The Mystic: Part 3
Rain and Red were shoulder to shoulder, their swords drawn. Two of the black creatures stalked towards the two warriors. I slowed to a walk and drew on my abilities, focusing my intent. I strode past Rain and Red, my hands held palm down at my sides. The creatures locked eyes with me and I could feel their mindless malevolence. They both hissed and the nearest bounded towards me, leaping into the air. I slammed it aside, while it was still in the air, smashing it into a huge tree. The creature keened in pain, but it regained its footing.
Red took a chance and advanced quickly on the injured creature. Her sword swept out and slashed deep into its hide. I left her to it, hopefully I’d injured it enough that she’d have a chance to kill it.
The other creature started to back up, hesitated, then ran back towards the city. I turned to Red and found her cleaning her sword.
“Turns out they die fast if you cut off their head.” She grinned.
I nodded and relaxed, releasing the power I’d been holding.
“Let’s hope that the other wasn’t running for help.” Rain commented, as he sheathed his sword.
“Now why’d you go and say something like that?” Red groaned.
“Come on.” I said, without humour. “The sooner we’re back in the forest, the better.”
“Never thought I’d hear you say that.” Rain muttered, as I passed him.
We jogged back to Lord Putcha, Sohan and Danvir, where we caught our breath for a minute.
“That was impressive.” Lord Putcha remarked. “A pity you didn’t use your abilities on our way to the city. I can think of a few people who might be alive if you had.”
I glared at Lord Putcha. “My strength isn’t without limits and I’m approaching mine now. We’d all probably be dead if I had, you in particular.”
The Clan Lord grunted. “I’m not without gratitude in that respect.”
“Then maybe show some.” I growled. Lord Putcha might have a reputation for fairness with the Clanfolk, and even among the Clanless, but I was finding him to be argumentative and irritable. Then again, I was used to spending extended periods alone. It was possible that I was starting to pine for that solitude and I was the irritable one.
I led the party out again, across the bridge and along the track. It wasn’t hard to find where we’d first stumbled out of the undergrowth, even Danvir could have found it. We plunged back into the dense forest, staying close together. With the danger of those creatures behind us and the Elves all around us, there was little point in me venturing ahead. Darkness was falling fast as we found a small clearing. I checked it over, using a small ball of light to help me see, and we made a cold, miserable camp.
A shout woke me from a deep sleep, a few hours before dawn. I rolled to my feet, knife in my hand and my abilities ready and focused. I ducked as a clawed hand swept at my head. The claws snagged on my headband and ripped it off. I seized the offending creature with my will and held it in place for the moment it took me to ram my long-bladed knife through its eye socket. I released my attacker as I ripped my knife back out and cast a large ball of light up above the clearing. Damn Rain and his unfortunate words.
I looked around and found the young tribesman fighting another creature, one arm swinging limply at his side. I reached out, grunting with the effort, and pushed the creature off balance. It didn’t take it long to recover, barely a moment, but it was enough for Rain to take its head off. He stumbled back from the dead creature, and I caught him before he fell.
“Stay behind me and watch my back.” I ordered him.
He nodded wearily, but his sword was up, and he seemed game. The light I’d cast had helped the rest of the party. Danvir had a dead creature at his feet, and was fighting another, while Red had engaged another. Behind Danvir, Lord Putcha stood ready to put himself between any threat and his son. I unleashed another bolt of Will and staggered Red’s enemy. My vision spun for a moment and my ball of light dimmed. I took a breath and pulled myself together. Red had wounded her enemy and had it on the run while Danvir had his creature well in hand. I kept what little Will I had left, ready to help whoever might need it.
Red needed no more help, which was a relief, she finished off her enemy a moment later. I turned my attention to Danvir, who was pushing his enemy away from Lord Putcha. I started to relax. It would be over in a moment. A sudden movement overhead, up in the branches above Lord Putcha, caught my attention. I watched the creature as it dropped from the branch and I lashed out with my last reserves of power.
Nothing happened, or rather, what I had expected to happen, didn’t. My ball of light flickered and died. I dropped to one knee, barely able to hold my head up. Rain had seen the danger too, at the same moment, and was shouting a warning as the creature dropped to the ground. Too late though to be of any use. Lord Putcha was just starting to react, when several heavy arrows embedded themselves in the falling creature. The combined impact of the arrows was enough to move the creature’s point of impact away from the Clan Lord and his son. The creature hit the ground hard, but bounded back to its feet, ripping the arrows out of its body. Several more arrows hit it, slowing it down a little, before another arrow hammered into its head. The final arrow was moving fast enough that the point passed completely through the head of the creature and poked out the back as it fell.
I tried to stand up, but the effort almost caused me to blackout. I was done. Rain knelt beside me, trying to help me back to my feet, but neither of us had the strength to help the other. I heard the final creature attacking us scream and then go silent, but I had no way of telling who had killed it. I wasn’t about to give up now, not after getting so far. I weakly pushed Rain away and dug around in my pouch. I had one full vial left. I flicked off the wax seal and drank it. The bitter taste never got better. I felt a small surge of energy as the contents found their way to my stomach and got my feet under me. Gods, I was going to pay for this later.
I pulled together the tattered remnants of my will and cast another, small, ball of light. My knees trembled, but I stayed on my feet. I looked around the clearing and spotted several Elves pushing through the undergrowth. They were larger than the other elves we’d seen and were wearing what looked like wooden armour. They had large bows in hand, each with an arrow nocked. Short swords in wooden scabbards hung at their waists. These then, must be the Elven warriors. Rain stumbled beside me and lurched forward. The Elf closest to me drew and released an arrow, right at Rain. I almost fumbled it, but I managed to swat it aside. Easier to divert than to stop, easier being a relative term.
One of the other Elves barked something at the one who’d released the arrow, who looked angry. I didn’t speak their tongue, but I knew what someone being berated sounded like. Maybe this was the leader of the warriors. I stepped towards him. He barked something and aimed his arrow at me, having drawn it almost back to his ear. I got the message. I heard a slight rustling behind me and then heard Rain cry out just as something slammed into the back of my head.
I awoke sometime later. The first thing I noticed was the grinding headache, quickly followed by the roiling in my stomach. There was no way to know if the sickness was caused by the blow to the head, my excessive use of my tonic, from pushing myself too hard, or a combination of all of them. I was in a hut of some kind, lying on a pallet. The light was dim. Something I was grateful for. I tried to look around me and my vision swam, as the pain in my head intensified. I couldn’t help it. I had to turn my head as I emptied my stomach onto the floor beside me. I heard someone tutting and a cold cloth was placed on my forehead. It was surely Godsent. I felt my eyes grow heavy and I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
It was still dim in the hut when I woke up again. I couldn’t tell if I’d slept for minutes, days, or something in between. My head had ceased pounding and though my stomach still felt somewhat raw, I didn’t feel like I was going to sick up at any moment. I sat up slowly. I felt the back of my head and found my hair full of dried blood. I wondered if whoever had hit me had been trying to kill me or just render me unconscious. The dried blood and my aching head suggested the former, but the fact that I was still alive suggested the latter. I had no idea what had happened to the rest of the party. I was alone in the hut. Maybe it was time to find out. I tried to stand, but again, my head swam and I sat down again, fast. I was in no condition to go anywhere. First things first then. I needed to get myself well enough to leave the hut. Then I could see about helping the others, if they were still alive. I closed my eyes and began working through mental exercises designed to promote healing.
Sometime later, about an hour or so I judged, the door to the hut opened, letting light spill in. A wizened female Elf limped in, closely followed by an Elvish warrior with my bag over his shoulder. Seeing me awake, the warrior drew his short sword and pushed the old Elf behind him. I showed him my empty hands and crossed my ankles. The old Elf tsked and pushed past the warrior, muttering something in their tongue. The warrior rolled his eyes and sheathed his sword. The old Elf motioned that she too had no weapons. I nodded and let her approach, as though I had a choice in the matter. The warrior stood with his arms crossed several feet back, glowering. The old Elf examined the back of my head, tutting as she felt the dried blood. She examined my eyes, her fingers probed beneath my jaw, and, most oddly, she smelt my breath. I wasn’t sure what to think. Finally, with a look of nervousness and some hesitation, she touched my Cuimhne. My forehead stone. I think she was trying to determine if it was real or not. Apparently satisfied, she backed away from me.
“You will heal.” The old Elf announced.
I couldn’t hide my surprise at being able to understand her.
“Yes.” She said with undisguised pride. “I speak your tongue.”
“Where is the rest of my party?” I demanded.
“They are alive.” The Elf answered. “For the moment.”
“What do you mean, for the moment?”
“Much depends on you.” The Elf replied.
“What does that mean?” I asked, shortly.
The warrior growled something I couldn’t understand and rested a hand on the pommel of his sword. The old Elf ignored the warrior, staring at me.
“Why does one of the Draoi walk with the likes of those in your party?”
“One of the what?” I asked, confused.
“Draoi.” The Elf repeated. “Have your kind so lost their way that you have forgotten who you are?”
“Draoi? I’ve never heard that word before.”
“I have never laid eyes on one such as you in my lifetime, none of my kindred have. I had hoped, for more.” She continued.
“I don’t understand.” I protested.
The old Elf said something short and to the point, to the warrior. The warrior handed my bag to his elder, his face set in a look of disapproval. She dug into my bag and pulled out the two books I’d removed from the pyramid.
“You would.” She told me. “If you’d bothered to read these. Instead, the elders have convened to determine what to do with you.”
“What will they decide?”
“They’ll no doubt decide to put you to death. You entered our city and stole from our holiest site. Only their uncertainty of your identity has saved you.”
“What do you think?” I asked, carefully.
“That you’re a fool. Everyone who lives near our territory knows it is death to enter, and yet, here you are.”
“I was paid to lead a rescue.”
“A fool’s errand.” The old Elf spat. “Be grateful that neither the elders, nor this idiot warrior behind me know what these books are. They would not have hesitated if they had, and you’d now be feeding the soil.”
“But you know.” I pointed out.
“Yes. I know what they do not.”
“Will you tell them?”
“That, remains to be seen.” She replied, slowly. “I know you have been trained, my warriors saw you defeat the Black Demons without touching them.”
“Is that what they’re called?” I asked. “I read of them in passing, years ago. In the book they were called blood drinkers.”
The old Elf laughed, a surprisingly warm sound. “Not them, oh no. No one knows what the blood drinkers look like. The Black Demons are mere servants to the Blood Drinkers. Where did you read of such things?”
“In Elar-i-Um. The city has an area that looks a little like your city, although much smaller. There’s a small college there, where I was taught.”
“What of our shrine? Did you find it befouled by the Black Demons?”
I shook my head. “They did some damage, but nothing that can’t be repaired.”
“It is not the damage, but their presence that stains our shrine.” She spat.
“If it helps, we killed all we found. I don’t think there are any left inside.”
“That is a small comfort.”
The old Elf lapsed into silence for a while, thinking, while the warrior continued to scowl at me. Finally, the old Elf roused herself.
“I have decided.” She announced.
“What have you decided?”
“That you are a fool.” She replied. “And Draoi, even if you don’t know it.”
She opened a small pouch at her waist and took out a cloudy glass vial, filled with a green liquid.
“Drink.” She ordered.
Apparently I didn’t have much choice, so I took the vial and removed the stopper. I poured the liquid into my mouth and swallowed. As it hit my stomach, I felt familiar effects. Similar to my tonic, except this one had none of the bitterness of mine. It tasted sweet and rich, but not cloying. I felt my various aches and pains fading away, as though I’d had a few days rest.
“That’s really good.” I announced, surprised. “Much better than mine.”
“Yours?” The Elf grunted. “It’s a wonder yours didn’t kill you. If my lore is correct, that should give you enough strength to keep you going for an hour, but no more. After that you will need to rest again. It will have to be enough, more would certainly kill you.”
“What can I do in an hour?” I enquired, as I felt more and more strength returning.
“With a little luck, you can save your friends.”
“I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call them friends.” I muttered.
“You’ll need to show the elders that you are Draoi.” The old Elf continued, ignoring me. “For that, we have this lump of muscle behind me. Mind you don’t injure him though.”
I shook my head and stood up. “Now, wait a moment.” I protested.
The warrior, startled by my sudden rise to my feet, jumped forward, drawing his sword. I gathered my Will in a split second and grabbed him, holding him still with my power.
“Perfect.” The old Elf muttered. “If a little premature.”
She turned on her fellow Elf and berated him, while he stood there, unmoving. Finally she wound down, leaving the warrior looking shamefaced.
“You can let him go now.” She suggested. “Follow me.”
I released the warrior, who stepped back from me, as fast as he dared, and sheathed his sword. The old Elf led us out of the hut and into the light.
The hut was built in a hastily cleared area of the forest. Everything spoke of haste. There were many huts around the clearing, more than seemed wise. They were roughly built, clearly recently. Stumps of felled trees still poked up around the clearing and the paths were muddy. There was little effort spent tidying the place. The old Elf led us through the clearing, the warrior staying behind me. I don’t know if he’d drawn his sword again or not. I hoped not. Heads poked out of the doors of the huts and watched us pass. They were all either very young, or very old, I noticed. Anyone of fighting age seemed to be away.
“Do you have a name?” I asked.
“A stupid question.” She replied, caustically.
I nodded. “May I know your name?”
The Elf grunted. “Better. My name is Gaothurearraigh.”
I tried to repeat her name but couldn’t manage to wrap my tongue around it. The Elf rolled her eyes but didn’t seem to take offense.
“You may address me as Gaoth. Many accuse me of talking too much, and so find it fitting. It means, Wind.”
“My name is Kenan.” Better a late introduction than none at all, I supposed.
“I know.” Gaoth replied. “I’ve heard your name spoken for many moons, but this is the first we’ve met.”
Well that wasn’t cryptic at all.
“How long have you been here?”
“Too long.” The old Elf replied, shortly. “Keep quiet until I tell you.”
It seemed to be a touchy topic.
We left the clearing and walked a heavily used and very muddy trail, that eventually led us to another clearing. This one looked much the same as the one we’d left, right down to the mud and the tree stumps. We passed through this clearing too, our passing marked by young and old Elves. Eventually we came to a smaller clearing, this one a little neater than the others. The huts here were as hastily put together as any of the others I’d seen. In the centre of the clearing, some logs had been pulled into a rough square, allowing people to sit and watch someone speaking in the middle. About a dozen or so older Elves sat on the logs, arguing with each other.
One by one, the arguing Elves, the Elders I assumed, fell silent and stared. One of the few women stood and pointed directly at me, while asking Gaoth something in their own tongue.
Gaoth stood impassive while the woman worked herself up to what sounded like a rant. She finished by pointing at me and shouting at the warrior standing behind me. The only warning I had was the rasp of the warrior drawing his sword. Again. That was enough. Clearly Gaoth had expected this would happen, as she said nothing. What the warrior thought, I had no idea, but I grabbed him with my Will and held him still. I turned around, pulled his sword from his hand, and threw it towards the female Elf. She looked stunned, and a moment later, furious. Another elder picked up a bow by his feet, nocked an arrow and loosed it at me with practiced speed. I swatted it aside. I felt myself weakening again, clearly Gaoth’s tonic, while better than mine, had similar limits. The elder nodded to me and sat down again. Obviously, that had been a test. The rest of the elders began arguing amongst themselves again. I relaxed my grip on the warrior, again showing my empty hands. I supposed that trying to say I posed no threat was pointless now. He knew I didn’t need any weapons to be dangerous. The warrior took several steps back from me, but towards Gaoth, and continued his glowering.
Gaoth maintained her silence while the elders continued to argue, occasionally pointing in my direction.
“What are they arguing about?” I asked Gaoth.
“Whether or not to kill you.” She answered. “I would have thought that obvious.”
“What about the rest of my party?”
“They’ve already decided to kill them. They were unanimous about that. A rare thing.”
“You said that I could save them!” I hissed, angrily.
“You still might.”
“To the Void with this. Tell them to let us go, or I’ll kill them all where they stand.”
Gaoth grunted. “That’s one way to do it I suppose. You’d die in the attempt of course. The elixir will be wearing off soon and you’ll be almost as weak as when you were captured. I warrant you’ve already felt yourself weakening again.”
I stared at the wizened Elf. “You did this on purpose.”
“Of course.” Gaoth replied, matter of factly.
“To what end?”
“To let those idiots see that you were what I said you were.”
“But you couldn’t have me too dangerous.”
“Of course not. That would be unwise.”
I reached out with my Will and gently seized Gaoth.
“And what’s to stop me killing you right now?” I demanded.
“Your friend’s lives hang in the balance. Killing me will doom them.”
“You said their fate has been decided. What’s to stop me killing you anyway?”
Gaoth stayed silent, but she had a knowing look about her. I frowned. Gaoth seemed like she was smart, very smart. What would I have done in her position? It didn’t take me more than a moment to work it out. I spent another few minutes Listening to my own body, trying to determine what she’d done to me. It was subtle, but using some of my flagging reserves, I started countering it.
“You poisoned me.” I accused, as I released her.
Gaoth smiled grimly. “You didn’t have to drink the elixir.”
“No.” I admitted. “I didn’t. It doesn’t matter, now, I’ve taken care of it.”
For the first time I saw Gaoth look unsettled.
“Most of my training took the form of healing.” I admitted. “It was subtle, to be sure, but once I worked out what you’d done, it was simple, at least compared to whatever you coat your arrows with.”
“Impossible.” Gaoth burst out. “That poison is death. There is no healing it.”
I shrugged. “Granted Lord Putcha was only scratched by an arrow, but the poison was in him all the same. Ask him yourself, he’s one of my party.”
Gaoth’s jaw moved several times, but she seemed lost for words. It seemed the elderly Elf had misjudged, badly. I couldn’t blame her. I’d be the first to say that compared to my training in healing, the rest of my abilities were rudimentary.
I made up my mind and started walking towards the elders. I turned to look at Gaoth.
“Are you coming?”
“What are you going to do?” Gaoth asked, a note of fear in her voice.
I glanced at her as she caught up.
“Exactly what you want me to do, of course, help. That is what you wanted isn’t it?”
“Worked that out on your own, did you?” Gaoth replied, dryly.
The elders stopped arguing again and watched as I stood before them, Gaoth beside me.
“I’m assuming they can’t understand me.” I muttered.
“Some may have a few words, but in general, no. I will translate your words.”
“How do I address them?”
I took a breath and began.
“Na Crionna. You hold my life and those of my fellow travellers in your hands. You have seen that I am of the Draoi, and rather than die, I would like to help. Allow my fellow travellers to leave, guide them out, and I will remain behind and help you rid your city of the Black Demons.”
Beside me, Gaoth translated. When she was done, one or two of the elders looked thoughtful. The rest though shouted at me. They didn’t seem to be taking my offer well. It was time to threaten them then. I had nothing to lose.
“If you decide to kill us anyway.” I shouted over them. “Then I will take you with me, and as many of your warriors as I can.”
Gaoth grabbed my arm. “No.” She said. “I won’t translate that. They’ll kill both of us if I do.”
I shook the elderly Elf off my arm. “Translate.” I ordered her.
“No!” She shouted. “You’ll have to force me.”
I glared at her, angry.
“It’s the only way.” She hissed.
I took her hint and seized her with my Will, lifting her off the ground.
“Say it!” I roared.
Gaoth translated, hanging in the air.
The elders stopped their shouting and stared at me, fear in their eyes.
The elder who’d loosed the arrow at me stepped forward and bowed from the waist.
He spoke a few words, and then stepped back.
“They accept.” Gaoth gasped. “They will set your friends free.”
I lowered Gaoth to the ground and tried not to look as exhausted as I felt.
“Sorry.” I apologised.
“It was perfectly done.” Gaoth replied softly. “They needed to see you as a bigger threat than the black demons.”
“What happens now?”
“I’ll return you to your bed, before you collapse. Tomorrow we will discuss how things will proceed.”
The next day, I woke around dawn. I felt awful, but at least I didn’t feel like I was going to die. I rose from the pallet and stretched. I ran through my mental exercises, centring myself. I wouldn’t be able to use my powers for much over the next few days, but I’d recover. Hopefully I wouldn’t need to give another demonstration. Not long after, Gaoth came bustling into the hut. She placed a tray on the ground in front of me, a bowl of some kind of porridge, and a wooden mug filled to the brim with some kind of watery fruit juice.
I set to eating the porridge, which was surprisingly good. I’d eaten only a few spoonfuls when there was a knock on the door.
Gaoth opened the door and one of the elders entered, the Elf who’d loosed the arrow at me. He bowed to me, then looked at Gaoth.
“Kenan.” She announced. “I want you to meet my brother, Duillearangaoth. You can call him Duille.”
“Can you understand me?” I asked Duille.
“Little.” He replied, haltingly. “Your, people. Outside.”
I pushed the porridge aside and stood up, gesturing for Duille to lead us out.
Lord Putche was standing in front of the hut when we emerged. Behind him, were the rest of the party. Several warrior Elves stood nearby, ready for anything it seemed. Red had bruises on her face and arms, Rain had his left arm in a rough sling, and Sohan looked about as well as he had when we’d rescued him. Danvir though was bruised far more heavily than any of the others. His clothes were ripped and torn, his nose had been broken, both eyes were bruised, and dried blood crusted his hair. They all looked a mess. No better than I did, I suspected.
“About damned time.” He cursed.
“What’s going on Kenan.” He demanded. “I can’t understand anything these Elves are jabbering at me.”
I sighed. This was one responsibility I would be glad to have discharged.
“You’re going home.” I told him simply.
“Good.” The Clan Lord replied. “When do we leave?”
“We don’t.” I corrected. “I’m staying behind.”
“What in the Void for?” Lord Putcha barked. “What madness is this? Who will guide us out?”
“One of the Elves will lead you home. You’ll be perfectly safe.”
“What about you?” Danvir asked.
“I will be safe too.” I glanced at Gaoth. “I’ve come to, an understanding, with them.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” Lord Putcha demanded. “I won’t abandon one of my party.”
“It’s okay. I need to rest and recover, and the Elves need help clearing their city of those creatures, the black demons.”
“Well.” The Clan Lord coughed. “As long as you’re safe from these Elves.”
“I will be. Don’t worry, I’ll be by eventually to collect the other half of what you owe me.”
Lord Putcha’s jaw dropped. “Now, see here Kenan. The job was to get us in and out, you’re only getting us some of the way.”
“Ravi!” Danvir admonished.
The Clan Lord looked at Danvir, surprised.
“Oh, very well.” He amended. “I’ll see that you have it.”
“Thank you.” I said, simply.
I turned to Gaoth. “Can we see about attending to their cuts and bruises?”
“I’ll do it myself.” She replied.
She was as good as her word. I ate my porridge in silence, while she examined everyone. Rubbing salve on bruises, and resetting Danvir’s nose and Rain’s arm. Around midday, several Elves, neither hunters nor warriors, brought trays of food to the small clearing in front of the hut. Gaoth had left with her brother a while back, promising to be back shortly, leaving only the warriors who were watching over us.
Once lunch was done, Gaoth returned, with several Elven hunters.
“These hunters will ensure your friends get home.” She told me. “They are the best we could spare.”
“Thank you.” I replied.
I quickly informed Lord Putcha, and he eyed the hunters with distrust.
“You’re sure they won’t kill us?” He asked.
I nodded. “We have an understanding. You’ll be fine.”
“Very well.” He sighed.
The Clan Lord held out a hand and we shook hands.
“I’ll see you again, Lord Putcha.” I assured him.
“If you do, call me Ravi.” He replied.
“I will.” I assured him.
Not an hour later they were gone, and I was alone with the Elves.