, and in return you will hire the one group I specify to find her, and no one else, including yourself, will go to find her for at least a year.” The Vengeance looked at Magnus in the eyes. “Are these terms agreed upon?”

“Yes, they are.” Magnus kept his eyes locked on The Vengeance’s eyes until the spell was complete. “Well, where and whom?”

– – –

While Julian and Enress were away Burner and Gaemacirch sat down on some rocks while Dreekt did some circuits around the cavern. The gaseous tendrils were still floating about, but they seemed disinterested in him.

About ten minutes went by and Burner started to get concerned. “Hey, Gaem, do you think you can go check on them? I don’t really know what they’re doing, and I feel the need to stick together.” She glanced over in Dreekt’s direction. “After that spider run-in I think Dreekt was right. No small groups.”

“Agreed.” Gaemacirch slinked off.

Dreekt noticed Gaemacirch leaving and swiftly returned to Burner. “What’s up?”

“I sent Gaem to check on Julian and Enress. I’m getting a bad feeling.”

“Oh, good idea.” Dreekt leaned against the wall and looked out over the quiet, still stinking, cavern. “I’m going to meditate for a little bit. You may need to shake me out of it when we move on.”

Burner’s glowing eyes stared into Dreekt’s avian eyes. “Don’t use the stone, not in here.”

“No, no. I’m meditating on my powers. With any luck I’ll be better with them afterward.”

“Good.” Burner took a position to watch the cavern and the tunnel entrance.

Ok, spirit. We have some time. How do we do this knowledge thing?

Like this, Dreekt. Also, now that we aren’t in any danger, my name is Kwase.

Nice to meet you, Kwase.

So, Kwase began, in order to use your powers more effectively you need only commune with me. You may do that like this for a short boost in abilities, or in a dream state where I can train you more directly. I think a dream state is not the best at this time.

Agreed. Dreekt set his bag on the ground and folded up into lotus position on the uneven ground.

Kwase laughed lightly. I don’t believe that does anything, but not a bad idea. Now, grab some paper and a quill. You will be doing arcane formulae today.

Great, more school. Dreekt pulled the aforementioned materials from his pack and grabbed a stone tablet for a writing surface.

You forget, I know you slacked during basic math. This will be much, much harder.

– – –

Gaemacirch rounded a corner in the tunnel and saw Julian literally molding the metal of Enress’ face. Gaemacirch slowly backed away and curled up on the ground. “Hey, guys! Burner sent me to keep watch. I’ll just be over here, not watching.

“Prevest!” Julian yelled. “Wait, I can fix it. Gaemacirch just startled me.”

“No, I like it.” Enress said with satisfaction in her voice.

A few seconds passed, Gaemacirch assumed Julian was assessing whatever happened.

“Well,” Julian said with genuine agreement, “it does look ferocious…and a little attractive.”

Enress chuckled lightly, the sound was that of small bells. “Yes, I agree. Let’s go rejoin the group.” Enress came around the corner and Gaemacirch got a good look at her new face. It looked like Julian was going for a small nose and subtle features, and when Gaemacirch had startled him he had brushed along her face from the bottom left to the top right. It made lines that looked like war paint. Gaemacirch had to admit to himself that it was indeed attractive.

“That looks very nice. A great improvement, of course, but also a work of art.” Gaemacirch bowed his ferret head. “My compliments to model and artisan.”

“So, myself twice?” Enress asked, amusement in her voice.

Julian punched her lightly on the metallic shoulder. “And me once, for the current state of your face.”

“Right, right.” She turned and hugged Julian. “Thank you so much!”

Gaemacirch stood up from his curled position and motioned his head towards the mouth of the cave. “Let’s go…and I saw what you were doing. That’s an interesting magic you have there.”

“It runs in the family…kinda.” Julian looked mildly embarrassed. “I really wasn’t supposed to show anyone, but now I guess the creeper’s out of the trap.”

With a hearty chuckle Gaemacirch turned to head back to Dreekt and Burner. “I never noticed how stupid that zarx saying was until you said it.”

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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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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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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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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 13

Dreekt felt sheer pleasure as he flew up from the skittering creepers to fight the noxious flyers. He was flying! He brought his scythe down on several flyers. After the first few he realized that he only needed to take a wing and they would go plummeting to their deaths. After he sent a few more to their doom he decided to lower back down to the skittering creepers. If he was flying and transformed back into a skravyn he would be unable to keep in the air. He would share their fate.

He glided to the ground, the battle below coming into view through the haze of lazily drifting snowflakes. The peaceful, white snow had hidden the dark and bloody battle below. The inky black ichor that served as blood in the Dark Under creatures stained the snow, making it harder to see in the deepening night.

Burner was standing with the archers on the wall, her face uncovered and her glowing orange eyes a beacon. She was no longer casting spells but was shooting off arrows from a small bow. Dreekt had seen the small bow once or twice peeking out from her pack but had never seen her use it before. Many a noxious flyer fell to her true aim.

Gaemacirch tore skittering creepers apart with his claws, never once using his mouth to bite or tear. His armor was streaked black and would need a thorough scrubbing at the next opportunity.

As Dreekt hung in midair, observing the sight, the defenders of Dregton looked up and saw him there. An avatar of death surveying the battle. His scythe thick with the black ichor of Dark Under creatures. The thrill of battle easily read from its face. They hesitated, all of them, for a moment.

Noticing the collective stare Dreekt shook his head. Gotta get back to the battle. He dove down to the skittering creepers and began to reap them as he had seen farmers do with wheat the few times he was near fields at harvesttime.

“Look, an avatar of death helps us!” Some of the men cried out.

“Either The Balance is with us, or The Desecrator is. Either way, we will win this fight! Onward!” The captain of the guard charged forward to join Gaemacirch in the fray. As he did so a large beast burst from the ground. It had six legs, three on each side, a large tail, and the scent of poison filled the air.

Gaemacirch froze in mid strike. He turned and faced the creature. “Strange salamander.” He turned to the captain of the guard. “We cannot hope to win against that. If we can hold it here until daylight it will go back underground, but many men will lose their lives if we do so.”

“And if we don’t we will lose the town.” The captain over at Dreekt, still reaping strange salamanders. “The tower mage sent me a message. That’s your skravyn friend over there.” He looked concerned. “The men see it as a good sign, but if they knew it was a skravyn that turned into an image of The Desecrator…I’m not sure what they would think.”

“Dreekt!” Gaemacirch called out. “Can you distract the big, ugly thing?”

Turning at the sound of his name Dreekt saw the strange salamander. He had been too preoccupied with thinning the skittering creeper ranks to notice it. He flew over to Gaemacirch. “I don’t think so. If I get hit even once I think I’ll change back.” Dreekt shrugged. “Wouldn’t do any good to get killed out here.”

The guard captain spoke up. “Can you cast spells in that form?”

No, you would lose concentration. You are not strong enough for that. The spirit told Dreekt.

“I don’t think I could do that without changing back.” He shrugged. “I don’t think you want me to do that here.”

“No, but there isn’t much we can do about that.”

The nearby guards stared at the avatar of death hovering next to the captain. They were instilled by both fear and awe as it turned back into a skravyn. Fear because of the ancient stories of the armies of The Desecrator, filled with skravyn, that used to reap whole cities at a time. Awe because he had slain so many of their enemies.

“Okay,” Dreekt said, “is there any specific type of spell I need, or do I just go ham?”

“Go ham but defending the troops should be a priority. If you can protect them I would appreciate it.” The captain said, still staring at the strange salamander. “We need to stop that thing from taking the capital of Newwar province.”

– – –

Burner looked down at the beast in horror. He had heard tales of strange salamanders, but their monstrousness was even more terrifying in person. Slinging her bow over her shoulder she motioned to some of the archers. “Come, we need to stop that thing. The footmen are not enough.” The creature was far out of their range.

A few of the archers nodded and left ranks. The other archers spread out to cover the weak points. They followed Burner down the stairs and through the gates that shut promptly behind them.

Burner pulled out her rapier as the bowmen switched to their scimitar daggers. They looked oddly elven to be held by a mostly human force, but burner just shrugged and moved forward through the skittering creepers. The group cut through most of the creatures in their path before the remainder shied away, watching instead of attacking.

The archers saluted the captain and slung their bows off their backs. They then turned to Burner as if waiting for her command.

“Surround the creature. When it faces away from you shoot it.” Burner said when the captain nodded at her. “The creature will become confused and distracted.”

The archers nodded and fanned out. Slowly surrounding the creature from a distance.

Bowing slightly to the captain Burner then turned and joined the archers.

“May The Jester guide our hands.” The captain turned back to his foot soldiers. “Follow Gaemacirch’s lead.”

“My friends call me Gaem.” Gaemacirch said, then turned to face the creature. “If you can get under it that’s where it has the least defense, though its hide is still tough.” Without waiting for a response, Gaemacirch’s ferret form started loping toward the strange salamander.

As Gaemacirch was running Dreekt cast a protective spell over him, then swiftly placed a general ward on the collective foot soldiers. As he finished the captain of the guard placed a dagger in his taloned hand.

“Here, I feel you should have this. If I don’t survive to tell you about it, ask my wife.” The captain turned and ran to join his men, leaving Dreekt staring at the dagger.

The dagger was curved like a scimitar but looked different than the ones he had seen the archers using. There was a place in the pommel for a stone. The shape of the empty spot looked familiar to Dreekt, but he didn’t have time to mull it over. He focused his attention back on the fight. He used the same strategy that Burner had told the archers to use. Only striking when the creature was facing away, to confuse it.

The foot soldiers passed their throwing spears to six of the foot soldiers. They stood back to throw the spears at the strange salamander, careful not to be in the line of fire the archers were using.

Gaemacirch and the majority of the foot soldiers approached the strange salamander from all angles, having fanned out along their approach. Dreekt noticed that there were just over fifteen foot soldiers actually attacking the monster.

Those protection spells were a good start, Dreekt.

How nice of you to speak up, spirit. Is there anything we know that can help this fight?

Avoid acid-based spells.

What do I know?

Just reach for the power. I’ll give you the spells. We need to discuss what I have for you later. Casting the spells yourself makes them more powerful.

 Nodding both to himself and the spirit Dreekt reached for the power he felt in the back of his mind. It left the faint taste of undeath in his mouth, but he knew, somehow, that this undeath was not against the balance of life and death. This spirit was willing to come back to teach him.

Before any of the others had a chance to attack Dreekt shot a large bolt of draining energy into the strange salamander from behind it. The energy washed over Dreekt, making him feel he could take more abuse before succumbing to it.

Just as Dreekt felt the increase in defense the strange salamander turned to him and spit a stream of acid from its mouth. Without thinking Dreekt rolled to the side and ran forward. The creature attempted to correct its aim, but only succeeded in getting a few droplets on its target. Dreekt’s feathers protected him from most of the droplets and he backed away again.

When the strange salamander had spit the acid Gaemacirch saw his chance and scrambled under the beast. He flipped over, onto his back, and clawed at the belly of the beast with the metal armor claws. The other soldiers were stabbing at it from both sides.

Roaring in pain the strange salamander began stomping the ground with its middle set of legs. The tremor knocked several of the soldiers off their feet. The strange salamander’s tail swung and hit two footmen. They crumpled inside their armor. The rest of the men hurried away from the tail but realized if they went too far the jaws would get them. They were stuck between a blunt instrument and a sharp-toothed grin.

As the tail raised for another swing it was peppered with arrows and spears. Some of the spears temporarily pinned the tail to the ground, but the soldiers realized their mistake as the tail came back up with the spears still inside. The tail was more deadly than it had been before.

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