Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-eight
The Chamber of Ablution

Bree stood in a room dominated by three spacious tubs. Large terra-cotta braziers partially filled with grit and sand were placed between them. Warped and decrepit racks lined the walls. Broken jugs and pottery lay on the floor below them in shattered fragments. Sagging stone shelves carved into the walls held dozens of small clay jars and bowls, many of which were still caked in rotting or dusty remnants of ancient pastes and herbs.

The stench Bree had smelt earlier emanated from a strange heap of debris in the rooms far corner. It seemed to be made from broken bits of furniture and hundreds of torn papyrus pages. A narrow hole led into the center of the pile. It was a nest of some sort.

“Bitter brew!” Could they have worse luck?

“Silence,” Nes ordered.

Bree scowled.

Fudin roared, sending a bolt of lightning streaking across the room directly into the stinky nest. Something screeched from within and burst forth in an explosion of smoking papyrus and stone.

The creature was some kind of strange, hunched-over wretch with long, pliable arms like tentacles capped with five wide, spiny claws. It moved faster than the debris and wrapped its arm around Fudin’s neck. His eyes bulged in surprise, but he issued no sound.

Nes ran forward as fast as his frail form would carry him, arcane words pouring from his lips. Behind her Santon let out a strangled cry. Something cold and rubbery slipped around Bree’s neck from above. Tempest slipped from her grip as the noose hoisted her right off the ground. Bree let out the beginnings of a scream, but the noose tightened, cutting her off. She couldn’t breathe. She looked up, straining to see what had her.

A second strange creature looked down at her from the shadowy ceiling. Its spiked tentacles dug into the flesh around her neck, grasping her tightly. She kicked her feet, trying to swing herself out of its grip, but it held on, unnaturally tight. It smiled down at her with a mouth full of spiked, needle-like teeth.

She growled as bursts of colour exploded in her peripheral vision. Slowly, things began to fade, grow dark. Her lungs ached. Her head pounded.

Bree punched feebly at the rubbery arm and the creature let out a slick, raspy laugh. Frantic, she punched at it again. She couldn’t die like this. Not here. Not now.

She spotted Tempest on the floor a few inches away from her foot. She stretched for it, reaching with her leg, knowing it was useless. Even if she could touch it, she couldn’t wield a blade in her booted foot.

Still she stretched. She yearned for the blade with all her being.

To me, Tempest! She prayed. Please.

Her arms went numb and fell lifeless at her sides. Her eyes rolled back up into her head. Distantly, she heard Nes casting spells, desperately trying to save his brother. Santon struggled for air beside her.

This was it. The bottom of the barrel. The last dregs. No one would save her this time.

Silence reigned.

Last call.

She was barely conscious. Barely alive. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t see. And yet, her sword arm strained once more for Tempest. She wouldn’t give up.

And then, miraculously, she felt its cool presence wash over her.

No, it couldn’t be. She must have gone numb.

Her arm, clutching Tempest in her hand swung upwards. It met resistance. Something screeched. And then she was falling. She hit the ground with a clatter gasping for breath. Tempest was clutched in her hand. The choker lie dead before her.

She staggered to her feet and stumbled across the room. She slashed at the creature clinging to Santon, cutting it’s arm clean off. Santon fell to the ground, wheezing and clutching at his throat, while the rubbery creature screamed. It reached for Bree with its second arm, but Tempest slashed at it, severing it as well and then slicing its belly clean open.

A great roar sounded behind her.

“Are you alright, my brother?” Nes asked.

Fudin responded with greedy gulps of air.

They were all right. They were safe.

Bree fell to the ground and lay down, panting deeply.

“Thanks.” Santon rasped from beside her.

She didn’t respond.

Eventually Nes stood above her, holding out Tempest to her. Bree reached for it and frowned. She held Tempest in her hand, didn’t she? And yet, sure enough, Nes held it out to her.

She looked down at her sword arm to find a replica of Tempest clutched in her hand, made of the same patchy, green mould that usually encased her arm. This time her arm was bare of the mould and only her hand was sheathed in it, like a glove.

As the real Tempest neared her the mould sword slowly drifted away, creeping through the air towards it. It danced there, a strange bridge between Tempest and her arm, until the last of the mould left her arm, and disappeared into the blade’s glistening steel.

“By the light of the Starstone…” Bree exclaimed in awe, finally reaching out to take the blade from Nes.

“Don’t drop your blade next time,” he said. “It may not be so helpful. Magic is fickle like that.”

Bree didn’t even bother to frown at him. She was entranced. In awe.

Couldn’t he see?

Tempest wasn’t magic.

Tempest was a gift from the gods.

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