Shift World I Book III Chapter 3
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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A wet nose nudged Timore as he laid sprawled on the floor of a shanty in a small town one day's walk to the Crossroads. Huskie barked and paced to Timore. Huskie licked Timore's face, and the man buried it deeper into blankets. Every morning, Timore found it more difficult to wake, but Huskie ended up trying that much harder, so they kept pace with their travels.
Huskie barked again, and Timore rolled onto his back, wondering which of the two trained the other. Huskie plopped onto Timore's gut, and he shot up to sitting. Huskie panted while happily wagging his tail, and Timore gently shooed him off. The dog strolled away, and his master raised from the floor. He started putting on his armor.
The journey so far felt as though it spanned months, despite taking less than one. Nort and Timore survived on frozen supplies hidden within walls. Searching for the secret compartments and food extended the journey. They couldn't afford to bypass deserted towns or outposts if it meant leaving behind life-saving supplies. So, they stopped at every single one.
Timore hated hunting for caves nestled in valleys and ravines during waning daylight hours. Sometimes trees hid the entrance, like the cave behind the grate Timore and Nort stayed at in the journey's beginning. Other landmarks like lakes, glaciers, or broken-down shanties marked nearby outposts, but they often couldn't find any signs of the locations which made those caves the worst to find. Deadly cold winds even wrapped around the mountains, blasting through his layers of hide, steel, and wool, penetrating all the way into muscles and bone. To add to the stress, if a traveler didn't find shelter in time, they froze overnight.
Timore picked up a rod from the room's side and poked Nort in the back of the leg. The rod bent to almost breaking. Nort rolled over with a grunt and threw aside blankets. Huskie leaped and bounded around Nort. He didn't wake The Paladin like he did The Mandrake, but the pair grew closer as time went on. Nort unsteadily wiggled one leg under him and pushed off the ground, petting Huskie as he raised. The dog smiled and wagged its tail, brushing against Nort's legs when he finally stood up straight. "Are we close?"
"Yes. One day. Maybe two."
"I can see why you said the Furies wouldn't bother to come out to that settlement."
Timore shrugged and glanced at the structure's wall, which faced the rising sun. A burst of white light shone through cracks, illuminating the room in bright bands and dark shadows. Timore grimaced. "Another cloudless day."
Nort grimaced. Unless they wanted the sunlight sickening them as they trudged along, they'd be squinting at the ground all day. "At least it isn't snowing..."
Every other day, a blizzard bared down. They could watch the landscape freely or look up without pain, but their line of sight only extended a few feet.
Timore stirred the nearby firepit's ashes. Sticky, chalky ash clung to the stirring pole. Nort and Timore had to burn the room's furniture to stay warm for the night. A fire only fueled by thin reeds harvested at a lake-shore, burned out within a few hours, and the house slowly cooled. The pair burned something similar at every stop, and likely anyone traveling through the Creeping Ice needed to do the same. That made it difficult to guess if the Furies' reach extended to any particular shelter. If Nort was a betting man, he'd wager the Furies stripped away at least some of the resources.
Finally, ready to face the unrestrained cold, Timore jerked open the door hard enough to clear a small snow buildup. The pair stepped outside and hunched over. Their chins rested on their chests to fight a light more uncomfortable than any headwind.
They passed foundations that resembled nothing more than snow-filled pits waiting to catch them if they strayed from the path. After an hour, the last of the town's shanties disappeared, and they met tundra. A blinding sheet of light hampered them all the way to the mountains' shadow. They could at least look forward as they marched on relatively clear ground. The weather had imperceptibly warmed as the day went on, and a realization hit Timore. "We're close."
"To the Crossroads. Don't you feel it?" Nort looked to the horizon like that would somehow explain Timore's meaning. "It's warmer as we approach the Crossroads. We are going to leave the tundra soon."
Nort looked at his arms like he was trying to feel the warmth too, and Timore shook his head. Timore's gait increased. Within an hour, the ground transitioned from frozen, packed snow into a slushy mud that stuck to the travelers' feet. Mud squirted onto the party's cloaks and pants. Each step became more onerous as the material further caked their legs and outfits. Mud exhausted them more than blowing cold that struck a few days ago. Within another hour's walk, the ground further changed into compact soil.
Nearing the end of the Creeping Ice filled their spirits with intense energy. Tired legs strode faster, and hearts pounded in tune with each hurried step.
Another hour later, the packed dirt transformed into lush, knee-high grass. The grass bent and splintered around their steps. A warm breeze rushed through the thinning mountains. Once, the grasslands held most of the Creeping Ice's indigenous wheat, corn, and nuts. Outside of the long grass, they reached a farming village surrounded by blighted fields. Nort and Timore approached a run-down farmhouse.
Instead of neatly plowed rows of crops, the empty field resembled a muddy crater formed when the earth collapsed after a harsh day's storm. To Timore's knowledge, the rain in the Creeping Ice could never be described as more than brisk, let alone cause that kind of destruction. The pair turned from the wrecked field.
A nearby house's main door had singes along the frame with dry rot in the center. Almost as if eaten away in a matter of moments and not years, the damage appeared wholly unnatural. Nort pushed, and the door held as well as any other wood he touched, merely bending in under his palm. Timore shoved the door next, and it collapsed into a rotting heap. The pair stepped over the pile and entered.
Mud covered the interior. Sprawled out furniture showed uneven mold next to immaculate wood. The pair searched through dirt-covered cabinets for anything to create a tent or awning. They wanted to avoid sleeping in the disgusting property. Timore cried out in surprise.
Nort carried his limit of dry bed sheets and jaunted to his friend. "What is it?"
Timore stood agape at a pristine skeleton sitting at the base of a bed. The flesh had been rendered from every crevice, and clean bones contrasted with the muck that covered nearly everything. "How could this happen?"
"I'm not sure. If it were natural, there would still be something left." A slight pause before the word 'natural' belayed just how out of place the lingering skeleton struck the pair. Nort bent down and picked up a bone from the right arm and examined the smooth surface. "It's too light and hallow. There aren't any teeth marks or tool marks, either."
Nort intended to gently place the bone back where he picked it up, but it gingerly slipped from his hand and shattered. Something even ate away the marrow. Nort and Timore ducked out of the farmhouse and crept to a nearby patch of trees. They hung the cloth, hoping that branches and darkness would obscure any sight of them. The pair agreed to take turns watching for danger, but neither slept during the night.
After two days of relatively easy travel through arable land, the party reached the Crossroads' outskirts. Timore spent so much time in the Shift World that he forgot citizens of his world had free travel in and out of the Crossroads. In the Shift World, giant walls called gates blocked the three entrances to the natural valley, which became known as the Crossroads. A magnificent onyx cliff of compact stone separated the Crossroads and the Creeping Ice in the Shift World. Travelers scaled the wall using a system of pulleys accessible from the wall's top. Timore had heard that stairs and lifts granted access inside the wall, but since he never visited the Shift World's Creeping Ice, he didn't really know the truth.
In his world, however, nothing separated the Crossroads from any region. This may have been because the valley's rock floors and walls couldn't be worked for most of the world's history, and people only assembled transient tents or lean-to. They lacked the technology to make significant structures. Maybe in the future, an enterprising shifter with more time than morals might try to separate the regions, but no one ever had.
Someone stripped the village that rested just outside the Crossroad's entrance, much like the villages that dotted the frozen wastelands in the Creeping Ice. Any buildings made of hardwood had been stripped to a muddy foundation. Thieves stole every scrap of metal or wood, even if that meant wrenching it free from clay walls. The robbers also tore apart some of the light wooden structures and stacked them near alters.
Nort and Timore approached one of the alters, which rested between the Crossroads and the village's last house. Nort crawled hand over fist, so the unkempt grass and nearby bushes protected his line of sight from hostiles lurking around the Crossroad's entrance. Nort waved to Timore, who fumbled on his knees, trying to lay prone while wearing a full set of plate armor. As he noticed Nort wave, he gave up crawling and walked hunched over.
Nort raised from the ground after witnessing his companion's clumsy attempt at sneaking. "No point in getting so filthy when they'll just see you anyway."
Upset that his attempt at sneaking didn't impress The Paladin, he transfixed on a strange altar instead of dwelling on the insult. Three stone basins sat behind a knee-high pile of dirt. Fine, sticky ash filed the one on the right. Flies and mosquitoes buzzed in and out of a pool of stagnant water sitting on the left. In the center, raised above the other two, sat an empty basin with swooshing lines pressed on the rim, possibly meant to signify wind or air. The altar's creators inscribed vestiges of half-man-half-pig creatures near the altar's bottom worshiping up to the basins where lionesque animals looked down.
"Is this the way of your people?"
"No. I've never seen anything like this. Not in the Crossroads or Creeping Ice, or Lush Forest, or even Arid Desert, for how many times I've been there."
"I think so."
"What does it all mean?"
"I don't know, and I don't want to find out."
Nort continued into a long ceiling-less tunnel known as the Mouth of the World. The road transitioned from packed dirt to stone. Nort's footfalls landed quietly except an occasional scuff of his leather heel. Timore, however, transitioned from mostly quiet on the soil to echoing. To make matters worse, the flaps and creases in his plate armor joined the cacophony. The Crossroads' still air amplified the noise since nothing else made a sound.
One hundred yards to the right, a single house remained among blocks of ruined structures. Some of the buildings missed entire walls, stripped down to the framing. Other houses seemed to have disappeared, with only portions of logs sticking from the valley's floor. Partially eroded or wholly burnt houses became a more concerning sight. The selective damage felt off and seemed unlikely to have been caused by accidental fire or a leaking roof. The elemental damage disconcerted the pair, but they'd worry at a later time. They wanted to leave the open until after sunset to avoid having an observer spot them from a hidden vantage point.
Nort drew a claw-knife and motioned for Timore to push the front door of a nearby house. The unlocked door crept open with loudly creaking hinges, and the pair slid inside. Most of the building's furniture remained intact, and dust didn't cover the ground. Nort walked past padded chairs that faced a fireplace and entered a kitchen. He gingerly pulled open a cabinet drawer, and to his amazement, metal knives, forks, and spoons still lingered inside. Nort systematically opened the nearby cabinet doors and drawers. He sped up as he couldn't find what he sought. Eventually, Timore rushed in to investigate the fevered pitch at which Nort opened the drawers. Nort finished and leaned against the cabinet, exasperated.
"What are you looking for?!"
The Paladin looked. "Nothing. There isn't a single morsel of food in any of those drawers. For the first time this whole trip, we found some sign that a person might be living somewhere, but they can't be..."
"I wish you weren't so cryptic. What are you trying to get at?"
"Whoever lives here doesn't need to store the essentials in this world. There must be a shifter nearby. But what kind?"
The declaration both eased and terrified Timore. A potential enemy might be lurking around the corner, but so might a friend. "Do we risk it?"
"I think we might have to. At one point, we are going to have to face these Furies, and either this person survived among them and might help, or..."
Timore didn't need or want to hear the rest of that statement. "Just for tonight, I think we should stay here. Wait to see if they show themselves. If they are friendly, they join us. If they are enemies, we fight."
"What if they don't show up?"
"Then, we just continue to The Whitecoat's compound."
Nort paced around a darkened sitting room deftly passing by furniture. He walked to the northernmost wall and ran his hand about a tapestry suspended from a line of hooks. In the dim light, he couldn't make out the yarn's hues. He just roughly distinguished darker and lighter parts, but the barely discernible family in the center piqued his curiosity. Were those blackened figures the house's owners, destined to languish alone except for the stitched-in images?
A family of four probably lived in the house comfortably, yet still shared close quarters. Nort ran his finger on the larger pair in the center. An inexplicable longing fell onto his heart. The Whitecoat had been his whole family in the world, but he didn't remember the two people he missed. A slight tension headache started just behind his eyes, tightening around the sockets and spreading in a wave to the back of his skull. The message 'Kill The Mandrake' penetrated his mind for the first time in months.
"Why can't I walk around too?" Timore whined while absentmindedly watching out a window. He rested his head on one hand, pushing in his cheek. His hand dropped to the window sill, and he looked back to Nort.
"You clink and clank every step you take. You'll wake half of the Crossroads if you walk around now. And, for the last time, whisper!" Nort's declaration lost a good deal of punch as he whispered, but Timore seemed to understand.
Nort turned to the window and watched the road leading to the house. The neighborhood buildings crumbled apart or missed large sections, which travelers could utilize. Still, he guessed that anyone approaching would come up the main road just like they had. Couldn't anyone watching the house have seen Nort and Timore? Did Furies think so similarly to them? Questions flooded Nort's mind until Timore turned back to where Nort stood.
"Who do you think is coming back here tonight?"
"I keep telling you, I don't know. There might not even be anyone that comes."
"Why do you think they are doing this?" Uncertainty looked to be flustering Timore like he couldn't decide if he actually wanted to fight an enemy.
Nort relaxed since Timore finally decided to whisper, but dealing with his companion made the headache worse. Nort tip-toed to a window on a different wall. He avoided Timore because the migraine flared excruciatingly when he looked on The Manta armor.
"I don't know, but only monsters could kill like this."
Timore gave Nort a worried expression. "Maybe not. I mean, we don't know what their world is like. Maybe they are trying to be careful, and things just didn't go well. Maybe it's not their fault. I'm sure if they had another chance, they wouldn't do it."
The protests seemed a bit much, but Nort's head throbbed too much to care. "I don't think so. Look at what they did to the Crossroads. They couldn't have used everything, but they took it all anyway. They didn't need to kill the whole population, but they did. They didn't need to set up shrines to themselves, but they did. This world will be better with them gone, with The Mandrake gone."
That last declaration must have shocked Timore enough to make him speak at full volume for a few words. "What did you say? The Mandrake?" Nort glared at Timore, and he defensively shook his head and hands in unison.
"Stop shouting." Nort almost hissed his rebuke. "I forgot, you said she's in the Shift World, but I bet she's like that too. The Mandrake killed Korg, attacked that festival, destroyed that village, killed all those people just for baubles and trinkets. She's no better than these Furies, and I'm sure they'd both do it again."
"That's not true! I ugh... she... wait, how do you know about all that."
"I'm not sure. It might be an effect of when we came here. My thoughts were on The Mandrake, and now it's back, but it's fading again." Nort's headache flared and subsided.
"That's right, you asked about her when we first arrived. I know she killed Korg, and Jorn bears some of that responsibility too, but believe me, it brought her no joy. Nothing about what happened in that world would bring her any joy."
"Are you saying these Furies are like that too? They don't get any joy out of all this destruction?"
"I don't know..."
"If you don't, you'll never be able to finish this. They aren't like us, Timore. You and your family will be heroes when this is all done. The Furies will be hated by everyone that lives to remember."
A visitor never came, and there hadn't been any signs of life in the Crossroads that night. Timore watched for lights or skulking figures. One time, he thought something moved just within his peripheral vision, but when he focused, it only turned out to be a bush rustled by the wind. The party decided to press their luck after such a long, sleepless night and ran through the open. The ground rushed past as Timore and Nort fled from the pristine house and crossed through the decimated Crossroads.
The pair started by running north to the mountains. Nort didn't know what Timore hoped to accomplish by taking such an indirect route, but stopping to ask would further endanger the pair. So, he trusted his party member and obediently followed. A short jog later, they arrived at a mausoleum with 'JB' inscribed on the stone door. Timore pushed with his shoulder, and it laboriously scraped open. The pair filed in, breathing heavily.
"What are we doing here? What is this place?"
"It's a grave for my family, even though it will mostly stay empty since everyone died in the Shift World."
"Why are we here?" Nort frowned as he remembered the funeral for Timore's little sister. The unexpected detour made Nort worry about Timore's mental health.
"I've just come to leave this shield where it'll be safe." Timore drew the morning shield from his back and slid it into an empty stone coffin that had his name on it. "Don't give me a weird look! I'm no good with the shield, and it's hard to carry. You can't even touch it! It will be safe here, I can't imagine anyone looking in a crypt for valuables."
Timore shuddered at the idea, and Nort just nodded. The warriors continued on, but the houses fell further into disrepair the deeper they reached into the Crossroads' heart. Some of the anterior dwellings still had walls and frames, but they currently rushed through an open field of shallow, empty foundations. They only wanted to reach Timore's family's compound, its outer wall crept up in the distance.
Exposed in the open fields, the travelers abandoned the pretext of subterfuge and sprinted. Timore's armor clanged and rang with every step. If he wore iron or steel instead of water steel, he couldn't have kept up with Nort. In fact, he would have dropped out a kilometer sooner, but blue steel's light build helped him carry the weight. Timore's breath heaved as he and Nort reached the compound's outer wall. Unlike most of the world's structures, engineers built the family's compound with quarried stone and mortar.
Stone in Timore's world functioned the same as stone in the Shift World, but until The Whitecoat brought metal, workers didn't have the tools to work with it. Even now, no one except great lords worked it. After ducking into the shadow of the high wall, Nort and Timore heaved and wretched for minutes before their tight chests began to ease. The compound sat nearly in The Crossroad's dead center. They had to decide which route to take.
Without consulting Nort, Timore slid along the wall toward the southern face's main entrance. After looping around the main wall, the pair saw the Crossroad's eastern half, and to their surprise, it remained mostly intact. Holes punched through scattered roofs, some walls had collapsed, and even a few buildings laid out crashed. Compared to the western half's almost wholly stripped structures, the eastern half looked pristine.
Huskie panted and walked with a light skip, almost as if returning home after a simple trip to the local market. Timore and Nort, however, looked as though sudden death may fall upon them from any angle. The overhang suspended from the wall's main gate gradually grew as Timore and Nort approached. Within a few minutes, they safely passed underneath and breached the compound. Despite the danger, Timore eased at returning home. Nort, however, tensed at the idea of entering a possible enemy base of operations.
Just inside, someone had stripped the walls and wooden roof down to logs sunk into the stony ground, which only left a skeleton of a once vast storehouse of cloth goods. Piles of cloth and wool laid scattered in the dusty rock floor with only the wooden crates taken away. Timore kicked an orange silk blouse, and it drifted before resting back on the ground.
"I'd give anything to return to the mind-numbing tedium of transferring stuff between worlds." Behind one of the shattered crates, Timore slipped his finger into a hole in the otherwise solid stone floor. He popped open a barely visible hatch and looked into the darkness. Undisturbed stairs descended through the bedrock. Crates of cloth and metal sat scarcely visible in the dark. With a relieved sigh, Timore gently lowered the hatch and slid the box back on top. "This is where I was when it all started."
"When the Furies came?"
"I was bringing cloth to the Shift World and taking back metal."
Timore looked through the warehouse's empty expanse and took off. He weaved through the log frame. Nort followed, avoiding the pillars out of fear that one touch and the whole thing may collapse. Timore hurried out of the warehouse and crossed into another stripped building. This time, he entered the remnants of the metal storehouse. The building had been eaten away as if locusts chewed the outer layers before moving on to the next floor. Unlike the cloth storehouse, however, the metal had been taken away with all the easily removed wood—burnt sections scattered through the warehouse's floor. Deep indentations carved chunks out of the stone ground and wooden frames.
"There was a struggle."
"I'm not sure. I ran to the house when I heard the fire station's alarm and didn't see what happened next. Timore looked over to Nort, who examined the nearby ground and walls. "Most of the people here were merchants, not warriors. They might have fought a little, but I doubt they held their own."
"Someone put up a good fight." Nort scuttled about the ground following a trail in the dirt caused by a pair of limply dragging legs. He followed the lines to the building's edge, but they disappeared a few feet from the doorway. Timore followed, and when Nort stopped, Timore's family's house loomed at the compound's far edge. The house wouldn't usually look large with its two stories of unpainted stone exterior and straw roof, but without the regular warehouses, it sat exposed.
"Everyone in my family dealt with them at one point." Timore drew his sword, and Huskie knew that meant danger. The dog stood on the tips of his paws, fur standing on edge, growling. Nort didn't like open combat, but nothing could have stopped his companions from charging. Timore paced toward the house with a fire steel barbed sword in hand. The Mandrake closed in on the house where the signs of struggling increased.
Burned brushes in planters lined a corridor of decay. Mud caked the walkway with a crunching, sandy grit. The final clay pots at the house's entrance had blown in a trail of broken pieces nearly 50 yards to the closest wall. Fissures ran through a nearby garden. Timore's family imported enough loose soil to grow a sizable vegetable garden each summer, but some chaotic dervish had scattered the plants in rotting piles.
Timore stopped at the front door, which barely held onto the frame. Timore's fire steel blade sheared the wood as easily as if he cut paper. The pieces slid free of the hinges and fell. Sunlight flooded the building, and Timore walked in. Nort stood at the entryway, touching the hardwood flooring with his boot, giving increasing pressure. Since the panels rested directly on the ground below, he could walk inside without fear that the boards would give in.
The house's furniture and belongings remained untouched, as though preserved in some mausoleum. Timore slid open a wardrobe's panel and eyed its contents. "This is everything. Our lives centered around this place."
"Don't worry, we'll get the ones that did this."
Travel cloaks and rain gear filled the wardrobe near the front entrance. Trepidation filled Timore's voice as memories came back. "Mother and Father always argued about that wardrobe. 'You can count the number of days it rains on one hand, what a waste of space.' Mother would complain. 'Yes, but on those days, you won't get wet. Plus, you never know when something dirty will show up at the warehouse. Better to be prepared!' I think that may have been the only time he ever got his way." Nort quietly watched Timore pantomime his old life.
Timore eyed the kitchen but cut through the living room toward his old bedroom instead. A student table sat just inside. Scrolls covered in mathematical scribbles scattered about the tabletop. "I practiced my accounting skills since I knew I would never be a skilled fighter like Jorn wanted. I settled on being a better businessman." Huskie bound into the room and jumped onto Timore's old bed, rolling around to mark it as his territory. Timore placed his hand on the cotton mattress and pushed, feeling the bed and bedding on his bare skin through the hole in his gauntlet's palm.
"I couldn't tell you how much I missed this bed. The whole Shift World doesn't have a single comfortable mattress. It's just straw and leather. You're freezing in the winter and sweating in the summer and itch all year round."
Timore motioned for Huskie to get off, and it obeyed. The trio left his room and headed for the eat-in-kitchen. Burns charred the table's surface where Timore saw the Fury those years ago. Time aged the wood and at some point, the front legs had given in, and the tabletop laid with one side resting on the ground.
"We ate almost every meal here together. Father cooked while mother kept him company. He didn't have to. We could have had servants to do everything if they wanted. I guess part of their eccentricity was that they just didn't. I went shopping, worked, and babysat my siblings. Really, I didn't have to babysit Biporn. He'd just always read these poetry books and give Huskie treats when I turned my back. Can you believe I used to think that I lived a difficult life back then."
Timore's eyes wet as he spoke. Nort thought of words to comfort him but didn't know how to relate to most people. His life had been short despite his age, and empathy didn't come easily. So, he stayed quiet.
Huskie growled. Nort and Timore nearly jumped out of their skins, having completely forgotten that they might be in enemy territory. Timore found Huskie barking at a shape sticking out from under the table. Huskie approached and sniffed. His ears dropped, and he whimpered, giving Timore a helpless gaze. Timore rounded the corner to find the chard skeleton of a young girl shroud in a sundress. Timore dropped to his knees, and the water steel armor shattered the wooden floor on impact. Tears flowed since he couldn't even feign a brave front anymore.
"I heard from the others that she had... she had died. But it's not the same. It's not the same as seeing it and now... she's gone. It was useless, don't you understand? It was all useless from the start..."
The last devil's body fell in a misting shower of blood as a fire steel sword clumsily slashed through the monster's body. Almost the whole village burned from fire bolts that Timore accidentally shot while chasing The Manta, but he didn't have the energy to do anything about the blaze. Timore stumbled forward while his newly acquired water steel armor clanked with each step. He fought The Manta in the woods outside of the village and barely survived the encounter. A massive gash across his chest became a constant reminder of the fight. He barely had the energy to kill the skeletons and devils that attacked him when he returned to the village.
Now, he didn't even have the willpower to stand and plopped onto a tree stump resting outside of the metal storehouse. Timore struggled to raise his head and noticed that someone must have shut and bolted the warehouse door. Timore nearly slipped from the stump, but a series of footsteps hastened toward him and caught his falling body.
"What happened here?"
Timore let out a low groan and jerkily raised his hand to his helmet. Jara, Timore's Mother, helped him remove the headgear. Her face turned into a shocked expression after seeing her son instead of The Manta.
"I'm so sorry," Timore spoke distantly, almost as if he resigned to passing on at that moment. Birn caught up to his wife and grabbed his son's shoulder, half to support him and half to get his attention.
"What did you do, son? Where is The Manta?"
When Timore hacked up a clot of blood, his parents finally noticed the red streaks running from under his breastplate. Timore confessed to no one in particular. "He ran. I followed. Bolts just shot out, hit the houses. Some burned, some shook. I caught up. He attacked like I was some enemy!?"
Birn and Jara surveyed the village's damage, and they must have understood how The Manta thought the boy he'd known for years could have snapped. Timore continued as his parents pulled apart his breastplate, and pooled blood dropped onto his legs.
"I did something. He died. Dried out."
Timore's mentor, Jorn the Sunflower, and his little brother, Biporn, skulked through the village and approached Timore. The destruction didn't effect The Sunflower like the others, and he didn't want to indulge Timore.
"Like those skeleton you killed over there?" Jorn pointed up the street where the corpses of villagers torn apart by devils and skeletons mixed with their murderers.
"Yes? No? I don't know. He dropped with a touch."
"We can do that?" Jorn eyed Birn, Jara, and Biporn, but no one motioned as if they had any idea what he meant. Jorn walked up the street to examine corpses but jerked to a halt at the first skeleton. Its thin, gray, scaly skin stretched over bones. Jorn reached out to touch it. The skin bent in and puffed back out like natural human flesh despite its other-worldly appearance.
"Those are real, huh? You killed all these?"
Jorn shouted back to Timore, but he laid stretched out with his mother attending to the cut across his chest. Birn held Timore's upper body and shook his head at Jorn.
"I killed them all... all the monsters dead... fire coming... Biporn, we have to save her!" Timore's momentary lucidity surprised everyone.
A wary Biporn stepped forward. "Timore, you're not making sense, what's wrong with Tanny, is there a fire?"
"The fire attacked her! It attacked me! We have to rescue her!"
Birn tipped Timore back so he could look in his eyes. "You're not making any sense, son. How does a fire attack anyone?"
Timore drifted back to sleep, mumbling about fire and death and fighting. As Birn and Jara laid him on the ground, creaking came from the warehouse door. Someone inside scratched at the main bar, trying to pry it loose. A second later, the movement silenced. Jorn drew his sword and walked toward the door. "Who's there? Are you alright?"
"Don't Talk! They'll hear you!" The voice cut off, possibly at the realization that he shouted from fear and panic. The scratching increased in desperation while fingernails broke along the interior. As the scraping sound stopped, screams started. Crates smashed along the inside. Jara and Birn drew weapons and rushed for the warehouse.
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