A Rise of the Runelords campaign journal that became two books

45. Mythic

Seventeen years ago

Canorate

The old man scrutinises the boys before him. They stand side by side, wrists shackled together by irons meant for grown men, beneath a shadow of a grizzled guard armed with a whip.

“Welcome to Canorate, little twins”, the old man says. An aura of authority surrounds him and he has the look of a wizened scribe. A rich purple cloak with gold etchings covers his long, wiry form. His head has lost all hair and his face is full of wrinkles, but his eyes are young. The boys do not return his greeting. For the other, silence is natural. The other is unable to speak, still drowned in his sorrow. The man pays their silence no heed, considers it not disrespectful. His way is not of the whip.

“I am Kozov and among other things I take care of the Master’s slaves.” The old man’s eyes darken. “I do not know if you boys are familiar with the concept of slavery. It matters not. You will learn, soon enough.” The scribe begins to pace, first going right, then left, his hands clasped behind is back. The boys stand motionless like statues, their heads bowed. “If you try to run, you will die. If you disrespect the Master, you will die. Remember those rules when you leave this room. Then you’ll live long enough to be sold to someone more forgiving.”

The old man stops his pacing and draws nearer to the boys. “If you are sold. If you make it that far. I hear you have quite the temper.” The man’s statement is matter-of-fact without contempt, but it makes the other boy, black-haired, raise his chin in defiance. Their eyes meet.

“Such ferocity! So much hate for someone so young”, the man notes with interest, completely unfazed. “I can’t blame you of course. I understand, even. Not many in Canorate acquire slaves like the Master does. Some even look down on him for it. But Pharasma has brought you here. You should be happy to be alive.” The scribe takes delicate hold of the silver-haired boy’s cheeks with bony fingers and pulls his face up so he can see him better. “The Master tells me you are bastards from a backwater village. But I can recognize noble Kyonin blood when I see it. Curious.”

“Maybe some elven prince fucked their Momma good during the last war”, the guard behind them suggests with a rough laugh. The scribe silences him with a single stern and irritated gaze.   

“You will fetch a good price, yes. For your sake I hope you’ll be sold to the same owner”, the old man thinks aloud and the possibility of the opposite produces a reaction from the boys. Despite the nightmare they are in, they look up at each other in fresh pain and horror.The chains rattle.

The old scribe notices this and gets down to one knee, close to the boys so his face it at the same level as theirs. He considers them both equally. “But then again, you might prove to be too valuable to be sold.” He gives them both long glances. He wants them to understand he is giving them advice. Thinking he has got his message through, he gets back up with a grunt, his old bones complaining.

“Kyonin blood, hmmmh. What are your names?” He never allows them to answer, as he expects none, but makes a swiping motion with his hand. “Nevermind. Wiser men than me say true names have power, but the Master renames his household slaves anyhow. His loss. Your gain”, he adds with a smile. The scribe scratches his shaven cheek. “What should be your new names”, he asks himself. “If you want to appear too valuable to be lost, you’ll need names of power and strength. You, silver-haired, you shall be called.. Macharius. And you, black soul.. You will be Alpharius.” He tastes the names in his mouth, finds them to his liking and nods. “Yes, they are good Chelish names. Names of heroes of old.”

“I expect you to prove yourselves worthy of them.”    

**

26th of Neth – Moonday – 66th day in Varisia

Sandpoint

After we had reported to Deverin and Hemlock we thought we had earned a break. With the Rusty Dragon still in pieces, we headed out to the White Deer and found a melancholic Tian-Min woman playing sonorous tunes with her lute. Ameiko’s fingers stopped their play when we entered and she looked up at us with a weak smile.

Alfred stomped into the bar next to the woman. “Garridan, two beers!” He looked at Harsk. “Four!” Then he considered Ameiko. “Make it five.” The grumpy innkeeper grunted and started to place wooden tankards on the bar. Alfred regarded the Tian-Min playfully. “Well, when are you going to start on the renovation of the Rusty Dragon?” Ameiko sighed, letting her fingers slide down the neck of her lute, something she had salvaged from the ruins. “I think this was a sign for me to start focusing on the Glassworks and forget my own dreams for now.”

This surprised everybody. Alfred blew air up his nose. “What talk is that! The Dragon is the best inn in Sandpoint!” Garridan grunted behind the counter but kept pouring the beers. I asked for a cider, as the bastard Viskalai didn’t serve any proper wine. Alice was happy with water. “I can’t let you give it up”, Alfred went on. “All it needs is some new paint..”

“And a new front wall, plus furniture”, Harsk added soberly as he took his first pint, but Alfred dismissed him with a gesture. “Minor details.” Ameiko shook her head. “It’s still too much of a financial burden. I don’t have the gold to spare.”

Frowning, Alfred considered his next words. “I’d be happy to invest in the rebuilding.”

Something lighted up in her eyes. “What? Why?”

Alfred guffawed and winked at the innkeeper. “It’s a quality place you know, a good business..”

“What the sellsword is trying to say is that he wants to turn it into a quality bordello”, I explained with a straight face and patted the head of my animal companion at my feet. Alfred blushed. “No no, that’s not what I meant-“, but Ameiko was already laughing.

“Friends, thank you for making my day a little bit more bearable. I really appreciate it.” After brushing away a tear of joy she regarded Alfred. “Were you serious about the investment?” The sellsword’s eyes went wild. “Of course! It’s the best business in town!”

Harsk was getting excited too, the beer foam on his beard making him look rabid. “Alfred’s right”, he said and gulped more of the malt drink. “I’ll get the brewery back up and running with Gaven and we’ll need an outlet. Somewhere to sell the beers.”

The Tian-min lady was speechless at first. Then she nodded and chuckled. “Fine. Harsk, you’ll have to talk about the distribution with the new partner of the Rusty Dragon”, she informed him and winked at Alfred. This made both the dwarf and the sellsword cheer and raise their tankards in a toast.

**
We had a long lunch and decided that I and Alice should continue to Magnimar with the mammoths and begin negotiations with Garnet about the sale of our loot. Harsk and Alfred wanted to stay back for an extra day to set up the repair and renovation work on the brewery and Rusty Dragon.

Harsk left to the Cathedral and the rest of us spent the afternoon sorting our assorted treasures. Alice identified a pile of magical equipment while me and Alfred packed the mammoths. We were somewhat slow in our progress, but that was my fault.

A flock of children, among them the orphans, had gathered to the beasts and in a weak moment I promised one to have short ride on the oldest cow, around Garridan Viskalai’s inn.

After nineteen rides I shooed the children away with a bit too much vehemence. “Tssk tssk, I’ll tell Harsk”, Alice poked fun at me with a smirk. I threw her a rude gesture.

**

In the morning we said our goodbyes with Alice. I gave a short hug to Ameiko and whispered to her. “Keep the ring of protection as a memento of the adventure.” She flushed, remembering she was still wearing it, but didn’t try to force it back to me. “Thank you”, she said simply.

“Take good care of the loot, and remember to ask for a good price”, Alfred said, trying to sound playful and carefree but failing miserably.” I climbed to the lead mammoth and smiled under my hood. “But my good man, we have Alice with us. Garnet couldn’t screw us over, even if she wanted to.” Hearing my comment, the pale-faced magus snorted.

**

The trip was uneventful and we arrived to the gates of the City of Monuments late that day. Guards barred our way to the Summit. Apparently they felt the rich and prestigious would be alarmed by our mounts. I came very close to threatening them with our connections to the Lord-Mayor and Administrator Carol, but I kept my anger to myself. Instead, we turned around and circled the walls before entering the Shore farther west, through the Keystone gates.

It was past the second bell of midnight when we reached Garnet’s base of operations, a largish inn called BrewCat Tavern deep in Dockway, close to the Bazaar of Sails. The swindler princess was asleep and not to be woken so we had to wait until morning.

The problem was that there was no place for the damned mammoths. The few innkeepers and stablemasters who were still awake at that hour. It was a Toilday, and maybe the worst day of the week to make anything happen during the night.

Anything but trouble, that is.

Alice had gotten herself a room and a bed for the remainder of the night from the BrewCat, and I had agreed to spend the night with the mammoths outside. Technically, they were mine and I was responsible for them. Them, and the loot worth six figures in gold they carried – a king’s ransom. I parked the beasts behind the tavern, got some evil eye from the innkeeper, disregarded it absolutely and started to feed and water them. Despite it being a slow and silent night, I felt the curious eyes of walkers-by upon me. We had turned heads when we had ridden through the city. Some of them had been greedy. For a moment, I almost thought I’d get by the night without a hitch.

“Good evening, stranger”, I heard someone call me unctuously from the darkness as I turned away from the lumbering, furry beasts. A half-elf, heavily armed and looking like trouble, stepped from an alley and into the moonlight fifty feet from me. Footsteps, I counted five different, shuffled around me in the shadows. I kept my eye on the one who had spoken. Carmine Avenger flashed red once on my back. My heart started to race but I stayed my hand. There might be a chance to avoid a fight, I hoped. For the sake of us all.

I said nothing and the half-elf flashed a smile. “For someone so silent you really made a big show riding those big animals through the main streets. I wonder, friend, where did you acquire such handsome creatures?” His words were sweet, but hid none of the venom and cockiness of a lowlife criminal I had witnessed so often before. My eyes narrowed as I regarded him. “I stole them from a horde of giants”. The friends of the half-elf emerged around me. My head rotated slowly, assessing each in turn. Five men, armed and equipped lightly. Short swords, daggers, leather armor. Not friendly.

Dûath’s supper. They had not yet noticed my animal companion, who was crouching a few feet from me, behind a stack of hays.

The half-elf guffawed, and if by cue, his gang members laughed too. “You stole them from a horde of giants”, he repeated what I had said, tasting the words. “What a feat.” As an afterthought, he pulled a scimitar from a scabbard on his belt and pointed it at me lazily. “Then they really aren’t yours, and you won’t mind when I take them from you.”

I unshouldered the Carmine Avenger, drew back the string and nocked two arrows faster than they blinked. This startled the half-elf’s friends, but the alpha male wasn’t fazed, to his benefit. I was aiming straight at him. I realized then he was exceptionally well equipped, sporting armour and weapons easily comparable to what I was carrying. I whistled and Dûath pulled out from his hiding place, letting out the strange, low sawing growl he made and slowly advanced next to me. This drew uncertain murmurs from the little gangsters and I saw two or three take a careful step back.

If you try to run, you will die. If you disrespect the Master, you will die. The words came from nowhere, flooding from my distant past.

“I don’t think so. You boys better leave. Now.”

The criminal radiated confidence and the smile didn’t leave his face. “Now now, bowman, there’s no reason for you to get hurt. Just turn around, leave and I promise you, we won’t beat you to death.” There was less false joviality in his voice now. I assume he knew he had to finish with the cock waving before his friends got too nervous. I needed to play it out for a while longer.

“I’m giving you three seconds. After that you’ll breath through new holes on your fancy breastplate and your friends get their throats ripped open by my panther.” My threat drew new uncertain murmurs.

“Three.” My face went expressionless as I began the countdown to violence. Time slowed. From the periphery of my vision I saw the thugs going for their weapons. The confident smile of the half-elf did not falter. “Its six against one, my friend. Back down, now.”

“Two.” I replied, informing them both of the seconds left in their lives and the true number of their foes. Dûath growled a long, deep growl and bared his fangs.

“One.” I pulled the bowstring an inch farther back. The leather groaned, demanding release. The Carmine Avenger blazed under my grip.

The lesser thugs ran, their courage faltering at the last second. The half-elf opened his mouth to bellow, whether a curse or an order, I don’t know. I didn’t care. I shot first.

The arrows pierced the armor of the half-elf but they did not sink deep. The armor’s magical properties were strong. Dûath launched himself into a charge and was upon him in two seconds, biting and thrashing. The bastard was quick, I gave him that. He whirled and danced himself past the animal and came at me. Dûath did not relent and tried to snap at his feet but he was too fast. I ducked just in time and evaded a cut from his scimitar, and pulled back, raining arrows as I did. He evaded one in turn, and other two glanced off his breastplate. The panther ripped to his back but he shoved him off with considerable strength before turning back to me. I was contemplating dropping my bow and unsheathing my gladii but the decision was made for me. The bastard cut low once with his blade and tripped me, slashing a wound on my calf, almost ruining the tendons. The Carmine Avenger clattered to the stones. I oomphed as I fell on my ass. He followed by stabbing me in dead center in my chest. It didn’t go deep but by Earthfall it hurt. I coughed blood, gaining a second of respite as my panther once again drew the attention of the criminal. The lightning gladius was in my hand.

The half-elf was badly hurt too, backs of two arrows poking out of his chest, bloody claw marks around his body. He wasn’t smiling anymore. He turned back to me and I saw the urgent desire to kill me and finish the fight. I laughed, my mouth full of blood and lunged with my gladius from my laughable sitting position.

Pharasma has brought you here. You should be happy to be alive.

The blade dug into the half-elf, flashing like a miniature version of Alice’s magnificent scimitar, wrenching the life out of the criminal. I turned the blade, pushing it deeper, maximising the damage, willing the bastard to die with a hateful curse between bloodied, gritted teeth.

Finally, my assailant crashed into the ground beside me, dead and dealt with, and I let myself fall on my back, pained and exhausted. I lied there for a moment.

**

My precious few healing potions closed the chest wound and made me breathe relatively easily. But I was still hurting and walking with a limp when the sun came up. I had stripped the half-elf criminal of his possessions and dragged his body to a nearby alley before covering it with few empty sacks. There was blood all over me so it wouldn’t take a smart person to connect the dots if they found the body. But I didn’t care. I had protected my life and property. Even if I had landed the first blow.

“You look like a mess”, Alice commented when she came out, stretching her arms and yawning. “Ran into some thugs”, I replied laconically. “Yeah, I saw it from the window. I happened to be awake”, she informed me non-chalantly and shrugged. “You what?” I opened my mouth to speak but didn’t the right the words. I guess the sleepless night played a part.

“Just examine these”, I eventually groaned and threw her a bag full of items the criminal boss had been carrying.

**
I took from the man’s belongings a strong cloak of resistance and a necklace Alice told me would create a bubble of fresh air around my head, allowing me to breath underwater and in poisonous fogs. I also took a pair of expensive golden earrings to myself, and stored the rest with the mammoths.

Garnet welcomed us after her breakfast. Amazed at the size of our loot, she still happily agreed to put a price on it and buy it from us – all she needed was a day or so to go through it.

She didn’t want to buy the mammoths, and was annoyingly unhelpful in coming up with any other buyers. Again, I think my grogginess affected my temper and I left irritated, telling Alice to handle the businesses.

I paid a stable boy some silver to watch for the mammoths and headed out to the Serpent’s Run hippodrome. I knew they used mammoths in fights and that made them a potential buyer.

The director of the hippodrome was interested all right. But he had the nerve to ask me for a compensation if he agreed to take the mammoths from me. All he got from me were subdued curses and threats of violence.

Tired and boiling of anger I paced first to Kaijitsu Manor, fetched the four expensive red wines from the cellar we had stored there and the continued back to Dockway and the BrewCat tavern. There I took the mammoths and headed out of the city. If no-one would pay for my magnificent beasts of burden, then they would go to someone who truly deserved them.

**

I was almost hallucinating when I arrived to Sandpoint on midday of 29th of Neth. It wasn’t my first time going two nights without sleep, but I really had to fight through the haze of tiredness.

I went to Larz Rovanky first. He was startled to find me and the three mammoths waiting outside when he opened the door to his tannery. I was brief with what I wanted.

“I’m handing out the mammoths to the town. Take the second oldest cow, and cloth the people who have lost their homes for the winter. Sell the meat, but make sure the butchers won’t overprice it.”

The old tanner was baffled, but accepted nonetheless. He only wanted that I would slaughter the beast personally. I was too tired to say no, so I left the mammoth tied to a thick oak by a rope and continued with remaining two to the town hall.

Deverin was at her office working, sitting behind a writing table, fingertips black with ink, when I entered. She nodded at me curtly, evidently not knowing what to think of my lone arrival and I went straight to business. I was too tired for niceties. Then again, I never did niceties.

“Last time we met, you were wrong about me”, I began with no preamble. She frowned and clasped her hands together on the table. “Last time wasn’t charity. It was about loyalty, and fairness. This is charity. I have two of my mammoths waiting outside, and I want Sandpoint to have them. Do whatever you want with them, use them as beasts of burden, slaughter them for their meat and hides, I don’t care. I can’t keep them, so you are the ones who deserve them.”

Deverin opened her mouth to speak, then considered her words. “You are sure you don’t want any gold in payment?” I gave this some thought. “If you sell them or otherwise turn them to gold, then put aside a share you feel is fair, and I’ll collect it later. But just that you know, I’ve given one for Rovanky for skinning and slaughter for the local markets. Make sure the mammoth feeds and clothes those who are in need.”

Deverin nodded seriously. “I will. Thank you, Alpharius.”

I turned to leave without a word.

**
His hands shook visibly as the stableboy took the mammoths, but the beasts came peacefully, grunting and trumpeting. They had used to the smell and sounds of little people, so we parted amiably. I was relieved. I wanted to rest.

Sleep nearly overcame me but I had one more thing to do. I paced back to Rovanky’s where the old tanner and the cow waited. Rovanky was keeping his distance, cleaning his tools in a shed, but I saw him shoot glances every now and then to me. He wanted to see what would happen.

I gently touched the fur of the great mammoth and offered it – her – an apple. She grabbed it with her nimble trunk and downed it in a blink like a child eats a candy. All the while she kept one eye on me. She reacted not at all when I slid my adamantium gladius from its sheath. One well-executed cut and she would perish, I considered. It would be a quick death.

The thought made me shake my head. No. Not like this. She was not an enemy to be coup-de-graced, or a some prey animal to be finished. She deserved better.

“I’m too tired for this”, I said to myself and rubbed my eyes after I had sheathed my gladius. Thankfully, inspiration was not long coming and I had an idea.

Nisk the potionmaker still had some sleeping potions among his wares. He giggled and wriggled his fingers when I asked for them. Thankfully he didn’t ask why I wanted them. “How many do you need, dear friend?”

I did the math. If Vidarok and Harsk had took the lights out of an entire band of goblins with just one flask, surely that would be enough for one great woolly mammoth?

“I’ll take two.” I replied with a sigh. I wanted to be sure. And quick about it.

With Rovanky’s help I filled a big bucket full of water and emptied the flasks’ contents into it. I was in luck – the mammoth was thirsty. I just hoped she wouldn’t play with the water, or start cleaning herself up.

An hour later, her feet gave up and she gracefully lulled into sleep. Rovanky came to wake me up with a sharp kick. I needed it – otherwise I would have slept for the next half day myself. But it was time.

I listened to the magnificent beast breathe steadily and peacefully, her chest and side heaving like a huge billow. The gladius was in my hand again. All I had to do was to slit her main arteries, or stab her through its neck and into her brain. Still, I hesitated. It felt wrong to end the life of such a great beast so unceremoniously. I felt stupid – just days ago I had battled with her kin, fighting furiously, with no regard to the opposition’s life. Why was this so difficult? I was too tired. I simply stopped thinking, letting my hunter’s and killer’s training take over. The gladius easily found its way to the arteries, splitting them. After a swift cut I roared and stabbed her once in the neck, just to be sure. The mammoth groaned once and the steady heaving ended. “You’ve served me well in life, and you will serve this town better in death”, I told her with a heavier heart that I would’ve wanted and pulled out the blooded gladius.

I cleaned the blood off the blade – a reflex motion – but looking back it might have looked too cold and professional to an outsider. Someone was sobbing behind me at the street. I turned and was surprised to see a little boy, alone, watching me. Tears ran down his cheeks and his lower lip trembled. He had witnessed it all, and maybe my hesitation too. I knew the boy, I had seen him thrice before in town. He had a peculiar name.

He was called Macharius.

**

I left town almost immediately, embarking the Tall and Handsome once again. I slept the entire voyage and arrived to the port of Magnimar feeling rested on the morning of 30th.

Alice, Alfred and Harsk had finalized our negotiations with Garnet. Each of us was over forty thousand gold coins richer. The swindler princess didn’t even have enough gold available to pay us at such short notice, so she wrote us obligations for the Mage Tower – she’d pay for our magical equipment and any upgrades. But of course, she was most interested in offering us other equipment in exchange. And she had items to spare.

I had decided to get a helmet or a mask already during our escapades in Jorgenfist. I was sick and tired of getting my face and head struck like an anvil. Garnet of course had a selection. My choice was obvious.

“It’s called a Skull Mask of a Fortunate Soldier”, she told me as I lifted the white-metal death’s head of the shelf. “Why the name?” I asked her as my grin rose. “It’s magical, of course. They say the mask turns aside blows that would otherwise instantly kill men and women. Hence the fortune.” Perfect, I thought. The symbolism was apt. A skull mask for a killer and a man-hunter. A skull mask for a taker of lives and changer of fates.

Pharasma has brought you here. You should be happy to be alive. The words might have well been etched into the leering mask.

**

Our party gathered at the BrewCat later that day and reserved a storage room I believe Garnet also used as a study room. There were books in shelves and a writing table. In our possession we still had one item we had not really examined, and it was the cylinder with the complex locking mechanism and the delicate scrolls it had sheltered. Both Garnet and her business partner Adebisi joined us as we watched Alice carefully re-open the cylinder and gently pull out the scrolls one by one using her telekinetic powers. She planted each on the wooden table and began to browse them without touching any. “Those nine are scrolls for spells”, she said, sounding almost bored. I was, and ate a piece of apple pie while I hung on the back of the room. Dûath was lounging at my feet. Alfred and Harsk were right behind the magus, looking properly interested. Alfred I knew understood jack shit about the magic and the scrolls, but Harsk could follow. “There other nine are in Thassilonian”, the god-touched cleric said. Alice nodded. “They are, but their meaning is lost to me. Like it makes no sense. Strange.” Harsk crouched over the papers, and pushed aside his beard locks as he did so they would not touch them. He harrumphed and shook his head. “I can’t make heads or tails about them either.”

“But we can use the spell scrolls, yes”, I commented from the back between mouthfuls.

“Wait”, Alice said suddenly and lifted her hand. “There’s something, in the first paper, among something about powers of the heavens. A word I don’t recognize.”

“What does it say”, Harsk asked her. “It says”, she began, “verin dosu.”

Immediately something emerged from the paper Alice had been examining. It was a faint cloud of dust and it began to swirl into the air. I heard Garnet gasp. The others took a step back, all but the pale-faced magus. She remained where she was and the swirl of dust rolled around her several times. I remember thinking it assessed her. Then it struck her, flying across her face, enveloping it. Harsk shouted her name. I dropped the piece of pie I was holding and went for my gladii. Alfred went for his shield.

A buzzing sound, like crackling electricity, filled the air. Alice began to rotate, turning on her heels. There was something in her eyes. Her mouth was open and she was breathing hard as if she had held her breath for a long time. “I am fine”, she said finally and thunder cracked in her eyes. There was no irises or pupils there anymore, just a perfect storm. “I feel.. empowered.” And with those words, the thunderstorm receded from her eyes. She was smiling smugly.

Harsk took her hand to his. “Are you sure you are fine?” He asked, unbelieving. She nodded down at the dwarf. “Trust me. I have never felt better. Ever.” Harsk began to stroke his beard like he always did when he was contemplating something. “I can sense it in you. The newfound power. What was it? The paper? The word?”

Alice shook her head. “It had to be a power hidden within the pages. Something that could be released through communication of the correct words. I.. I can feel it coursing in my veins”, she explained and examined her arms and hands.

I might have been bored but this piqued my interest. I approached the others and the table. My sharp eyesight spotted something familiar on the second page. Text in Common. “There’s something written in clear Common alphabet on the second paper”, I said aloud and pointed at the document. “What?” Alice exclaimed and turned to look. “Fifth row. Center. I can’t believe you missed it.”

“I can’t see it”, both Harsk and Alice said at the same time. “The text tells something about wildfire”, Alice explained. Alfred leaned closer and shrugged. I said the words I saw. “Verin do yol.”

A fire blossomed from the paper, hungry for life. I had little time to react when the fire had already enveloped my bare face. “Holy Iomedae!” Harsk was cursing. I had been burned many times in my life but it felt nothing like it. It was more like a breeze of wind and the touch of the spring sun. The flames drowned me, finding their way into my eyes, into my nostrils and into my mouth. I let it embrace me. I felt the power..

I was standing in a wildfire. There was nothing but flames around me. I did not see what they burned, what nourished them. They just were, and they were all-consuming and powerful. I had it now, all that strength in my grasp.. but there was something else. A dark shadow in the horizon that flowed with the flames. The raw emotion of the power to destroy. Wrath.

A woman with a dog’s head and a swollen belly looked at me within the shadow and laughed.

Then I was back at the storage room.

“How was it”, Alice was smirking. I gasped for air, felt my face. There was no fire, but I could feel the power in me, just like Alice had told us. Something akin to a receding fever.

“I feel great”, I replied and I had to smile.

“Now what is going on-” Garnet began to ask, her mouth agape, but Alfred cut her off. “I want me some of that same too!” He shouted and began to peer at the documents. “Ha!” He had found something on the third page. “Verin do gol!”

His transformation began as rapidly as mine. But it was even more dramatic. From the ground up his body began to take the form of rock and earth. First his legs, thighs, abdomen, then torso and finally arms and face. He guffawed all the while, almost manically when the transformation reached his face and immediately after, the rock and earth cracked and pulverized and within emerged a man who looked much more stronger than before. He flexed his arms in glee. “Ahhh yes, give me some more!”

“Spare something for the dwarf too”, I poked at him. Garnet pulled Alice away and frantically started to talk with her like a nervous big sister. “Well cleric”, the sellsword sighed with satisfaction and turned to Harsk, “can you find your word of power from the documents?”

He was glancing at the remaining papers. He shook his head. “I don’t see anything like the words you’ve said”, he said with some regret. Even YapYap had emerged from beneath his armor and was looking at the papers. “Let’s see.. let’s see..”, the dwarf mumbled to himself as he closely read each line.

Thanks to his efforts, a single droplet of sweat beaded into his forehead, rolled down and fell from his nose to the fourth paper. The document liquefied instantly and transformed into pure water. “Crap!” Harsk cursed, but the water pooled and began to move like it had a mind of its own. It splashed into the tiled floor and flowed to Harsk’s steel armoured feet. From there, the pool of water expanded rapidly and flowed upwards along the dwarf’s body, cleansing the armor and patches of skin from dirt. Alfred poked my arm with his elbow and winked knowingly. It was happening to our friend too. The water reached his face, covered it completely, and just like the fires, entered into Harsk without harming him. On the contrary.

When the waters had gone, Harsk laughed and drew a long breath before offering a word of gratitude to his goddess. His composure had changed. He was still the dwarf but he looked more fluid, more quick with his feet. And my eyes did not deceive me.

“Friends”, he addressed us, “somehow I feel I won’t fall behind next time we charge our enemies!”

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