Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 22.5 - The Red Shields

I grimaced. The emotional pain from my contrition was not easy to swallow, but Silah's turnabout in mood made me feel slightly better about it.

The things I do to keep the peace. I thought sullenly.

Silah gave a gentle squeeze to my arm and we moved from the stable and out into the yard.

As we approached, Duncan smiled as he saw Silah. He glanced briefly above my shoulder where the sword was just moments ago. He was still bewildered by the thought. I wasn't surprised at this since much of the time, even I wasn't certain how all this worked.

Both Duncan and Tagaern had settled into a spot at the tables. They rose to their feet as we approached. Both of them offered greetings suitable for a noble woman and Silah returned in kind with a deep curtsy. I smiled to myself as I watched. Her ability to smoothly ingratiate herself was unmatched and, perhaps, just a little terrifying.

Duncan did the introductions between Tagaern and Silah as we settled in. Amalia approached and leaned in with some whispered words to Duncan, then he spoke to her.

"You're in charge for the night. As soon as Falk and Keval are done with the carts, have them wheel them into the stables. If you need any help before then, get Harney to help. That poor boy needs to know he's useful." He said all of this very quickly, already knowing his plan for the night. "Oh, and a bottle of Old Law? He's buying."

I shook my head at the finger that Duncan had leveled at me. I had just come into money, it was not going to flow away from me that easily.

"You're here to train, right? Call it part of my fee." He gave a crooked smile.

"All right. On me, then." I conceded.

Amalia smiled. I'd half expect her to be annoyed with Duncan's request, but she was very capable and seemed to delight in taking charge. Duncan took note of my thoughtful gaze toward Amalia.

"She's something else. She'll run this place someday, no doubt. That is, if some whelp doesn't steal her from me first." He grinned at the thought and turned his eyes back to Silah. "Are you drinking with us tonight?"

"Why, yes, Duncan." She gave a sly smile and continued, "Is there a wager involved, perchance?"

"No, no." Duncan looked at her warily.

Tagaern's eyes danced between Duncan and Silah, casting about a befuddled expression. Quietly, Amalia slipped between us, put a bottle of Old Law, as well as a cluster of glasses, then disappeared as quickly as she came.

"For her size, Silah's … formidable." Duncan said as an aside to Tagaern, nodding toward Silah.

"You boys are no fun." She reached for a glass, righted it, and filled it halfway.

"Easy, Silah. Save some for the rest of us." I said looking sternly at her as she poured and she returned a sidelong glare as she sipped from her glass.

The night wore on. Before long, another bottle of Old Law found its way to the table.

Duncan waxed on about his times training side-by-side with Tagaern and how they rose through the ranks together. Duncan mentioned to Silah that the Red Shields had the Grasslions' back on the final push to end the Ten Years War. There were heavy losses as the Red Shields dealt with the counter attack. Word of the fall of the Mad Elven King took time to reach the front, which meant that much of the loss of life happened after the war had already ended. It was a sad thought. There were numerous stories like these that made me resent those who scripted the these battles on paper, but were not there in person to see the aftermath. They were not there to see the blood soaked fields and the weak cries from the dying.

It seemed that Tagaern was haunted by those cries, holding the line as his forces did. Forming up as his men fell, closing ranks and pushing on until those that we fought against realized the futility and laid down their arms. As they weren't there to see the Mad King's blood spilt, they didn't receive the same notoriety that the Grasslions did. Yet, they were essential to the success of the final push. The memory of the Red Shields faded thanklessly as the sigil of the Grasslions became widely recognized.

The two of them had lost contact after the war. Tagaern fading into a dark place that he seemed only recently able to climb out of. He had found Duncan by chance, traveling the realm on the scant money that remained. Though he looked haunted, he had a fiery glimmer of fight still in him. It showed that he had more to offer. Whatever words he had exchanged with Duncan, they must have brought him back from the brink. Duncan was more than persuasive, in every sense, he was a natural leader.

"What brought you up here?" I slurred, thinking clearly, surely, but completely unable to control my tongue.

"I found a map. Actually, it was given to me. A keep to the South and East."

Silah's sharp eyes and ears were turned to us. Completely untouched, unfairly, by what she had been drinking. Though, I didn't know if it was unfair for us or unfair for her. Sober people, I always assumed, had considerably less fun with drunk people.

I thought for a moment about what was South-east and tried to picture it in my head.

"A … keep? The road South leads right to Hlofreden. Is it in Hlofreden?" I said, squinting at him, my eyes lingering on the scar that ran down his face.

He wagged his head, his jowls jiggling in the process.

"No idea what you are saying. I've never heard of the place." He said, his eyes foggy as he attempting to focus.

"Hlofreden is the next city—the last city—on this road." I waved my hand emphatically, sending Silah ducking away. She back came up with a grimace, looking at me warily.

"Sorry, love." I gave her a bleary eyed look with an apologetic smile.

"I … don't think I've seen a half-orc apologize for anything. Where in the hell did you get your manners?" Tagaern leaned in with the question.

I nodded and raised a glass toward Duncan, who had stopped drinking a while back—the poor sod—now he seemed to be simmering on the edge of soberness.

"To Duncan! For so so many reasons." I said, giving a toothy grin to the man himself.

Tagaern smirked and met my glass with a clink.

"Well said." Tagaern agreed as he tossed the last of the Old Law back. "Duncan teaching you manners. Hah! That's like a dog teaching a mule to sing!"

I looked at Tagaern confused, trying to work out what he was saying in my head. I couldn't. For a moment I wondered if I should feel insulted.

"For your benefit, gents," Duncan said with a widening smile, "We're starting training first thing. As soon as the sun shows, be out in my yard, ready. If not, you'll get a bucket of water over you in bed."

My mood immediately soured and I gave Duncan a sulking grimace. Tagaern's head slumped forward, thudding into the table. If that was intentional, he probably hit harder than he meant to.

"I want to take that toast back." I furrowed my brow at the shapes of Duncan that swam in front of me.

I rolled my head toward Silah who wore a satisfied smirk.

"Shhh…" Silah whispered, "Let's get some water in you then get you settled for the night."

"A lovely evening, as always, Duncan." She stood and vaulted over the bench, then simpered at him with a slight curtsy.

Duncan returned with a polite bow and smile. Silah grabbed the thick straps holding my breastplate in place and lifted me out of my seat, but also steadying me. I trembled and looked anxiously back to her, feeling like a puppet on a string.

"I can carry you or you can walk. Your choice." She said evenly.

Tagaern, who had raised his head from the table, was wide eyed with the display, blinking in disbelief.

"I can walk. I can walk." I grunted putting a steadying hand on the table.

"So you can." Silah said flatly. "It's a miracle."

I rose through the layers of sleep just as it felt like I was descending through them. I awoke just in time for Silah's prodding to send me off of the edge of the bed, thudding to the floor. I was naked, and I didn't remember getting that way. She was also naked, a wispy sheet draped over some of her form. She looked down at me from the bedside with a perturbed expression.

"What did you do that for?" The blood pumping thickly through my head evoked a blistering amount of pain which coupled with the effort of sitting up from the floor.

"I've been trying to wake you for while now. You really have gone soft." The annoyed look on her face softened, "I know that I said you weren't a soldier anymore, but today you are."

The sun was just peeking up from the horizon. Being high on the plains meant the sun came up far earlier than Hlofreden, being cloistered in the walls of the bluff.

"Where are my clothes?" I cast around, blinking the film of sleep from my eyes.

She sat forward on the bed, letting the thin sheet slip from around her. She lifted a delicate arm and pointed toward the foot of the bed. She had a smile on her face as she watched me fret while I scavenged my scattered clothes.

"I should do this more often." She tilted her head as she commented, looking at me playfully.

I returned her gaze with a dirty look.

"Oh, and no food. Just water." She said, as her graceful form glided across the floor, retrieved her dress, and slipped into it effortlessly.

"By whose orders? Duncan's?" I said, feeling the authoritative snap return as I slipped back into form.

"Mine. I've been feeling that poison run through you all night. I doubt you'll hold down a meal." She said, fixed in place, watching as I sluggishly tugged at my boots.

"Try me." I grumbled.

"No, soldier, those are my orders. Burn that … poison off first, then you can eat." She put her hands on her hips as she gave me a determined look.

I glared at her, but she shook her head, standing her ground.

"We'll see how this goes." I growled as I moved out of the room.

After guzzling nearly a bucket of water and a visit to the privy, I was in the yard just as the sun had lifted off of the horizon. Tagaern was there looking as worn as I did, but his body had taken the effects of last night a bit more personally. You could tell by the sallow pallor of his skin that he was not feeling well.

Silah looked on while all three of us used our respective campaigner swords with aggressive striking forms. Duncan led us, shirtless, muscles rippling under his dark skin. Tagaern matched the motions, seeming to fall into a rhythm while his muscles seemed to remember more than he did. I was familiar with this process and knew that this was just the beginning.

The acrid smell of a distillery rose from my skin as I worked up a sweat. The throbbing headache still raged on, at moments, the pain made me nauseous, but I kept pushing, willing my body to get in line. We had gained an audience of more than a few travellers who were enjoying their morning meals while watching us worked to a fine lather by Duncan.

Silah had retrieved two buckets of water and had them perched on one of the tables. Amalia had delivered a plate of fresh eggs with bread and small tub of butter.

Duncan finished the forms and, immediately, Silah took one of the buckets and splashed me with it, soaking me from head to toe.

"Could you, at least, let me do that?" I said, sputtering and skimming the water from my face.

"What fun would that be?" She said as she handed the other one to Tagaern who leaned forward and dumped it over his head.

We sat and ate, Duncan was watching the skies. I could tell, by the look on his face, that this break would not last. I wolfed down my food in anticipation.

"You used to be a Captain?" I asked Tagaern.

"Yes. Why?" He grumbled through his food, knowing what I was going to ask.

"What happened?" I gestured toward all of him.

He gave me a scathing glare, lifting his head from his breakfast, eggs unceremoniously clinging to his stubbled chin.

I put my hands up in retreat. I tore off a hunk of bread and smashed it into the tub of butter before taking a bite out of it. Silah looked at me with distaste as I stood, chewing loudly.

"Looks like you two know the drill." Duncan said, glancing at the sky. "And, here, I was going to give you another moment. On your feet, Tagaern."

"How about we practice with each other." I gestured to Tagaern.

Duncan had a smile slip across his face.

"How do you feel about that?"

Tagaern nodded curtly.

"Rules: Tap, do not strike. I want to see control, precision, not raw force." Duncan said loudly, tossing us thin wooden poles with a crossbar, his eyes burrowing into me as he said raw force.

The crowd had grown. I grimaced at the men who seemed to be actively taking wagers. Although, it was flattering, because I could see more gesturing my way.

We squared off and launched forward at Duncan's command. Tagaern had been primarily a defensive fighter, so, without a shield, he was primarily keeping me occupied with light attacks while looking for openings.

I could see he hadn't fought in some time. I took some chances with spinning, losing sight of him, and repositioning quickly. We were both exhausted, but it was harder for him to recover. The first two taps went to me within the first moments. But, I saw a change in his approach. He pulled his arm behind him, locking it tight against his lower back. All of his focus was on dancing his blade in front of him, sparring with me expertly.

There were moments where he overextended himself, unused to his body in its current shape. And, again, it took longer to recover, but as he corrected and learned, then he pushed forward. He struck me, the blow rattled off of my collarbone, sending a shock down my sword arm, weakening my grip. I clenched my teeth, anger setting in, I switched hands, gripping the practice sword in my left.

"Tagaern! Tap do not strike!" Duncan called out.

We continued sparring. Trading blows regularly, his prowess became more and more apparent the longer we practiced. The match eventually became something of a game with insults and encouragement being shouted from both sides. But the competition remained fierce. He was watching my moves, analyzing my weaknesses, but my ability to catch my breath more quickly allowed me to edge ahead in the end.

The cheers from the tables escalated until Duncan finally called the match in my favor. We had been at it until late afternoon with the skies starting to gain a hint of yellows and oranges from the early evening. There were numerous angry bruises swelling on both our arms and exposed portions of shoulders. We shook hands, exhausted but with respect, letting any aggravation slip away with the exchange. Silah joined us, smiling, as we bonded over ales. We pointed out each others bruises and replayed the combat through words and gestures. It was strange to have a man that I had bested give good advice on tactics.

"If you had a shield, I would be hard pressed to get through." I said, pointing to an angry welt on his left shoulder. "I've let go of my shield, though. After using it in the war for so long, it was hard for me to do."

"Defense is my strength. I was Captain of the Red Shields, after all. Duncan has always been more aggressive, which wholly suits you." Tagaern nodded toward the hand and a half sword that I had re-sheathed. He paused for a moment then looked again.

"Where's the other blade you came with? Seems a shame not to be wearing that."

There was an exchange between Duncan, Silah and myself.

"Always close at hand." I smiled widely.

He glanced around, curious, but then shrugged not pursuing the question further.

"Duncan mentioned that you and your friends have need for another strong arm?"

"Yes, I get a little anxious when there isn't another soldier on the front lines with me." I said, but, even while saying that, I felt hesitation.

Unfortunately, I doubted my usefulness with another formidable soldier, a Captain no less. I have gotten used to being the one that the others depended on. I felt secure in my place, but, knowing Tagaern's prowess and previous position, I felt my own inadequacy start to creep in.

"I will vouch for you when they get here. I believe they will be heading this way tomorrow. They have a shipment of gunpowder to deliver." I said, looking toward Duncan who nodded, remembering our previous conversations.

"As long as we get a chance to visit this keep, I am up for anything that will get me back out into the field." He said, nodding appreciatively.

A bone deep fatigue was starting to settle into me, my eyes drooped as the sun sank lower and lower.

"Bright and early shouldn't be a problem tomorrow, right?" Duncan said with a chuckle, "I'm all sorts of fresh from watching you two spar. But, tomorrow, we'll take turns. I can't let you two have all the fun."

Tagaern stood shakily from the table, arms and legs weak from the effort. I felt it, too. But I was glad I didn't have to show it yet. Silah leaned up against me at the table.

"And, about you two." Duncan looked sternly at me then to Silah as he spoke, "You depend on her more than you should."

Silah's brow furrowed.

"How do you mean?" I looked at him crossways, feeling a bit of trepidation.

"Watching you spar was eye opening. Silah fills a lot of the gaps, but I also know that she has a tendency to pull you forward." He said frankly, "And I mean no offense, it works, for now. But you don't seem to realize where it may make you weak or where it may make you strong. I want you to practice on focusing past her."

"I'm not sure if I should be offended." Silah said flatly.

"Why would you be?" Duncan said, "You are a driving force for Hakaar. But, as with any relationship. Any relationship of strong wills, you can cooperate, but also may hamper each other without realizing it."

I nodded and Silah nudged me in the ribs hard, glaring at my acknowledgement. Duncan smiled.

"You realize that you're only proving my point." He said to her with a chuckle, "You depend on his willpower more than you realize. If he just bent to your whim..."

"Yes, yes. I understand." Silah said settling a steeled gaze at Duncan.

"Then, tomorrow, we'll practice. I bet you'll both learn something new. Which I'm surprised to say, Silah." Duncan smiled kindly and nodded toward her.

Her face was an unreadable blank. That usually meant something dangerous was flitting through her mind.

We moved back into the tavern, grabbing a small meal on the way up to the room. I sat on the side of the smallish bed, feeling beaten and worn. Silah didn't speak, but she set to kneading the muscles around my neck and shoulders, finding just the right amount of pressure with only brief bursts of nearly unbearable pain.

"I can feel every muscle in you vibrating." The tone of her voice was warm as she ran her thumb firmly along the trembling bands of muscle along the back of my neck. "It's been some time while since you've felt like this."

"It's time to get back to it. You're right about me getting soft. I don't need to be a soldier, but I need to get back into the habits I've lost." I said, cringing slightly as she pressed through one of the bruises. "Tagaern stopped, it looked like, because the war seemed to have gotten to him and he tried to escape it. While I've acted like I never left the war until recently. I'm sure there's a balance between the two."

"You seem to have bonded with him." Silah said, her voice quieted slightly as she nodded, "And, yet, you're afraid?"

A half-smile slid across my face.

"Yes, and you could just come out and ask instead of poking around in here." I pointed to my head, "I just don't want to become obsolete."

She chuckled softly and then entwined me with her arms from behind, kissing me gently on the cheek.

"Very doubtful." She whispered in my ear.

We were in the yard in the crisp morning air before the sun was halfway above the horizon. Silah was now in her greatsword form, sheathed and standing superior above my right shoulder. The campaigner was over my left, prompting, again, strange looks from both Tagaern and other stolid fighting types in the yard.

Forms were first, then sparing. Duncan chose to engage Tagaern first, while he was still fresh. Duncan was a ferocious fighter, and he seemed a little disheartened as Tagaern failed to keep up. He scaled back the engagement, fighting with less ferocity and giving in a little easier. I took me a few moments to recognize that this is how Duncan also fought with me.

We moved through this same exercise during the morning hours. After a quick meal, Tagaern was tasked with engaging and hacking at a large standing log with a beaten practice sword to strengthen his grip as well as hone his follow-through.

"For you, Hakaar, I'm asking Silah to distract you." He said this while looking at her as the greatsword in his hand, admiring the runes that ran down the length of the blade. "You need to quiet your mind and resist."

Duncan motioned for me to sit down, resting the campaigner blade in my hands with palms up.

"Find the quiet and hold to it. Do not move a muscle." Duncan said low as he moved forward and replaced the blade with Silah.

Immediately, chaos erupted in my mind. There was a tumult of picking and scratching while her massive, intimidating form struck at me, sending the stage in my mind into splinters with mighty blows. I winced, panic welling up in me and my eyes shot open, trying to push the tides back.

Duncan looked at me with surprise as he took the blade back.

"What did she do?" Duncan asked curiously, "That was not quite the reaction I anticipated."

"I … you don't want to know. Suffice it to say, she can be terrifying." I said, getting control of my breath.

"Well, you can fear her or you can fear me." Duncan said, picking up one of the wooden practice swords. "You move, I hit you. Hard."

I furrowed my brow and looked up at him. He returned a steely look, letting me know that he meant every inch.

I centered myself again, quieting my mind and clearing my thoughts. As Duncan lifted the campaigner blade from my hands and I immediately sparked my rage within me. As the greatsword touched my palms, Silah started her menacing and I mentally roared in response. The world quieted and I could feel her influence held at bay.

"Yes!" I shouted, opening my eyes.


The wooden blade swatted me across my left cheekbone, immediately raising a stark red welt that oozed a trickle of blood.

I let Silah drop from my palms and pressed my hand to my face while springing to my feet, gripped with rage. I roared loudly at Duncan, whose eyes sparkled at my menace.

"Shall we try that again?" He said evenly, his mouth lined with a subtle smirk.

I glared at him while, reluctantly, returning to my position. I picked up Silah to hand to Duncan.

"I admit," her whispered words boomed from her hulking armored form, glowing eyes glittering with amusement, "This is much more fun than I expected."

By early evening, I was nursing a number of superficial wounds. I had taken a moment to bring Silah back to her human self while out of sight. She was tending to some of the splitting welts, dabbing at me with a wet cloth. It had been an inadvertent part of the training, but when I would fail to sit still, Silah began to warn me where Duncan's blows would come from.

There were points where I could react and block the wooden blade before it landed. Duncan was both annoyed and appreciative. Realizing that she was doing her part to protect me.

"That's not quite what I had in mind, but it's something." Duncan had said, annoyed, "We'll keep working on your ability to focus in the future."

Now it was the four of us, Tagaern and myself resting heavily on the table while Duncan sipped at an ale, looking on his work with satisfaction. Silah had been in quiet conversation with Duncan where my focus faded in and out. It was then that I heard familiar voices float over the light din of the outdoor area.

I felt a slap on my back.

"It looks like you've been through the worst of it." Bromm's voice held a tinge of humor.

I took a deep shuddering breath, feeling pain ripple through the various aches and pains that dotted my frame. I looked up, but didn't feel capable of saying anything.

Danin, Sig, and Floki all settled in around the table.

Duncan went through introductions, which I was too weary to follow up on. He explained to them how he knew Tagaern.

"You two hadn't met?" Sig looked to me.

"I showed up later, so there wasn't much time for introductions. I knew of the Red Shields, but I hadn't met Tagaern himself." I said, having trouble both thinking and talking clearly. "I had only been a member of the Grasslions for six months before the Mad King fell."

This surprised Sig; he looked incredulous.

"You've been telling us you're a veteran of this Ten Years War for how long, now?" Sig said, raising his hands in disbelief, "And you were only in it for six months?"

"Six months in the Grasslions, yes. I was a soldier long before that. I grew up in the camps, after all." I grimaced at Sig. "Why does it matter?"

"Well, calling yourself a veteran of a war seems pretty impressive when you leave off the six months part." Sig followed on.

Floki sniggered and I grit my teeth.

I looked between Bromm and Danin, checking their responses, but they didn't seem to be as concerned as Sig and Floki.

"You're saying I haven't proven myself? I'll kick all your asses." I growled.

"Calmly, my beast." She voiced aloud, her words oozing over me, quieting my temper while she continued to dab at my wounds. "Don't let them get to you."

I slumped again feeling every ache. I realized that I was also annoyed by Duncan's quiet, but he seemed to be watching my response, noting how I handled the conversation. I wasn't sure what kind of reaction he was expecting, though.

Bromm discussed the recent shipment from the go Brach brewery and, of course, there were Shatterhammer ales passed around, delivered by the ever present Amalia. I practiced focusing inward, feeling myself become insulated from both pain and the voices around the table.

"I'm exhausted." I announced, breaking into the conversation while sitting up, "I've got another day of this ahead of me, so I'm going to turn in."

I glanced at Duncan who gave me a slight smile and nod.

"And, Tagaern, these are the friends I mentioned, of course." I looked toward the others, "He's looking for work and I fully vouch for his ability."

I rubbed at the bone deep bruise on my collarbone that, over the course of two days, had turned a blotchy gray through my green skin.

"Can you join us tomorrow?" Bromm immediately turned to Tagaern with the offer. "We'll need some muscle for our stay in Dowry."

"I'll be ready." He nodded with a grin.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Hakaar - Chronicle 22.4 - Conversations with Silah

It was late afternoon when we had gotten to the outskirts of town. Worries flit through my head briefly as I thought about us heading out alone. Silah's leap in thought earlier, perhaps, wasn't that great of a leap after all. There had been considerable amounts of traffic on the road and visibility was remarkably clear. The guards at the gates had said that there had been very little trouble on the roads, mainly the trouble that did happen was the collision of travelers with boisterous personalities.

"We could walk." I said to Silah as I stopped and looked out over the plains ahead.

I turned back toward town, this was an excellent overlook of all of Hlofreden. It made the place seem even smaller when you could see the entire town from a single point. I eyed the lighthouse on the far side of the bluff which set my mind to musing again about what danger still lurked below.

"Yes. We can." She said standing separate from me seeming to wonder why I wasn't walking.

"I thought you said you could get us a horse." I looked at her with a slight smile.

She furrowed her brow, shaking her head with annoyance.

"You're just doing this to spite me, aren't you?" Her golden eyes sparkled fiercely in the sunlight. "I doubt that reminding you that every time you ask me to do something like this, it diminishes me. And you haven't been a wholly reliable caretaker."

"It'll be safer than walking, for sure. No point in taking the risk." I said, attempting to mask my mirth. "So, how does this work?"

Silah stood menacingly, glaring at me with reproach. I moved close, reached out, and touched her arm.

"I … want a horse?" I said aloud.

She sighed.

"Fine. All you have to do is ask, no need to prod at me." A small frown accented her pouting lips as she closed her eyes and bowed her head in concentration.

There were eddies in the air that disturbed the light, warping the space around her. They spun out, spreading into the air ahead of her. They swirled into a large shape. I could see the effort it took for her to make the manifestation. As the air cleared, a fairly plain riding horse stood calmly.

"I bet you're every little girl's dream." I leaned over and spoke in a low, reverent tone. "Can you make ponies, too?"

Silah gave me a menacing sidelong long then punched my shoulder with her tiny fist, immediately leaving a fist shaped welt. I gripped at my shoulder painfully, it could have been worse if she hadn't been holding back. This, however, was absolutely worth it.

"This looks a little small. I feel like I'm going to break it." I said, leaning against the horse.

It whinnied and stepped sideways with my effort.

"It's a horse. What more do you want?" Annoyance lacing her words.

"A horse that could carry me would be nice?" I said, patting the beast down.

She scowled at me letting a small growl escape her lips. I tested the saddle then grabbed the saddle horn and pulled myself up and over, the horse moved awkwardly under me but stood firm after I had settled in.

"There's no way both of us could ride on this." I leaned down to her and held out my hand. "C'mere."

I made to pull her up, but as she took my hand, I willed her into her sword form and sheathed her. She didn't resist, however, so I wasn't sure if I had caught her by surprise. I twisted the sheath and let the sword's hilt press against my neck.

"Let's get on with this." She grumbled.

The overland trip was uneventful, as expected, since there was a surprising amount of activity on the roads. At a bit past midway, it being late afternoon, a four-man guard patrol was coming from Kellas House.The lot of them wore annoyed expressions.

"Big party going on there," the sergeant nodded my direction, "Two wagons full of booze pulled in just as we pulled out, so, I take it, they're just getting started."

I smiled and nodded.

"Thank you, and I'm sorry for your loss. How about I find you an buy you a round at The Sea Witch when I get back in town?" I said, and the sergeant nodded, but didn't say anything.

I continued, urging the rickety horse forward, "It was as clear for as far as I could see on the way back. I don't expect you to run into any trouble."

The man nodded and turned toward to face the rest of his day while I urged the horse forward at a lively clip. It could only move so quickly, but it was a quick, steady pace that didn't leave me weary.

Drinking, dancing, more drinking. I thought, sounds like quite the night.

"Dancing? You don't normally get past the drinking part." Silah grumbled.

She had been lounging in my mind wearing a flattering flowing dress made of a shimmering gray fabric. Her presence had barely moved from the elongated chair that she lounged in from the time we had set off.

For you, my dear, I'll make an exception. I thought with a smile.

"Then it's a matter of whether the music is worth dancing to." She laid back looking skyward.

Come on. I grimaced. Don't be difficult.

I had made it clear that, I felt, holding her growth back was in our best interest. What good was I as simply an errand boy. Though she protested at the thought, I had given her many recent examples of her overreach. Now, she was sullen, soaking in self-pity. It was strange that such an infinite being had such a problem with patience and, yet, she demanded so much patience from me. Oddly, the thought brought a smile to my face. There were moments of inequality that tipped in my favor. I just had to keep those moments in mind.

The doors of Kellas House were still open as I approached. It was just before sunset. The guard nodded to me as I bumbled in on my weary horse. We had made good time, mostly by ignoring the needs of the horse. It was lathered and panting with the effort, which made me wonder if it really was alive and not just an aspect of Silah herself. I expect she would have complained readily with the effort if the latter was the case.

I dismounted and walked the horse into the yard. I made sure that Silah was still in contact with me, but I kept her sheathed.

Just as described, two horse drawn carts, one from the go Brach brewery and the other from Meadflower, out of Dowry. The bottles of mead and barrels of ales and spirits were slowly being unloaded into the stores. Some had been tapped and were already in use at the tables, being consumed by droves of traveling laborers. Some I recognized, others seemed to be visiting up from the Ranch. Tomorrow was the beginning of the work week and it appeared that no one was sparing themselves the effort.

I saw Amalia moving among the patrons, delivering food stuffs and trays of special orders. Those at the tables had pitched into the purchase of the casks and were taking care of themselves, taking the burden off of her. She looked up and caught my eye. I nodded to her with a smile and she returned the gesture and moved back into the tavern.

The feline brother and sister were entertaining the other half of the tables, music came in bursts as Danja wound her way through the patrons. Sometimes, moving fluidly down an empty bench, twirling without missing a step, sending her colorful gauzy clothes fluttering in the air around her. Even with the slight smile on her brother's face as he played, Leonid's eyes betrayed his wariness as he watched his sister move through the tumultuous crowd.

Apart from the others, I saw a man on the balcony looking down on the festivities. His armor was instantly recognizable, a fellow from the Ten Years War. I couldn't make out the symbol of his company, but the sword that he wore over his shoulder was definitely a similar make to my own campaigner. Although, one of the better designs reserved for higher ranks. The man himself looked older, wiser. Yet, whatever time he had spent soldiering, beyond the obvious scars, had clearly not stuck with him.

I couldn't tell, with his hooded gaze, if he was looking in my direction, but I nodded his direction in acknowledgement.

"Hakaar!" Duncan said loudly, closing the gap with me and putting his hand into my free hand. "Good to see you!"

Amalia was flanking Duncan, it was clear that she had retrieved him when she saw me. I mouthed a silent "thank you" toward her and she dropped a slight curtsy as she moved back into the fray.

"Good to see you, Duncan." I smiled wide. "It looks like you're getting into the spirit of things, too?"

Duncan's eyes slid toward me, it was clear he was also well into the haze of drinking at this point.

"What good is all this when you can't participate?" He flagged toward the cart where Falk and Keval were still unloading the cart. It seemed that Keval had been dipping into the reserves a bit himself, which could explain why the unloading seemed to be progressing more and more slowly.

"I have a friend I'd like to introduce you to!" Duncan said with exuberance, "We rose through the ranks together back in the beginning of the Ten Years War."

He peered into the crowds around and then spotted the man on the balcony that was looking down on us. He flagged the man over. His gait was slow, and it took a while before he sidled alongside Duncan.

"This ugly cuss is Tagaern." He pulled the man close, who seemed just a little unsettled with Duncan's attention. "His company protected our flank when we penetrated their front line."

"I was Captain of Red Shield Company." He said, reaching a heavily scarred, but softened hand toward me.

"It's good to meet a fellow soldier." I nodded at him.

Captain? This man's fighting days look well behind him. I thought.

"This is the boy I told you about," Duncan said clapping me on the shoulder as I leaned toward Tagaern and offered my hand. "His fellows have been looking for muscle."

I trusted Duncan's words, but I would definitely have to weigh the man's prowess for myself. His grip was firm, but time had softened him considerably.

"Where's your …" Duncan glanced around me, then looked at Silah's greatsword form perched over my right shoulder, "Ahh. Will she be joining us?"

"Yes, she will." I looked around for a quiet spot. "Uh, let me put this horse … away? I'll be right back."

How do I get rid of this thing? I thought to Silah, as I moved toward the stables.

"Why don't you figure it out. You're the one who wanted it so badly." She said with a smirk, still lounging in her chair.

Falk looked toward me as I moved toward the stables, but I waved him off. I brought the horse into the stables and stared at it.

It isn't real, right? I thought, rubbing my face.

Silah leaned forward in my mind, watching with amusement as I considered the horse.

"Sorry, boy, or girl, I'm going to have to put you down." I said aloud to the horse and I gripped Silah and drew her.

"Wait. Because you don't know what to do with it, your first thought is to kill it?" She said, exasperated.

I took the blade and laid it at the base of the horse's neck and slowly raised it over my head.

"Stop!" Silah's yell rattled through my mind, "By the god's, you are a such a stupid brute."

The horse began to fade, the eddies warping the air around it dissipated until the creature was gone. I turned the blade point down and thought of Silah in her human form. She shifted into her diminutive self, furious honey-gold eyes focused on mine.

"I don't know how this works." I said, also feeling slighted. "And you're far from forthcoming."

"It would disappear on its own after a time. And, yes, I can make it go away." She said, flatly.

"See? How would I have known any of that." I motioned toward where the horse had been, "I was going to solve the problem the way I knew how."

She shook her head.

"Yes, the same way you solve every problem you have." She said, chewing through her words.

"Oh, that isn't even close to true and you know it." I retorted.

This whole day had been push and pull with very little calm in between. Unfortunately, it had built up to the point where either of us bowing in concession would be the same as admitting defeat. And, often, that was me. I shook my head and, again, swallowed my pride.

"What?" She said defiantly.

"Can we just have a night of peace and quiet? We're both weary from everything that has happened today." I said pleadingly.

"I don't get weary." She said, crossing her arms.

"Oh, yes, you do. I've seen it." I said, holding on to my failing calm.

She turned slightly but continued to look at me with contempt.

"So, what is it? You're sorry? You'll make up for it?" She said her voice lowering as she spoke into the darkness of the stable.

"Of course." I sighed through my words, "I am sorry and I will always try to make up for, whatever it is, that I've done."

"You're saying you don't know what you've done?" She said, sounding more dangerous again.

"I know what I've done, this time. At least, I assume I do. I've taken advantage of you and of your abilities." I said, feeling the annoyance creep into my voice. "I can't say I'm the only one who is at fault, but I am the one willing to apologize for it."

She smirked from her still defiant pose, arms still crossed; waiting.

"All right. Can we have a nice evening with Duncan? And, yes, I still owe you all sorts of things. I've even got a decently full purse to back that up."

Silah unfolded her arms and moved up to me, all pretense evaporating as she twined her thin arms around my left bicep. She smiled up at me, her eyes now kind and sparkling.

"Yes, let's have a nice evening." She said with her winsome smile, "Shall we, then?"

(Get to know Akeron.)

Hakaar - Chronicle 22.3 - Trepidation

Hauling the gold ore down from the Windhollows was a chore. Not so much for the weight, but where to put it all. Bromm had given me a belt that straightened my back when I put it on and seemed to allow me to maximize my ability to haul what we had retrieved. In fact, I remembered using this back when we slaughtered the boar in Ainsley's Gorge with Ewe.

As we moved down the cliffside, I reminisced about the others at Robyn's farewell, thinking of the wizard with his bespeckled hat that used his magic to transport goods. Right about now, I'd have absolutely paid that man to move these stones for us. Sure, we could make due, but the inconvenience was enough to make me consider.

Heh, I really am getting soft. I thought to myself.

I had never considered manual labor as beneath me, but, after hauling ore from a series of waterlogged mining carts and digging out a collapsed tunnel, I had begun to feel that way. I sighed. Doing that much in one day made my body ache with the thought of future excursions.

Silah was also helping, speaking of things being beneath one's station. Silah had taken a few of the stones that wouldn't fit into my rucksack. She easily hefted one of the more unwieldy stones, holding it away from her dress in order to not get it dirty. She had a way of locking her arms and then counterbalancing by leaning back just slightly to keep herself directly under the mass. Her own weight was likely just less than the stone she carried. Her strength, in such a small, lovely woman, completely boggled my mind. I chuckled to myself with the thought of the any ignoramus tangling with her, but then also wondered if she'd ever actually fight back?

Today was likely the pinnacle of lowly tasks for Silah, this incredible being that was meant to keep the otherworld at bay. Again, I couldn't help but wonder if she would best fulfill her task elsewhere. And, as usual, I knew these thoughts would only make me restless and resentful of fate. I set those thoughts aside, keeping an eye on the road ahead.

We ended up at the temple of Derum Ebbar, taking the opportunity to unload the ore we had retrieved. Danin pushed through the doors, holding one open while he flagged us through. The inner sanctum was always something I found curious, being very unlike other temples I had seen. There were service portholes that lined one wall. Each had a specific service associated with it: exchange of currency, withdrawing money with their guaranteed writs, and  granting money that would eventually be repaid.

Being money minded as the bookkeepers of Derum Ebbar were, each service had a surcharge which was considered a donation to the temple for the service. Strangely enough, Danin said there was a discount for him being a full member of the order. Unfortunately, that privilege didn't extend to us. I had asked him in the past how they'd know if he let that slide.

"I would know." He had said, giving me a scalding look.

I had immediately apologized for the affront. After all, you don't mess around with the men who handle your money.

We set up the exchange, dictated by Danin, getting what we believed was a fair rate for the ore rich stones. Sig requested that we divided up the funds six ways, which I found odd.

"You did good work in there." Sig said, turning to me.

"Just doing my job." I said, feeling overworked, but knowing I had been treated with respect..

"We wouldn't have had this otherwise, so it seems fair that you get two shares."

My eyes widened as he pushed the two shares toward me. Silah gripped my arm from behind and give me an excited, and painful, squeeze.

"Thank you." I bowed my head deeply.

I scraped the spoils into my coinpurse. Others attended to their business, some depositing their share into the temple's hold. Bromm and Sig checked in on the income from Richter Holdings. The transactions from the brewery were automatically being deposited via Derum Ebbar's own coin handling services.

As we exited the temple, Floki and Bromm has split off from the rest as we were on our way to Atticus's shop. Bromm indicated that he going to get a little rest at Robyn's cottage, but there was a look in his eye that made him seem a tad harried. Floki continued on to his hut just outside of town. I hadn't ever seen it, but the way that he had described it, it seemed little more than a lean-to with a door. One of these days, I was going to have to take a peek to see what he called home.

Silah and I followed Sig and Danin to Atticus's shop. Even with the excitement of some fresh coin in the purse, there was apprehension building as we neared our destination. Silah was on my arm, and I could feel her presence moving to and fro through my mind more and more aggressively with each step. It was uncomfortable, her taking up residence in my mind without my being aware of it. I looked in on her, finding myself on the stage, her giant visage discontent, casting it's glowing eyes back and forth while noisily pacing in the dark caverns of my mind.

Anything I can do? I thought.

Her glowing eyes trained on me, a chill of intimidation shot through me, but I met those glowing orbs. Her face was expressionless. There was a pause, but then her eyes dropped again and she began her tromping pace again.

If you aren't going to talk to me, can you do this somewhere else? Moving my form's hand in time with her movement as I expressed my annoyance.

Silah's armored form stopped and lifted a fist. She looked down at the fist that seemed about as large as I was. She tightened it closed until it shook. I wondered what I would feel if she struck me with that in this place. I didn't doubt that it would be unpleasant. This display wasn't for me, though, I had felt this way before; powerless.

"This soul. Whatever. Whoever it is, they," her visage paused, dropping the gigantic fist out of sight, "I don't know."

There was a long pause.

What about them? I thought, concerned.

Her glowing eyes closed and she shook her head slowly.

"I don't know their nature. I'm afraid," her downcast glowing eyes opened a crack, releasing shafts of light, "I'm afraid I may have known them. I'm afraid they come from my past."

I nodded, both physically and in my mind. In a moment of changing focus, I could see that we were nearing the shop. I physically hugged her close, but I couldn't penetrate the cloud of sullenness.

I'll be here. Whatever comes, I'll be here. I thought, my heart aching for her.

Sig pushed through the door, followed by Danin. I held the door for Silah and, as she broke contact, the heaviness in my mind lifted. I hadn't realized how much she was leaning on me, but I was immediately able to breathe more easily.

Atticus was rearranging the front of the shop and, as we walked through, his eyes brightened.

"You're a tall one. Can you grab those baskets? I think some of the herbs have gone moldy."

I shrugged and moved behind the counter, reaching up to shuffle the baskets around.

"Does he always do what you say?" Atticus said, a little louder than he probably should have, to his grandson.

"He likes to help." Sig smiled.

I grimaced to myself, still looking forward.

"Sig! I have some news for you." Atticus said, seeming to suddenly realize who he was talking to. He then turned to his assistant, Ori, I believe, and shooed him out of the front room telling him to check on the herbs upstairs.

It was hard to know how much of this was an act and how much of him was genuinely oblivious. I wasn't going to second guess the man in case I was wrong, but that's likely exactly what he depended on.

"I have something for you, too." Sig returned.

There was a pause as both Sig and Atticus looked expectantly at each other.

"Why don't you go first?" Atticus said, playing a game I've seen played out between Sig and Floki before, which explained quite a bit.

A brief annoyance fluttered over Sig's face, but he reached back into his haversack and retrieved the cloth wrapped stone. Silah unconsciously moved against me with the reveal, the sight of the stone putting her on edge again. I put my arm around her as I felt the heaviness of her presence settle, again, into my mind.

"We found this in the mine shaft behind the Windhollows storage." He said, unwrapping it without touching the stone itself.

"Oh, so that's what that smell is. You came right over, yes?" Atticus wrinkled his nose looking between all of us.

He turned his attention to the stone in Sig's hand, peering closely at it. He whispered and, with a slight gesture, began to look more closely at it.

"My, this is potent."

"Silah says that she was made from one of these." Sig said, glancing at Silah, but she didn't meet his gaze.

"Hmmm. I thought you didn't remember your creation?" Atticus pressed.

"It is a vague memory. I have seen others like this before." She said with a quiet firmness, but I could feel her withdrawing with the ache.

"Others. Very interesting." Atticus looked to Sig, "Do you mind if I hold this overnight?"

"Not at all. Let me know what you find?" Sig smiled.

My jaw clenched. It wasn't my place to withhold, but letting this out of our possession made me uncomfortable. Especially with someone who was admittedly bound to the powers of Gevurah.

"Just know that there are agents in this city." I said, unnecessarily, but I wanted to voice my concern.

"Oh yes! That!"

Atticus's frail form moved in close to us as he dropped his voice.

"I have been watching my clients. The old man who tends to the lighthouse. He has been coming here gathering components that we use." He nodded to Sig, "I doubt he is who he appears. There is a strong aura of illusion magicks around him at all times."

He continued, "I've watched him walk up the long path to the lighthouse and he appears as an old man, but something isn't right. If you wanted to find someone behaving oddly, that would be where I would start."

Sig nodded and looked to Danin.

"We'll have to tell the others." Sig turned back to Atticus, "Thanks for keeping your eyes open."

Atticus smiled and nodded. He seemed a man that was now owed a favor.

"Would you boys like to stay? I was going to have Ori cook a meal for us?" Atticus offered. "You can have your old room back?"

"Sure." Sig nodded, "Oh, and Danin is an excellent cook."

Danin nodded with steady smile.

"And you? Will you and the … lady be staying?" Atticus stumbled over his reference to Silah, still stuck on the idea of what she was and, infuriatingly, not who.

"We'll take our leave. I need to visit an old friend of mine." I said, looking at the others.

Atticus chuckled as I said old. I was confounded by Atticus in so many ways, it made me uneasy.

"Are you heading out to Kellas House?" Sig asked.

I nodded.

"Our first shipment of gunpowder is due soon. We plan on delivering it personally, so we'll likely see you out that way." Sig explained.

I had thought this was the case, but hadn't been sure what was decided.

"I will see you there, then." I smiled politely at Sig and Danin nodding, "Until then, be safe."

We exited the shop, Silah still close. We walked in silence, but I could feel her slowly relax as we moved further away.

"What do you think?" I said, fishing for thoughts.

"Doesn't it take half a day to get to Kellas on foot?"

"No, not that." I said bewildered by her leap in topic, "Why would that even be a concern?"

She looked up at me, her brow furrowed, then her grip tightened and I felt pressure as she started grappling around in my head.

"Please. Don't do that." I pinched high on my nose, trying to counteract the pressure.

"What?" She said, clearly annoyed. "If you don't feel inclined to ask directly, I have to do my own digging."

"Again, wholly unfair." I said aloud, "I need to gather my things from The Sea Witch before we go."

She had withdrawn her search, easing off of my mind for a moment. We walked in silence, but her annoyance was palpable.

"What do you think about Atticus and the stone?" I attempted again.

Silah shrugged, whatever she thought, she didn't seem to want to speak about it.

"Are you at all worried about him having the stone?" I pressed getting annoyed with her resistance.

"No. Not particularly." She said frankly, "He doesn't seem to hold ill will. He wants to help."

She paused and a wry smile crossed her face.

"In his own way and in his own time, of course." She looked up at me.

Silah must have caught something I hadn't.

"Let me inside your head someday. I swear." I grumbled noisily, shaking my head.

"Oh, you couldn't handle it, I assure you." She said through a laugh.

I glared at her, but swallowed my contempt.

"Then what about this old man and the lighthouse?" I asked, watching her expression.

The revelation about the old man didn't really seem to impact us. That is, unless it was was the agent that's been in the city. Then it should be dealt with immediately. Now that the Priory of Kols was active again, it was only a matter of time before there was another attack. I wanted that to be much later, so we had time to prepare.

She glanced up at me again, but this time with a wide smile.

"Exactly." She said with a nod.


"Exactly what you're thinking." She cradled my arm shaking with a shimmering laugh.

"Will we ever have a normal conversation?" I said, feeling both used and exasperated.

"I thought this was normal." Her laughter grew with my contempt.

We had reached the front door of The Sea Witch and I gave her a look of consternation.

"Far from it." I grumbled as I grappled with the small door handle and she walked through.

"Oh, my beast." She cooed, "You are my joy and my delight."

It sounded like sarcasm, but, strangely, I realized that she meant it.

All that hurts is my pride. I thought as my lips pulled into an dull smirk.

I retrieved all of my equipment from Bromm's room while Silah stayed downstairs. I could feel the pressure of her moving in the distance, but she was still within the range of our bond. I looked myself over in the mirror.

Being in the water for as long as I had been cleaned off most of the muck and dirt I had been wallowing in. What remained was the residue of the stagnant water. I took a moment and sat in the smallish chair, picking up my campaigner and looked it's rough, often sharpened edge. I was feeling the weight of responsibility linger for a moment.

"At least you never talked back to me." I mused quietly to the blade.

I held the blade up in front of me, seeing the symbol of the Grasslions in the pomel, bringing back memories of my time spent with them. I had joined the ranks of the Grasslions near the end of the Ten Years War, but I wore my time with them with pride and honor.

I sheathed the sword and picked up my rucksack and, just before moving downstairs, looked back into the room, feeling homeless again.

Silah was sitting at a table that was spread with a small meal of bread, butter, and a hearty soup. She smiled and stood as I tromped down the stairs.

"I figured you'd want a little something for the trip?" Her honey-brown eyes glittered as she spoke. "I wondered if you were just cranky because you're hungry."

I shook my head and smiled.

"Have you thought that I might be cranky because of you? You are relentless, after all."

She deliberately sat down and crossed her legs elegantly, her smile turning wicked.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

(Get to know Akeron.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 22.2 - Wayward Soul

My boots were covered in charred filth. Ichor dripped down my forearms, puddling around my grip on Silah. I breathed out slowly, letting a calm seep in, edging out this nagging anger that pressed in from all sides; expectations, demands... contempt. It had somehow translated from the venomous spiders to … everyone else. Stewing about it just brought it all back. And, again, I took a deep breath attempting to let it go.

"Come close, everyone." Danin called out.

I looked toward him, and smirked in the darkness. This was instruction that I did want to follow. I moved in close to the group who seemed to be looking themselves over. Danin grasped his holy symbol and spoke a few words of prayer. An indescribable wave rolled over me and I saw the others respond similarly. I watched as my charred, cracked hands softened the cracks sealed together without scarring. I could feel the remaining bite wounds close as well. I let out a satisfied sigh.

"Let's see what else is in there," Floki said, moving out onto the wide ledge around the abyss which, apparently was filled with water. A few lit stones were tossed down into the crystal clear water, revealing mining equipment that had tumbled into the deep water ages ago. Tunnels moved off in different directions, but all were too deep to peer down from this angle.

"I wonder if the pump would work on this water?" I mused.

"We'll try that, but lets see what else is here first." Sig said, pointing down the hallway just to our right from the tunnel we emerged from.

"It looks like there is rope and tack at the end of that tunnel." I nodded, "I wonder if there is a lift still works?"

The ropes themselves looked like the twisting disemboweled guts of some horror dangling just out of sight. We all moved down the hallway toward it to see how far the shaft went.

"I'll shoot a light up there," Sig said, touching a crossbow bolt and pointing it up the shaft.

It skittered off of the walls on the way up. I backed out of the tunnel as I saw it turn back and come sailing back down to where we stood, landing with a thunk into the ground.

Sig humphed.

"Let me try." Danin said, with a wry smile toward Sig.

Danin pulled out his larger crossbow and cranked a bolt back. He touched the bolt with a word and it lit up as well. He leaned back, drawing a bead on the darkness overhead and let loose. Again, I stepped back as the bolt came sailing back down the shaft with terrifying speed.

"Guys. Can we let the archer do this?" Floki said, stepping between everyone, moving into the center of the shaft.

He cranked his bow back, sending the string trembling. Sig touched the fletchings on the arrow and, just as they lit up, Floki sent the arrow sailing. A second passed and it thudded loudly into a wooden strut far above us.

"That's going to be a long climb." I said, concerned.

"Oh, I've got this." Sig replied.

He spoke a few words and his feet lifted from the floor again. He floated up the shaft at a decent clip, holding one of the lit crossbow bolts that had fallen back. We waited for a time, but as soon as he reached the top, he went silent.

"What's he doing up there?" Floki asked, squinting into the distance.

The light that Sig was holding moved out of sight. I shrugged and turned to walk out of the shaft.

"He can take care of himself. Let's look at the rest." I called out behind me.

Floki stopped at the end of the hallway.

"I'll just keep an ear out for him." He said, Tenner looking to him as we walked on.

I realized that the Greatsword was still held loosely in my grasp, the tip hovering just above the floor. I didn't anticipate anything sudden, but, still, I wanted to be ready if that was the case.

The bridge was in a strange place with the wires that suspended it mounted to the walls. The mounted rings and the cables themselves were only just now showing rust, giving an indication of their quality. This was a partial bridge that extended over the water, likely part of the larger lift structure that had fallen many years ago.

I sheathed the quiet Silah. As Danin looked out over the bridge, Bromm set to work reloading his musket and pepperbox.

"Anyone have some rope?" I asked around, "I left mine out in the main shaft."

Danin nodded and turned his back to me. I pulled out a rope and tossed it around his waist, he looked at me puzzled.

"This is Dwarven construction." He said, with a scowl, "You don't trust it?"

"Just in case, Danin. Just in case." I muttered.

The knot looked solid enough and Danin thought so as well. Bromm was shaking his head as we fussed over the order to tie it in.

"That may have been just fine, sure." Bromm said evenly, "But if Beidrick taught me anything—which isn't much mind you—it's how to tie a good knot."

He untied the knot easily and then tied an elaborate flourish and tugged at it to demonstrate its strength. I nodded appreciatively at his skill. He then went back to reloading his weapons.

"Right, Danin, go ahead." I said, looping the rope around my arm and bracing myself.

Danin made no effort to proceed gently, feeling absolutely sure in the bridge's construction. The huddled husk was covered in dust and residual webbing. It was an old Dwarf, Danin called out, as he attempted to tug a small wooden coffer from its grip. The head lolled back and fell off with the effort. The arms also fell with the second tug, sending the corpse into moldering pile. Danin stood, sending the bridge creaking with his weight. He then tromped back to us, looking me in the eye as he did so. I shrugged.

"Better safe than sorry, right?" I offered.

Danin scoffed.

Bromm unbound the rope and coiled it, placing it back in Danin's pack. The movement seemed to have gained the interest of a spider that stood near one of the mounted cables. I pulled Silah out of the sheath, holding her at the ready in case it decided to advance. I could see, above us a that there were many glistening eyes waiting, watching, but we seemed to be of little interest to the rest.

The box rattled with a single heavy item. Danin muttered some words and peered closely at it.

"It has an arcane nature to it." He said, "Whatever it is, it's very potent."

He was marveling at what he saw, seeming to look beyond the box itself. The lock on the lid looked like it had been pried open before and Danin open it easily. A rough dark stone with lines of red strata running through it. It seemed to catch light of it's own volition, the shifting patterns seemed to disregard the source of light. There was an overwhelming surge from Silah that shocked me as she rumbled violently in my head.

"Let me see it." I trembled with the insistence from her all consuming voice. I turned the blade and willed her to join us.

Letting her go in human form was a sudden relief. It was telling that she had been holding back when she had asserted herself earlier. But I wasn't sure if I should be thankful that she didn't roll over me, or worried that should easily could. I now felt more assured in my increasing defiance.

She approached but stopped, trembling at the sight of the stone, watching it closely as it rolled around in the box. No one dared touch it.

Floki and Sig approached. Sig had a wide mischievous smile on his face. Then looked on to the rest of us, suddenly bemused.

"What did you find?" Sig said, looking at Silah's reaction with consternation.

"I was," She gulped involuntarily, "Made from one of those."

That sent a shock through me and I gaped at her. The others seemed to react similarly. I put my hand on her trembling shoulder, feeling a torrent of emotion flowing through her, unrestrained. Her eyes only showed a miniscule amount of the anguish that I could feel from our contact.

"Those… lines. Those red lines are the sign that it contains a," she paused, whispering almost soundlessly, "a soul."

Sig twined his fingers and whispered some words, then looked closely at it, peering at it with a similar wonder that Danin had earlier.

"I can't tell you anything about it." He said, shaking his head.

Bromm produced a cloth from his pouch. It was something that he use to clean his pistol. He held it under the edge of the box and Danin tipped the stone into the cloth. Sig reached out and Bromm put the cloth wrapped stone in Sig's hands carefully. I felt a crawling wariness as Sig looked closely at the shimmering surface. Feelings of distrust rose to the surface as I read his eyes. Silah moved up against me. I felt her clinging to me, feeling the threat of being whisked away by the torrent of emotions that had taken hold of her.

"I'm sure my Pop-pop would know more about this." Sig nodded to himself, "Do you mind?"

"No, go ahead." Bromm obliged, shrugging.

Sig bundled the stone in the cloth and it disappeared into his haversack. For a moment, I wondered if we would ever see it again.

There was a moment of quiet. Silah remained pulled tightly against me, I took a deep breath closing my eyes as I turned her toward me and embraced her.

I could hear the shuffle of movement coming from the others.

"Should we check the rest of the tunnels?" Floki said uncomfortably, breaking the silence.

"Yes, lets do that." Silah said, looking up to me, pushing her arm into my hand and nodding sullenly.

I mentally commanded her to turn into a sword and she rapidly diminished in my grip.

I am so sorry. I thought.

She said nothing, but her warm, invisible embrace enveloped me in response. We moved down the far shelf, clearing the spiders with ease. The fresh taste of death seemed keep Silah content, keeping the burgeoning feelings at bay. The remaining tunnel went only into darkness with a small tag showing when the tunnel has been abandoned.

"Does someone want to run the pump while we look below?" Sig asked.

Bromm perked up at the chance at thwarting his enemy: water. I moved with him, gathering the tools we brought and lifting the heavy ore-filled backpack. I could hear the pump working in short order, the sloshing sound taking hold and quickly draining the water below.

Floki joined us shortly.

"It looks like you were right, the water goes through both. Did you know that Danin can also float around like Sig?"

"It's … unnatural." I shook my head.

"So are a lot of things." Floki said dryly, "You'll get use to it."

Floki continued, "Didn't you want to look back down in the old cart? See if there was anything further down?"

"Yeah, I didn't know if everyone was up for it." I grab the ore laden pack and slung it over a shoulder, "I should take this up first."

I set out, climbing the spiral staircase alone while the others gathered. There was a quiet peace in this darkness. The humming of the insects was just enough natural noise to counteract the deafening silence. Besides the imminent death looming from below, I felt like I could get used to the isolation of a place like this.

I dumped the pack at the back of the storeroom, the mid-morning light still shone through readily, the doors still laid near the entrance. I could have sworn that more time had passed, but how would you know without seeing the sun itself? I lifted my hand and grasped Silah's hilt.

"How are you doing?" I said softly.

I pulled her free from the scabbard and willed her back to her human form. She didn't resist, but she stayed, frozen in place, staring off into the darkness. Silence loomed for a time.

"I'm fine." She said, hardly seeming fine. "Just … memories I'd rather forget. Everything coming to the surface."

Her eyes, with some effort, looked to me, her body and head unmoving, and lingered. She looked at me as I had looked at the others just earlier: weighing, judging.

"I said I'd tell you about it … someday, but to be honest," her words fractured as she spoke, "I don't think I can … could bear reliving it."

I stepped up to her and encircled my arms around her rigid form, and, by degrees, she began to relax.

"I'd never ask if I knew it caused you this much pain." I shook my head with the words. "I can't bear to see you like this."

She reached her arms around me and returned the embrace.

"I have a way to take your mind off of it." I said with a smile.

"Hmmm?" She mused for a moment, "Oh no, not that. Really?"

She let out a bemused sigh.

"I'll be coming with you this time. They're giving us some light to work by, too." I said with a smile.

I took her hand and continued, "Let's get this over with and we can go find if there's fun to be had."

Her head lolled back for a moment then settled forward roughly into a slumped position.

"Fine." A half smile stole across her face as she met my gaze, "You so owe me."

"That's my girl." I said with a smirk.

I led her by the hand down the spiral stairway to the next level to where Floki and Bromm were waiting. Bromm had continued to pump this whole time. Danin, I assumed, would probably take his place soon after they came back from scouting the other tunnels.

As we waited, I went around the edge of the room, stepping carefully on the wooden floor, digging out small oblong stones from the surrounding walls.

"We're going to head down as soon as we can get some stones lit." I said nodding to Floki, "Then we can get out of here."

There was some chatter coming from spider tunnel. Apparently, Sig and Danin had finished their search.

"Anything interesting?" Floki said as they walked through the tunnel into the main shaft.

"No. Nothing." Danin said with a slight scowl.

"So, what's next?" Sig asked.

I held up the stones I dug out.

"We're going to head down to see if there is anything else as soon as we can get these stones lit." I said.

Sig nodded and both Danin and he began to mumble and touch the stones.

"And you're going with me, correct?" Silah said evenly.

"Yes I am." I nodded, "I told you that I wouldn't ask you to do something I wasn't willing to do myself."

"Naked?" She said with a smirk.

I looked around.

"Sure, but, in front of them? I doubt they'd be all that interested." I said, sidestepping the jab, "Plus, I wouldn't ask you to do that, would I?"

"Fair enough." She raised an eyebrow at me.

We took the lit stones down the next flight of rickety stairs finding our way back to the edge of the shaft that descended further.

"You said it. I want to see it." She said wryly.

"You do realize that it is very cold. I doubt you even feel it." I said with a grimace.

"But you'll do it for me, right?" She moved close, touching my breastplate.

"Absolutely, my dear." I said with a chuckle.

I slowly, deliberately removed all of my clothes and she did the same, laying her still damp white dress over my clump of dirty clothes.

Her pale skin was luminescent in the thin light of the magicked stones. She faced me for a moment, smiling wryly as I gazed at her. I adored her to my very core. I hoped that, regardless of whatever conflicts we had, she knew that. She turned on her heel and disappeared, as she had before, hopping into the water with barely a splash.

I moved up to the edge, looking in. A short ways below the surface, I could see an eerily calm Silah looking up at me, expectantly. I took a deep breath and braced myself against the cold and stepped in. I retrieved the glowing rocks from the shelf and made my way under the water. Silah bounded easily along the bottom, letting gouts of air from her lungs and replacing it with water. Her movements were especially graceful as her short hair swam behind her. We investigated a tunnel to the right first which terminated quickly into a tapering dead end. After a minute, I charged back to the surface, my lungs burning. She reached up and clasped loosely around my foot as I took a few deep breaths on the surface.

"I will look down this other tunnel, you can stay here. I'll let you know what I find." Her voice echoed in my mind, then there was the feeling of a loving smile, "I always believed you, about you coming down with me, but it means so much more to see it first hand."

Her hand slid away and I saw her naked form, holding the glowing stone in front of her, slide gracefully down the tunnels below. I gripped the shelf and ducked my head under the water and watched, my vision blurred, with as she moved like a luminescent ghost through the water-filled tunnels. At quite a distance, there was a pause and the light dropped suddenly.

I raised my head and took a breath, then dove with the two glowing rocks. I placed them on the floor to illuminate the way out. I went back and took a breath again, then watched for her. I was starting to feel anxious, but then I saw the light ascend from the far side of the tunnel and move toward me. I dove to meet her. She had broken the lit rock and put a portion of it in her mouth and was using it to light her way keeping her hands free.

I nodded at her ingenuity.

She had a large chunk of gold ore in her silky arms. She dropped it as I approached and I could feel the thud into soft earth. She reached out and touched my arm.

"There is more down there," Her voice slipped again into my mind, "About as much as there was in the first cart. Can you carry this from here?"

Yes, that shouldn't be a problem. I thought.

She nodded, and smiled, the glowing rock behind her teeth giving her ghostly visage a somewhat predatory quality. She turned away, moving back down the hallway. I grabbed the ore chunk at my feet and grunted with the effort, losing some breath. I struggled down the hallway and pushed off the floor to reach the shelf. My head crested and I caught my breath, but lost the stone. After a moment, I dropped back down and hefted the stone, then pushed off of the silty stone floor and launched the stone out of the water. I felt it thud in the hallway beyond through the water. I took a breath and dove again just to see Silah just steps away.

She handed me a slightly smaller chunk and then touched my shoulder.

"I can do this alone." Her echo oozed with concern.

I shook my head.

I'll be faster if we work together. I thought, not actually feeling all that sure.

"This is the last of the large chunks, the rest are much smaller. But there are a lot of them." She paused, "Are you sure you're up for it?"

I nodded, feeling my chest tighten with the need for air.

I turned and rushed toward the exit, bracing against the floor and pushing off as I did with the other chunk, sending it tumbling into the hallway. I crested, gripping the shelf again, breathing deeply.

The chunks got smaller and smaller, but that meant more trips, which was even more tiresome. I was well beyond weary, at this point. Then I saw that the magically lit stones were starting to fade. I ducked into the water and swam quickly toward Silah. I touched her shoulder.

The magic seems to fading. How much more? I thought, feeling unnecessarily panicked.

She pursed her lips, the glowing rock in her mouth not producing much light at this point.

"I could get it in one trip."

She handed off the stones she had and quickly turned, this time swimming. I watched her silky form darting quicking into the fading light.

I gathered the ore and moved quickly down the hall, the lit stones along the hallway fading quickly. After tossing the rocks topside, the hallway was unlit showing the blacks and grays I was used to seeing. I swam quickly toward the cart, as she crested the edge, loose ore chunks rolling around in her carefully scooped arms. Her eyes looked into the darkness, sightless. The remainder was a meager amount, which prompted a smile. Likely just enough to pay for a stay at a tavern, which now seemed utterly trivial.

I touched her, and I could see her pick up on my vision. I took some of the loose stones and we both swam to the entrance. I crested and tossed the ore into the hallway, into a pile that was clearly too big for my rucksack. I pulled myself up, feeling a bone deep fatigue settle over me.

I reached down and pulled Silah through the water with a bit of effort. She turned and sat on the edge and doubled over, emptying the liquid from her lungs with quite the display. She took a deep breath and shook the water from her hair.

"Well, that was an adventure." She said, with a wide smile, looking blindly into the darkness.

I took her arm and helped her to her feet then pulled her close, her uncannily warm body mellowing against my chilled skin. I tilted her chin and gave her a long kiss. I drank in the swirl of emotions that whirled between us.

I withdrew and looked down at her now blissful face.

"Indeed." I replied, giving her a toothy grin.

(Get to know Akeron.)

Hakaar - Chronicle 22.1 - Tunnel of Eyes

The extra weight from the gold ore in my pack made me considerably less steady on the wooden walkway. Each step set the boards to creaking under my feet increasing my level of anxiety as we ascended. The lot of us moved through the adjoining hallway that linked to the main mining shaft.

The rest of the group was silent, besides the sound of footfalls on the gritty floor. Insects chirped in the humidity, but even that had died down since the excitement with the spiders.

"I'm going to leave my pack here. There's no point in dragging around this load of ore."

I dropped them pack in the adjoining tunnel, then removed my breastplate to further lighten my load. I looked toward the tunnel where the spiders had come pouring through the last time.

I am not looking forward to this. I thought.

"I'll look ahead." Floki offered and tucked around the corner. I could hear the floorboards tremble as he moved over them.

Silah stood silently, her expression tepid. She was on this uncomfortable edge of annoyance and the excitement of discovery. With each life she'd taken, I had felt her getting stronger and she had just crossed a threshold down below, there was an indescribable feeling with that killing blow. This rush of life's energy into her also brought about this manic urging to keep up the pace. I kept thinking of it as bloodlust, but that seemed to be oversimplifying things.

She had told me early on that she could help, but that it would diminish her essence to do so. I had taken advantage of it during the battle with the giant crab on the beach about a month ago, draining her reserves. After that, her appetites increased to an uncomfortable degree and nothing could sate her beyond the temporary fill that us mere mortals found satisfying. I could imagine that it felt a lot like a constant hunger. To her, it was completely intolerable, something that her current form had moved well beyond. Only taking more lives seemed to fill that space permanently.

Yet, taking more life made her grow in capacity in other ways, as I had seen first hand just moments ago. I could tell, now, when a threshold was bound to be crossed. She buzzed with mania after each kill, her anticipation palpably rising; her driving forward more fervent. I couldn't lose control.

"Do you have the tools?" Sig looked over me as I sorted through my pack, retrieving what I needed moving forward.

I produced the shovel and showed it to him. I brought the hammer and pitons, as well. We had prepared to dig out and shore up the tunnel so it was safer to navigate, but also, had purchased a considerable amount of lantern oil, knowing there would be plenty of opportunity to use it more as a weapon than a help. We didn't need to bring our own materials for shoring the tunnels up since the next room over had old timbers we could use in the process.

As I walked in, the others stood against the walls, including a grimacing Silah, their eyes on me. Even Floki's wolf, Tenner, had an expectant look. I took a deep breath, not saying a word, and thrust the shovel into the wall of dirt before me.

In the enclosed space, sweat sprang readily to my forehead and quickly covered my arms. I clenched my teeth with each thrust of the shovel, hauling it back to deposit that the entrance. The passage was still short, vertically, making each move take twice the effort. Bromm was behind me, hauling in timbers to shore up the tunnel as we proceeded. Floki helped Bromm with getting the larger pieces in place.

After quite some time, we broke through, seeing the familiar tossed carts and bones of the long dead Dwarves in their reclined positions; an eerie mausoleum for the long lost miners. I saw some glittering eyes in motion.

I turned to Floki and Bromm.

"There's movement in there. I'm sure they've seen us." I said.

Floki had produced some of the lantern oil, and placed each vial in the tunnel. Bromm was doing the same, edging back to a more defensible location.

I reached instinctively over my shoulder then looked fretfully down the tunnel toward Silah. She pushed from the wall, her demeanor nonchalant, to the center of the tunnel, I was unsure of what she was doing, considering I was defenseless. I could hear the creak of metal and a tumble of rocks through the hole. They were getting closer.

"Think of me as a sword in your hands." She called down the tunnel, "Then call out to me."

Crouched in the tunnel and quieted my mind, doing as she said.

"Come to me." I whispered.

Instantly, Silah was in my hands, in her Greatsword form. Beady eyes emerged from the hole, and I lanced through them, splitting easily through the husk. I edged back, seeing more come through. Floki sent the next dog-sized spider to the floor with a couple of arrows and I slashed through the last that emerged. We waited, listening. I pushed through, peering into the tunnel beyond. The black and gray scene showed no other movement and I turned back to the others and let them know.

I looked down at Silah in my hand and felt a warm smile emanate from her. She appeared in my mind, lounging in an elongated chair elegantly, wearing a sheer dark blue dress laced with sparkling jewels. Her glowing eyes regarding me easily.

"There are benefits, you know." She said smoothly. "I am capable of so much more if you allow it."

Silah's expression had softened slightly, her annoyance wasn't nearly as obvious, but it did remain.

I wish that was a comforting thought. I thought, with a smirk.

The annoyance returned instantly; showing a crease in her brow and the glowing eyes sharpened.

"Why are you being so difficult?" She said, sitting forward.

Can we do this later? I thought, breathing out a sigh. I need to focus. Who knows what we're up against in here?

"Fine." She puffed out of existence with a toss of her hand.

Bromm was looking at me.

"Is everything well?" He said, looking concerned.

I chuckled as the look in his eyes.

"More of the same, really." I said, smirking.

We finished the process of shoring up the remainder of the tunnel as quietly as possible. Floki looked down the hallway past the blockade of minecarts that had been in place for ages.

"I'm going to get my armor." I said to Floki and Bromm.

I crouched through the tunnel. Sig and Danin on the far side were talking amongst themselves.

"We broke through on the far side." I said as I moved through.

"Where are you going?" Sig asked.

I patted my chest then pulled at my undershirt. Sig nodded.

"Wait, one other thing," Sig paused, "What was that thing with Silah?"

"Apparently, she comes when I call?" I said with a shrug.

A burning sensation erupted from the hand that held her. I moved out into the mineshaft and brought Silah back to human form as I donned my armor. If there was going to be a tongue lashing, I might as well busy myself while it happened.

She stood, furiously, all five and a half feet of her, giving me a smoldering look with her arms crossed over the milky white dress.

"Again, why?" She growled, keeping her voice low.

I was deliberately putting my armor in place, working with the failing buckles, and tapping at the metal protecting my chest and guts. I turned to her and looked down at her. It was a wonder that such a small thing could command such power over me. I sighed at the thought.

"You're making me uneasy." I said, feeling a little heat rise in me. "You're reckless and you want me to be reckless, too."

Her mouth pinched, but she held her tongue.

I continued, "I need to be able to trust you to let me do my job. Will you?"

"Why do you think I wouldn't let you do your job?" She hissed.

"You've been scratching around in my head since the last fight." I paused, "It's downright unnerving and distracting. Distracted is the last thing I need right now. There's too much at stake."

Her posture relaxed slightly, and she looked to the side shaking her head slightly rolling her eyes. She looked to me.

"Fine." She said, her voice quiet, but ripe with contempt.

"Thank you." I said, I felt my own aggravation just below the surface, held back just enough to attempt being cordial.

"‘She comes when I call.'" Silah scoffed.

"Isn't that how it works?" I looked at her slide-long, while putting my scabbards in place.

"Yes, but … to say it like that?" Silah looked at me, incredulous.

I suppressed a smile.

This can work both ways. I thought to myself.

"Back to work," I said.

As I closed my hand around her arm her expression went livid. She then immediately melted into her Greatsword form at my mental command, and I placed her into the sheath on my back.

I moved down the tunnel to meet up with the others. I could see a deliberately placed cask of gunpowder against one of the walls, an expertly crafted fuse rose from a small hole in the center.

As good of a contingency plan as any, I guess? I mused.

I hoped that this agreement with Silah would give me a little more breathing room. Each time she hit one of these thresholds, it seemed like a new struggle to keep her from taking over. I needed to visit with Duncan soon. Perhaps he could give me some tips on keeping my mind clear and Silah's influence at bay.

"We're going to start lighting up the hallway," Bromm said as I approached. Danin had taken position behind one of the overturned mining carts that blocked the hallway.

Floki had a quiver of lit arrow fletchings, compliments of Sig. Floki was poised with and arrow and Sig was wrapping them with cloth soaked in oil and sparking them. Floki would send them off downrange, clearing the webs from the long hallways beyond. A few curious spiders began to emerge, glittering eyes filling the hallway beyond.

"There's … a lot of them." I said.

"No different than last time." Sig shrugged.

"Heh, oh, I remember." I grimaced.

Last time, it was just Bromm and I. I saw that the ground in front of the carts as well as the carts themselves had been slicked with lantern oil. There was no doubt that we were more prepared this time.

Arrows lanced through the gap between Danin and myself. I could hear Tenner growling and Floki's voice keeping the wolf at bay. Then came a deafening boom, rattling everyone. I glanced around. Bromm had a focused and determined look on his face, eyes down the hall. He seemed to be the only one unfazed by the percussion. He put the musket off to the side and pulled his sidearm. I clenched my teeth, bracing for the next shot.

As the spiders reached the carts, Danin and I swung out, side by side. These dog sized spiders were easy prey for me, but took a little more effort from Danin. Danin, however, was far more protected with his shield and heavy armor where I had to be more wary of their sharp little fangs. One slipped through, biting me, and sending poison through my body. I could feel it weaken me, but only slightly. I pressed through, dealing with the pain and the sickening poison, and slashed the Greatsword through it's thin carapace. Silah didn't seem to respond to the poison as she had done in the past. She was focused on the feeding frenzy before her.

I felt the blade warm with a hum as each creature fell. Her passion was restrained but that energy was building within her. I distantly wondered how much time I had before she was able to exert more control over me.

A cluster of them approached the carts and Sig lit off the oil with a snap of his fingers. They hissed with pain, but unfortunately, it merely burned some of the prickly hairs off of their bodies. Danin and I made short work of the rest.

Eventually, the waves of spiders subsided regardless of the amount of noise we had made. Even the echoing blasts from Bromm's pistol shimmering through the tunnels ahead failed to lure more toward us. I could hear him reloading as the spider's diminished.

"Let's advance to the first intersection." I said to Danin, who nodded in response.

We hopped over the carts and pushed forward. I clenched my teeth, shuddering with each step as the dead spider's thin forms yielded briefly, until they crunched flat under each footfall. Floki took his lit arrows and shot them down the corridor that extended off to our left. I moved around the corner with Danin, a few of the dog-sized spiders were quietly moving down the hall and reared back threateningly as we faced them.

Danin's impervious shell held firm against the multiple spiders that attacked him. I moved to his side, following him as he pressed down the corridor.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves!" I shouted to Danin. "We could get flanked if we're not careful!"

Danin seemed to be fully engaged, his axe swinging readily as he moved forward against the swarm. I matched pace with him to make sure he couldn't get overwhelmed. Ahead, I could see into a large cavern. There was an edge just inside that dropped into some sort of abyss. A little ways further there were steel cables stretched to the edges of the cavern suspending a bridge over the gaping hole. There was a lumpy form on the bridge, covered in dust for the ages it had been there.

Bromm moved in behind us, taking the flasks of oil and holding them at the ready as Sig snapped his fingers, sparking them. Bromm would toss them into the cave and down over the edge of the abyss. There were crashes and fire erupted for short periods of time. Moments later, the spiders halted the advance, yet there were clicking sounds still echoing from just beyond. It sounded like Floki and Tenner were holding the other hallway, flanked by Sig.

There was a collective gasp from Bromm and myself as spider, its body the size of a large horse and cart, pulled itself over the lip of the abyss. The hairs on its carapace were still burning from the oil. It reared up, it's large legs thumping against the ground with each movement. All over its back was crawling mass of smaller spiders. I looked back to Bromm, incredulous.

"Oops, I didn't expect that." He said looking sheepish as he pulled his pistol.

"I hate spiders so much." I breathed, turning forward, gritting my teeth and feeling rage course through me.

I stepped forward and took a swipe at another of the smaller spiders that had appeared around the corner, feeling the hum from Silah gaining intensity.

"Fall back! There is another one moving on Floki!" Sig called out from behind.

"Another one?" I said incredulous then growled toward Danin, "Are you falling back?"

I waited a moment, but his heavy brow looked to me unspeaking. I fell back, aggravated, as the large spider lashed out at me, narrowly missing. As I turned, Silah appeared in my mind's eye, her grand aspect bearing down on me with its menacing glowing eyes. She gripped the floor, on either side of me buckling the wooden stage with her grasp. She leaned in, her massive inhuman form brought it's face close.

"What are you doing?" Her bellowing, angry voice shook me to the core. I felt anxiety mount as my will pressed against her own.

This is exactly what I was afraid of. I projected at her, my relatively diminutive self snarling on the darkened stage, doing my best to stand my ground.

She looked on, her frightening expression unchanged, but she did not continue to press.

I turned the corner and looked back as Danin moved in from behind me. Sig reached into a pouch and tossed a small marble that immediately expanded to fill the hallway beyond.

I looked on, both shocked and glad about what Sig had done. I turned to see another large spider bearing down on me, this one was considerably more colorful and had a few arrows already dotting its carapace. I braced for an attack, but as it got into position, Bromm and Floki continued to put shot and arrows into the creature. Floki's last arrow struck home. The spider thrashed awkwardly in the contained hallway, then went still. I turned to look at them.

"Perhaps we should have thought this through." Bromm said to Floki with a grimace at the now blocked tunnel.

I could feel Silah's menace edging in again, scowling at the loss.

"You had it! You are intentionally holding back." She said vehemently.

I growled at her and then, using my anger, charged the hulking body. Danin joined me and together we pressed it into an alcove in the hallway.

I continued down the hall, picking off spiders as I saw them. Her visage softened with each killing blow, the hum from Silah was nearly all consuming, vibrating loudly in my mind. I paused, grinding my teeth in the darkness.

I need healing. I projected to Silah.

Her large scowling face hovering in the darkness reacted as expected.

"No you don't." She seethed.

Yes, I do. I thought, bracing against her will.

"Fine." She turned away giving way in her reluctance, her essence diminishing slightly to bind my meager wounds.

Thank you. I thought, with an unconscious nod.

The passionate hum reduced, and Silah seemed to quiet sulkily along with it.

Sig was holding a lit crossbow bolt. He chanted something to himself and winked out of sight, becoming a disembodied glow moving through the hallway. I quivered slightly as his presence eddied past me. I restrained the impulse to lash out.

Danin and I moved up the hall after the ghostly glow which then that disappeared around the corner.

"It's up on the wall out here." Sig's disembodied voice echoed toward us. "Be careful."

As we approached the mouth of the tunnel, the creature descended, moving its large legs into our tunnel. It shook aggressively, and the floor began to twitch and crawl as thousands of baby spiders swarmed toward us. Floki and Bromm now had a target as the spider descended, they stepped into the hallway and continued their attacks. Danin and I were, in short order, covered with the spiders. I shook them off and moved out into the cave, seeing a few more spiders that seemed to be milling about on the shelf of the chasm opposite of where I stood. Danin swung and dealt a fantastic blow to the creature, cracking the carapace and bursting the eyes on its left side.

I moved forward, holding Silah at the ready preparing to bear down on the spider, then a round of shot and arrows lanced into its wounded head. It lost it's grip and came crashing down, crushing its jaws and head soundly under its own weight. It toppled forward into the chasm below and, after brief moment later, there an echoing splash.

I could feel Silah's displeasure roll over me again, but then just as quickly it subsided. She seemed to relent in this pursuit, smoldering angrily.

There were shouts from the hallway, I turned and saw small pockets of fire, some of which were moving. Danin seemed to be avoiding a small pile of the now flaming spiders that kept inching toward him. Floki was long gone, he seemed to have run off after the spiders approached him, which explained the shouting. Tenner was now dancing around, too. I moved in, attempting to help get spiders of Danin.

He looked to me, disgust and annoyance in his eyes, then held out his hands, and water gushed from them, putting out the fire, but doing very little else to the seething mass. He moved away from the spiders, shaking them off and moving down the hallway. They moved to me covering my boots and crawling up my legs. Sig produced another flask.

"Move Hakaar!"

I remained.

"They'll just move. If I stay, at least I can burn them off. I can take it."

Sig shrugged, and even smiled, as he tossed the oil flasks at my feet. I braced against the burning pain as I held my arms over the small fire. The little spiders bursting as they flames licked at them. The last of them dispersed and I stepped away from the flames, putting out the flames on my soot covered boots. My hands had spots of char and cracked as I flexed them.

"You didn't have to just stand in the flames," Sig prodded with a smirk.

"There was no guarantee they stay on fire. I didn't want to take the chance." I grumbled with a sneer.

"Suit yourself."

Heh, ‘suit yourself'. Smug bastard. I thought menacingly as I watched Sig move in to talk to Danin.

One last spider moved around the corner into the tunnel we were in. I moved quickly to it and brought the Greatsword down hard, letting loose all of my hostility in one final blow. It's goupy entrails splashed the hallway with the force of the blow. I stood, looking back at the others with a seething menace. Weighing, judging each of the others silently.

Bromm looked my way, a little bewildered.

"Perhaps you should be the one to calm down," Silah's voice eddied in, laced with contempt.

"I'm doing my best." I murmured under my breath.

(Get to know Akeron.)