Riding the carriage held a strange sense of disappointment that I couldn’t quite shake from my thoughts. The carriage wasn’t a carriage in the sense one might expect, instead of being a city carriage, characterized by it’s vaguely box-like shape with four large wheels and a seat for the driver, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe this carriage as a schooner, though it wasn’t without carriage-like qualities. Certainly, it still retained it’s passenger-box and the seat for the driver, however the box was shrunk to the point where the only reason it was even barely comfortable was that the two of us took turns on the roof, and the seat was only a shadow of the luxury that was afforded to it’s noble counterparts, but it was still better than walking in my opinion.
Set behind the passenger box was a large covered area in which James had stored the goods that he was planning on selling at our Merun, wherever that was, and it dwarfed the rest of the carriage to the effect that it looked like we had somehow tied a horse and a kitten together and had the kitten pull the horse across the world, instead of the other way around, in a strange reversion of the natural order.
However, despite the crushing feeling of disappointment, I still managed to find the previous night’s meeting taking up the majority of my thoughts. Aphoth was hiding something, anything with eyes could see that. Or, anything sentient; I wasn’t to sure about the comprehensive capabilities of potatoes, but my point was that it was really obvious that he didn’t want me to figure something out, and that just made me want to look into it even more.
Why did Aphoth have all those books, if Magic Skills were something everyone had from birth, and why did he act as if he had let something huge slip? For now I’d have to focus on figuring out the answers to those questions, and I figured that while I could probably find the answers I was looking for in Aphoth’s library, the chances of me going back there within the next decade were probably really low, so I’d have to look for a Plan B.
For now, though…
“Lana, do you have a minute?”
Lana looked at me from the cozy interior of the carriage, her face somewhere between bemusement and disgust. I hope there wasn’t anything on my face.
“Do I look like I have anything better to do?”
A moment of silence passed as alternating waves of fear and confusion washed over me before Lana finally sighed and continued.
“Yes, I have a minute, what’s up?”
“You know how I learned [Mana Manipulation] from watching Argus?”
“That’s what you said, yes.”
“Well, uh, if you don’t mind…”
“You’d like to see if you can learn my skill too?”
Cold resolution had flooded into Lana’s face, her expression hardening like a bucket of molten gold in the winter.
“What? Why not?”
“Because I don’t know what’s going to happen if I do. No one does. No one has had the kind of ability you have since… well, forever really. If I let you try to copy it, and you su….. and you suffered because of it… I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself. I don’t want my gift from the gods, the expression of who I am, I don’t want it to become a symbol of my failure.”
There was nothing I could say to that, except to give a sharp grunt and lie back on top of the carriage, slowly drifting off to sleep, my mind entranced by the dancing images of the stars in the sky, that I could only describe as ‘reversed’.
I woke up to what I could only describe as an attack on reality by hell itself. Looking around, I discovered that while I was asleep, James had maneuvered our carriage into a gathering of other carriages, each with a similar makeup to ours, however the scale of each varied greatly, with ours approaching the more outrageous among them.
Returning to the scene at hand, I saw a sight that would have had most priests in a mental breakdown faster than you can say ‘woah’. Shadows danced across the remains of our camp in a frenzied ritual, as if screaming in rage at the moon itself. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that, rather than shadows bewitched by the light of the moon, our camp had been invaded by a horde of dark creatures, each draped in an array of coverings, from scales that drank the moonlight like a man lost in the desert, to a coarse covering of fur that rippled, twisted and bristled as if it were a mass of ropes, brought to life by some dark magic.
Each beast had anywhere from four to ten legs, which were shaped anywhere from a spider’s long yet thin legs, optimized for stabbing into an opponent, others had thick, pawed legs that bulged from the sheer mass of muscle under them, and still others had a crude mockery of a human arm, thin, fur covered appendages that culminated in seven, dexterous digits, linked together by a small square of flesh and bone. Their bodies were elongated masses of something, so inhuman yet so familiar that while I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what it could be, it sat there at the tip of my tongue like some strange parasite that would never let go.
Returning to the monsters, I found my gaze dragged to their frontsides, where I found the most horrifying sight yet. On each creature, where a face would usually be, was a single, gigantic eye, though that’s where the similarities between the creatures ended. Some had a long, serpentine neck that ended in the eye, others had the eye embedded in the main body itself, and still others bore their eyes on a large stalk that bent and twisted like the arm of an octopus.
I sat there, mesmerized by the horror, the sounds of destruction filling my ears like arrows into the heart of a rabbit.
James had woken up, presumably from the same sounds as I had, and had quickly gotten dressed, as evidenced by the disheveled state of his clothes. Pressing a sword into my hands, he turned to leave.
“James…. what are they?”
I gestured towards the menagerie of horror that was unfolding before us.
“Ah, tha’s right,” James said, glancing back, “Ah ferg’it that yeh wou’nt remember them. Dierrot is wha’ theyre called. Horrible things that shouldn’t exist, yet do, at leas tha’s what the church says. They swarm roun’ the local areas at night, eatin’ the unlucky souls tha get caught in their path. Normally we’d be gettin outta here fasser than ye could say ‘slapjack’, bu’ we jes ain’t in a spot to be leavin’ the group. Roun’ these parts is bandit country, ye see. Anyways, tha thing’ll keep ye safe in a ‘mergency, but I dou’t ye got any sword trainin, not with those muscles at leas, so jes stay there.”
“Right,” I said, nodding, “I’ll keep it in mind.”
With that, he left me alone on the top of the carriage, with nothing but a sword and my wits.
The sword was two and a half feet of metal long, two fingers thick and half as deep. It was sharpened to the point where the light itself seemed to split when it moved. Clamped around the base of the blade were the jaws of an alpha lion, carved out of a scarlet metal, it’s proud eyes shining like a fiery sun, ready to rip apart anyone who would infringe on it’s territory.
I liked it.
Author’s Note: This is so absurdly late I don’t even have enough words to apologize. I let myself get out of my pattern, and ended up missing several deadlines. I’ll try to make sure that I can get next week’s chapter done in time.