Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-one
The House of the All-Seeing Eye

Bree followed closely behind Nes and Fudin. Santon walked cautiously behind her. The hallway ahead was dark and spooky. Ancient, crumbling statues lined the twisting hallways. They spouted a white, shimmering vapour from their mouths and disembodied voices echoed around them. Some of the words sounded familiar to her, others did not. She had no idea what they meant.

Fudin swayed upon his feet.

“What is it, my brother?” Nes asked.

Fudin didn’t answer. Instead he clutched at his head as if in pain. His body went rigid and he sort of jumped off of the ground, almost levitating for a moment. His limbs jerked back and forth and his eyes shot out a great flare of light, dazzling her. When she could see again, Fudin was in a heap upon the floor. His eyes were completely black, pupil-less orbs.

Bree ran to his side and felt for a pulse. It was strong and steady.

“What’s wrong with him?”

Nes bent down beside his brother and drew his eyelids down over his eyes. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?! Sweet barleybrew, Nes, now’s not the time to lie!”

“Fudin receives his powers from an ancient blue dragon named Tezzen. It is a great gift, but his body is not strong enough to contain all of its power. At times he is overwhelmed by it.”

Bree frowned and looked down at Fudin’s still body. Fresh blue scales crept further up his legs. His fingernails elongated slightly and darkened. Bree shuddered. Blue dragons were viciously evil beings. Was this what Fudin was becoming? A monster?

“Usually he is overwhelmed at night or early morning. Sometimes it is brought on by especially powerful magic or fierce storms.” He waved a finger through the swirling mists. “I imagine it was this that caused him to overload so suddenly. The Breath of Nethys.”

Bree eyed Nes and his brother with disgust. To think that they had bargained with blue dragons for power! It wasn’t Santon who was the drunken preacher in this group, but them. They were more than a few pints short of a keg. Much more. They barely had any pints left! The Sahadine brothers were mad!

She eyed them suspiciously. And then something happened. Something strange. Her consciousness sort of… expanded. Became fuller, though she had never known that it was lacking. Everything’s edges were blurred, but their colours were sharper and faces were brighter. Each object seemed to glow with its own inner light. She eyed the brothers before her, but there was nothing ominous within their auras. Nor Santon’s. Curious, Bree stood up and wandered down the hallway.

Santon followed closely behind her, while Nes padded along behind him silently.

“Fudin will be fine,” he muttered, but Bree wasn’t listening. She was too busy watching.

The hallway opened up into a vast cavern, its outline obscured by drifting, dancing vapours. Floating upon a sea of clouds in the center of the chamber was a splendid barge. It’s wooden planks were freshly polished and shone brilliantly.

“The Barque of Nethys!” Nes exclaimed in awe. “Those of his faith believe that it is upon this very ship that Nethys travels across the multiverse.”

Santon nodded sluggishly. “And there,” he said, “Haleen!” Santon and Nes ran through the mists, towards the barge. Bree frowned. Haleen? Who was Haleen? She squinted, but still couldn’t see anyone upon the ship.

The mists swirled about her. She blinked. She felt dizzy.

She closed her eyes and laid her hand upon her copper tankard. “In Cayden’s name,” she prayed, willing the sickness to pass. “May your favour find me.” Slowly, she opened her eyes.

Everything had changed.

The cavern was foul with the scent of decay. The mists crawled unnaturally along the cavern’s irregular floor, though it looked nothing like a sea of clouds. Unnerving outlines rose up amongst the miasma before fading back down into nothingness as quickly as they appeared.

The barge was ancient and hung unsupported in the air. It was little more than a skeleton of scorched spars and torn planks. Portions of the vessel flickered and flared, almost as unstable as the vapours around it.

Nes stood at the side of the barge, moving his arms as if he were swimming. He reached up at it, and began to climb up its side awkwardly, as if it were a ladder and he kept missing the steps.

Santon stood upon the deck of the barge hugging the swirling mists tightly. Tears dripped down his cheeks. Walking up behind him was a dark-skinned man dressed in tattered, filthy silks. A strange aura surrounded the man. It was not so much an enhancement of his colours, but a darkening of them. Black wisps flickered about him. Bree caught a foul smell upon him that she couldn’t quite put into words. She knew, without a doubt, that this man was evil.

She didn’t know how she knew this, nor did it matter. What mattered was her friends.

Bree charged forward and drew Tempest. “Behind you, Santon!”

He made no response.

Bree’s vision returned to normal. Everything sharpened, colours faded and the auras disappeared. As she neared the barge, Nes finally scurried over its ledge and up, onto the deck.

“Bitter brew!” Bree cursed, sheathing her blade and leaping up to cling onto the barge’s deck.

“Nethys!” Nes cried joyously. “What an honour it is to travel through time and space at your side!”

“Haleen?” Santon asked. “Oh, Haleen! I thought I would never see you again!”

“Remove yourselves from my presence,” another voice said angrily. “I seek an end to the hunger!”

Bree pulled herself up onto the deck.

Nes stood before the angry looking man in tattered robes with his head bowed. “Where is our first destination?” he asked him.

“I am the Falcon Emir!” the angry man bellowed. “This barge is mine! It’s magic is mine! It’s answers will be mine! They will save me!”

“Hey!” Bree shouted at them, drawing Tempest. The temperature around her dropped a few degrees and a cool mould crawled up, over her arm, ending at her elbow. “What magic have you cast upon my friends?”

The man laughed. “I have cast no magic, woman! The mists themselves torment your comrades. They hold the answers. All the answers.”

“Get away from them.”

“Get off my ship!” He drew a long katar from behind him. It was a sort of dagger, two-and-a-half handspans in length, whose golden handle allowed one to use it as if they were punching. An embossed image of a ferocious looking leopard adorned the weapons hilt, while strange shadowy patterns writhed across its damascened blade. He raised it up to Nes’ throat.

Bree’s eyes widened. Nes and Santon were utterly oblivious to the danger, lost in their delusions. Bree opened her eyes as wide as she could, trying to bring back the auras. Sweat beaded down her forehead and she circled the man.

“Easy,” she said. “Easy.” Slowly, the auras drifted back into being. Everything blurred and brightened. Not only was this man evil, but the blade was as well. Bree frowned. She let the auras drop and took a deep breath. “In Cayden’s name.”

She lunged at the man. Her blade was meant for slicing and slashing, not thrusting, but it got the point across. The man stepped back, away from her blade, and let Nes go.

His eyes widened, and he cursed in a language Bree didn’t understand. He smiled then, his lips a thin, cruel line and thrust forward with his katar, straight for Nes’ back. Bree dove forward, pushing Nes to the ground. He squealed in pain and surprise, but Bree ignored him.

She spun as she landed, in time to see the man follow up with a downward slice. She rolled forward and slashed out with Tempest, slicing him in the arm and knocking his blow off course. Tempest’s blade left behind a thin line of ice and frost in the wound. It seeped freezing cold air from it like the room seeped vapours.

Bree smiled and the man screamed. He backed up, clutched his hands to his head and then threw his head back in a great roar. Golden fur burst forth from his skin. His fingernails elongated into this black claws. A tail exploded from his back and he grew both taller and more muscular before her eyes. Saliva dripped from his mouth and he stood upright, as a man, though with the fur and features of a giant leopard.

“Froth and foam!” What was he?

He roared, a deep bellow that shook the very planks she stood upon.

Bree held Tempest steadily, and raised her buckler before her.

The leopard-man pounced forward, crossing the barge in one leap. Something pushed her to the ground from behind.

“Spitfire!”

Fire roared above her, engulfing the beast. She rolled to the side, out of the way of the flames. Nes stood behind her with a smile upon his face. His eyes widened in surprise.

The creature plowed right through the flames and landed upon Nes, taking him to the ground. Its claws cut through his robes and the katar plunged deeply into his shoulder. Claw marks appeared upon the beast’s chest exactly where he had struck Nes with the evil blade.

Nes screamed and the creature sunk his teeth into his arm, biting deeply.

Bree drove Tempest into the creature’s back leg. It roared and let go of Nes’ arm though its claws still clenched him tight.

Nes formed his hands into strange shapes sluggishly.

Bree swung frantically at the creature, slicing its flesh open with each icy slash. Crystalized blood drifted from her blade like snowflakes as it moved.

“Lashto vax bethnin!” Nes spat, through bloody, clenched teeth.

The beast clenched its claws, digging deeper into Nes’ flesh.

“No!” He would surely set himself aflame with the beast. “Broken tankard!” Bree cried as she slashed the beast again, desperately trying to defeat it before Nes could immolate himself.

“Cyclosis!”

A pillar of flame exploded from him, surging up to the caverns roof. The beast howled in rage and pain, as it’s flesh burnt away from its frame. Nes screamed.

The fire roared, intensely hot, just a few inches from her. She backed away.

As suddenly as they had started, the flames stopped. The crisp, blackened form of a man lay atop Nes’ smoking robes. Bree pushed the corpse off of Nes.

Nes bled considerably from his shoulders, arms and legs. Deep claw marks and gouges punctured through his skin and flesh, and into muscle. His silken robes were melted around him. His flesh was unburnt.

Bree drew the last of her healing potions from her belt pouch and poured it down his throat. Some of the wounds upon his arm closed, but not all. The bite marks on his shoulder were completely unaffected.

“Froth and foam!” She placed her hands upon his chest and forehead.

Nes smiled up at her. Blood seeped from his lips and mouth, down his chin. Red splotches formed under his skin. He was bleeding internally. Bree tried to ignore the blood pooling around him and concentrated.

“In Cayden’s name,” she prayed. “Please, my Lord! Please..” her voice faltered. “May your luck find me. May your power find me. Don’t let him die!”

Energy flooded her and exploded forth from her hands in a torrent. Nes cried out. Bree forced herself to keep steady, to hang on, as the surge of power and feeling assaulted her and passed right back out of her, into Nes. His wounds frothed and bubbled like a hearty head on a fine mug of ale. His skin knitted itself together, his blood returned to where it belonged and his torn muscles reformed.

Bree smiled and collapsed.

Cayden’s will be done.

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