Shift World I Book III Chapter 12
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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A scrapping sound dragged along outside of Nort's cell. A bolt unlatched with a ringing metallic clank, and the door popped open. Nort readied himself, and three Furies hesitated after backing Nort into the corner like a stray dog. The group's leader pounced, but Nort side-stepped and threw the incoming man against the wall. The leader hit the stone with a thud. The wheezing man wiped a slow trickle of blood from his lip.
The two others grabbed Nort while he focused on the recovering man.
"The pig's demigod thinks he's better than lion-people." The glaring man spat bloody saliva at Nort's feet. Without warning, he punched Nort's stomach and the muscles reflexively tensed and balled. Clearly unsatisfied with one hit, the man kicked out Nort's leg, and he winced from the sudden rush of pain.
The aggressive jailer laughed and punched, but Nort ducked, and the man accidentally connected with one of his comrades.
"Hey! That was too close!" The victim whined as he dropped Nort to rub where his upper thigh met his hip. The victim turned to Nort, who huddled on the ground, and kicked his side. Nort's body tensed, and he laid incapacitated. All three men began kicking and punching Nort as he sprawled out on the jail cell's floor.
"Stop!" An older, calmer man's voice called from outside the cell. The attackers looked out and back to Nort, unsure of what to do. "Don't make me repeat myself." The man glared at his fellows to assert dominance.
"I was the one who killed that blue pig and captured the pig's demigod. Will you not listen?" The final plea seemed to have broken their resistance. Nort's attempt to 'put up a good fight' may have worked too well since he laid battered and bloody. He attempted to decipher the chief's words about a blue pig, but the men wrenched his arms behind his back stealing his attention.
Pain shot from Nort's battered elbows and shoulder. One of the three goons tied Nort's hands behind his back. With a low grunt, his attackers pulled Nort up, and pushed him toward the exit, where he saw the chief for the first time.
The Furies didn't wear clothing, probably a result of melding into elements. The chief handled himself without shame or reservations despite constant eyes looking in his direction. The chief appeared to be an average man in his forties, maybe thinner and more tone than a regular person but not especially muscular or athletic. He reminded Nort of a nudist version of his master. Nort only hoped he didn't display The Whitecoat's foresight.
A party of seven Furies waited behind the chief who stood half-way between them and the cell. The chief held Nort's bear-claw dagger. The Furies carried stone and wood cudgels and maces. Nort continued to assess the party and guessed that two Furies probably still patrolled outside of the keep. The enemy numbered at least thirteen. Three twenty-something-year-old men dragged him from the cell, and a forty-year-old ruler, three more young men, five young women, and two teenage girls waited in the hall's far end.
The teens shrank away from Nort's gaze and tried subtly, hiding their breasts with their arms. Their reaction bothered Nort.
Not used to walking around naked? Are they new to this world? Does that mean more are coming? If we deal with these people, are we never going to know peace? It could be worse: What if they are from this world and taken as some kind of prize...
As Nort's captors dragged him past the shifters, he looked to the young teens.
"Do you need help?" Nort concentrated on using the language that Ban, Timore, and Triled spoke. The girls looked at each other and turned to the chief.
"What did the pig demigod say?" The gutsier of the two spoke, but the other nodded in agreement with the question.
The chief laughed. "The pig demigod oinks for help. The weak always beg the strong for help. It's the way of the world." The girls appeared to accept the answer and threw insults at Nort, much to the enjoyment of the other Furies. Nort's face read of worry, but that only made the Furies laugh harder.
More are still coming. There had been dozens of shifters from this world to The Whitecoat's world. According to some, thousands of shifters from The Whitecoat's world traveled to their Shift World. This is not the end; it's only the beginning...
The Furies dragged Nort through the keep and out of the main entrance. The three Furies holding onto Nort stopped at the stone bridge. Several of the others turned into wind and blew toward the trees lining the field. The breezes shook gently wavering treetops. The wind picked up, and branches snapped off, plummeting to the forest floor. People scurried about the treeline.
Three Furies melded into the ground. Cracks fanned out through the village, occasionally hitting a building and collapsing a small section. Outside of the town, stone and dirt pillars shot into the air before crumbling back to earth. The pilings circled the town, and eventually converged near the edge of the forest where Timore, Ban, and Triled had positioned their forces. A platform raised from the dirt where the cracks had united.
Three Furies engulfed themselves in columns of flames. The fires skipped along roofs and singed buildings until they shot through the air to the edge of the open field. Smoldering embers turned into burning columns mixed with smoke. Each of the air Furies broke from the trees and joined a column of fire. The combustion transformed into towering infernos that resembled orange glowing tornadoes.
The earth Furies popped out of the stage's dirt. The wind Furies converged on the scene and solidified as well. Sparks and embers left on the burning platform pulsated as human-shaped flames formed through the devastation and condensed back into people.
Just as the spectacle ended, the chief and remaining Furies reached the stage, dragging Nort in tow. The chief threw Nort to the floor and peered out to the forests. He held a bear-claw dagger aloft while shouting threats. The people of Nort's world wouldn't understand the words but probably could guess the aggressive overtures. People inched toward the stage.
After a few minutes of taunting, almost Nort's world's entire fighting force stood dozens of feet from the platform. Finally, Ban, Triled, and Huskie joined the troops. Although a rare sight in their world, the fighters wore leather traveling cloaks. The Furies' ignorance of the world's customs led them not to pay it much attention.
Satisfied at the spectacle's scale, the chieftain approached Nort, who stayed on his knees in center stage. The chief raised the dagger and paused before delivering a fatal blow. Nort pinned his hopes on the hasty plan that he and Ban devised in his jail cell.
Nort knelt before the chief of the Furies who watched over the people of Timore's world. He callously grinned. "We conquer a world of pigs!"
The man likely didn't expect the people to understand but knew they would despair at the unfolding display. He looked down at Nort with a confused expression since Nort didn't seem bothered by his situation. The man lifted the knife further and dropped it an inch and stopped, most likely to watch Nort flinch. Nort glared and stood with his hands still tied. The chief instinctively backed away.
"We murder tyrants!" Nort concentrated on speaking the language of the Furies, and based on the murderous shifters' reactions, they understood. Nort focused on shifting to another world. The Furies laughed when nothing happened. Nort continued trying to move between worlds by the time the group stopped laughing.
"We thought that maybe this pig was strong, but he can only imitate our speech much like a bird or child." The group laughed, but Nort sunk all his effort into shifting. The chief lowered the blade as though he planned to stab Nort's stomach in a less flashy, but more effective killing method. As the man reached just outside an arm's length away, a few of the group acted nauseously, and the chief balked.
Nort's efforts redoubled, and time slowed. Several Furies collapsed as if struck by an invisible weapon. More dropped moments later. After what felt like several minutes, Nort fatigued, but the chief remained steadfast, unable to move but otherwise withstanding the pressure.
All of the shifters besides the chief languished, screaming in pain and trembling under the pressure of crashing between worlds. Nort tried speeding up his shifts. Although he had no way of knowing its exact efficacy, shifters continued dropping. Several of the weaker shifters, including the two young teens, had stopped moving, they had likely died. Nort fretted if he could halt the chief before running out of energy. If he succeeded, the plan might go off without a hitch, but if he failed, then at least Nort would become a casualty.
The chief grunted and lifted his foot. After hovering in the air for a few moments, his foot locked in place while Nort continued to shift. After several seconds, the chief threw his knee forward and completed the first step. Nort strained and lowered to his knees. Nort worried that if he continued for too long, the other world's version of himself might die or flee by moving to a different world. Cold sweat trickled down Nort's face when the chief stepped again. After another step, the chief could throw himself on Nort with the knife. Nort tried to increase the pressure, and the unbearable strain took his breath away, driving him onto his hands and knees.
The chieftain's rear foot flew forward and landed with a crash. The chieftain screamed while raising the dagger for a final slash. The scream turned to a sound like a deflating balloon followed by blood shooting out of his mouth. The man's eyes rolled, and he fell backward. Nort stopped shifting before the man hit the ground. Time around the shifters began flowing like normal. Six of the thirteen Furies writhed.
"Do it now!" Ban signaled her world's people to counterattack. After dropping their riding cloaks, fighters showed belts covered in throwing darts, pop gourds, and throwing knives. They hurled darts which arced high and fell back, blanketing the ground. Three darts hit living shifters while others embedded in corpses.
"Forward!" Ban shouted, and the warriors charged while preparing a second volley. The Furies on the stage began to regain their senses. One attempted to meld into the raised platform, but Triled hurled a dart into his upper-body. When the dart struck the shifter's chest, his head swirled, and his lower-body reformed, half-submerged into the dirt. Blood shot from the soil, and his upper-body dropped dead.
Much closer to the stage, the charging horde unleashed another volley. Darts struck four shifters who tried standing. Poison seeped into the Furies until they pulled the tips free and threw the weapons aside. Two of the Furies attempted to transform into the wind, but charging people threw another volley and struck the Furies before they could meld.
Ban and Triled jumped onto the stage and dashed toward Nort. One of the Furies leaped toward Ban, but she dodged their grasp and threw a dagger. The Fury stumbled away with a blade protruding from their chest. Falling off the platform where a mob stabbed her to death. Triled picked up Nort and hurried to safety. Ban removed a gourd from her belt and threw it at two Furies melding into the air. It hit one's bare chest and bounced off without any hard armor to crack on. Ban threw a knife at the falling gourd, and it burst into a ball of fire.
The closest Fury died instantly as the shockwave tore threw him, but the other dropped severely injured, but alive. A bevy of throwing knives connected and the Fury died in screaming agony. The second to last Fury laid in a pool of vomit induced by darts that pin-cushioned his body.
Nort regained his senses and pulled away, running back into the fray, and Triled followed. The chieftain, the last living Fury, rose as a puff of air.
"I'll come back with more, and you will all pay!" The chieftain boomed as he tried to escape, but Nort thrust his hand into the air and gripped a solid leg. The rest of the chieftain solidified and fell.
Triled drew a dragon fire barbed sword and thrust it through the chieftain's chest. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he shouted, "That's for Timore, you son of a bitch!"
Nort let go before the dragon fire sword shattered, and Triled pulled out the blade as he followed through, rendering the chieftain's flank. The Fury convulsed in tight spasms before fading away.
A second team emerged from the woods handling a pack of dogs. The animals sniffed the ground, air, and nearby water. With no reaction from the dogs, the people of Timore's world rejoiced at the victory.
The news of Timore's death hit Nort bluntly although he hadn't screamed to the heavens or cried out sobbing. He numbed at learning another comrade and friend fell during the struggle to rid the world of the Furies. Guilt crept in because Nort finally understood why Timore pushed him over the asaghi's corpse. The reckless action saved his life at the cost of Timore's, but Nort couldn't see it as a fair trade. Nort might have been able to defeat the Furies with a touch, but the world needed Timore for its reconstruction. Timore understood business and compromise, even if he compared poorly to The Whitecoat.
Nort walked through Timore's family's compound. All of the forces that attacked the Furies survived except for Timore, a far better outcome than anyone could have expected, and the only time his allies experienced such an overwhelming victory. The rag-tag army had rummaged through the keep and surrounding buildings for food or valuables, but the Furies had returned almost everything to their world. A few days worth of supplies remained, and the returning fighters used everything before reaching the Crossroads.
Nort oversaw the cataloging and rationing of the food that remained in tunnels. Workers dragged barrels of jerky, dried vegetables and fruit, and seafood from ramps hidden behind sewer walls. The compound slowly filled with supplies as chattering workers offloaded the goods.
The workers spread rumors about Nort's role in killing seven Furies in a moment and incapacitating the rest. People also spoke about the effectiveness of the new weapons Ban and Triled acquired and the usefulness of dogs in sniffing out hidden Furies. Hope and excitement buzzed through the camp, despite the despondent feelings of Nort, Ban, and Triled. The juxtaposition weighed heavily on Nort, but he didn't share his thoughts with the others to avoid lowering their mood.
Nort occupied his mind by searching out hidden compartments with Huskie as the dog followed an invisible scent trail. Huskie had tagged along with Nort since he regrouped with the main forces. With all the time that Timore and Nort traveled, Huskie must have found the most comfort by moving along with his long time travel companion now that his master had died.
Huskie barked and trotted off to a run-down building that teetered on the brink of falling down as dry-rot ate away the foundation and supporting walls. A Fury might have damaged the house looking for a person, or possibly just experimented with destroying structures. The type of water accumulation needed to make a building decrepit couldn't have naturally occurred in the Crossroads. Huskie hesitantly walked in, sniffing floorboards as he zigzagged. He stopped near the room's edge, faced Nort, and barked.
Nort crossed into the house after testing the floorboards and inched toward Huskie, who sat impatiently wagging its tail and panting. Nort felt around floorboards until a section bent. Nort grabbed a plank and peeled it back. A half-dozen pots hid under the floorboards. Nort stood up, walked to the exit, and signaled for Huskie.
Outside of the house, Nort shouted for workers who leaned against a home. "Come here! We have another cache of pots!"
The workers entered the small house and pulled the pots from the hidden cubby, lining them along the road. Two contained grain, two fruit, and two held vegetables.
"Great work, Paladin! All of these little finds will help until we can get the farms and hunting grounds prepared!" A female worker assured Nort with a broad smile.
"The rumors say that Timore's family imported this tradition from the Creeping Ice." Another female worker mentioned as they cataloged the jars.
"Then it's another thing we owe Birn and Jara! How many times has that family saved the world?"
"I know. That makes it even sadder that they are all gone. I know we will remember them fondly, but that hardly feels like enough." The woman spoke with a conviction that assured Nort that the current generation desired to memorialize the shifters' contributions. However, people's fickle hearts changed with the breeze. Nort wondered if the next generations would appreciate Timore's family's sacrifices.
After weeks of restoration, Triled, Nort, Huskie, and Ban finally had enough time to hold a memorial service for Timore, who had been interred at his family's tomb. Mementos had been gathered from the family's compound for Birn, Jara, and Biporn, whose bodies remained in the Shift World where they had died while provisioning armies. Huskie walked around the tomb's entrance, sniffing the familiar scents of Timore's family. After a few moments, the dog just laid quietly.
"I know how you feel, boy, but we'll get the person responsible for this..." Nort bent to a knee and started ruffling the fur at the back of Huskie's neck.
"Responsible for what?" Ban hesitantly prodded Nort.
"The one who killed Korg, that Scorpion lady. Kill the new Furies that come as well. Someone already killed The Mandrake, but we'll get as many as we can... why are you giving me those looks?"
Triled held Ban's hand and slipped his arm around her lower back. "I think it might be time that we tell you everything that has happened. The Whitecoat's apprentice, Karp the Scorpion, didn't kill him. Someone else helped Jorn. That man was his apprentice, Timore the Mandrake."
Nort's mouth dropped, but Triled continued before he lost the nerve to finish. "Timore and his family will be remembered as heroes in this world, but they have sewn chaos in the Shift World. The repercussions of their actions are still being felt. They acquired weapons and food by selectively pillaging keeps and disposing of the lords that lived there. That means that even though the people didn't suffer like here, Timore's family created a power vacuum that's engulfing the world. The Scorpion is really only guilty of killing our brothers and sisters to stop her world from collapsing. You should give up on seeking some kind of revenge against her, she's your family after all."
Ban took over for Triled. "She's part of your family in my world. There's you, your mother, and Karp, and a newcomer too, named Lark. You haven't been seen in that world in far more than a year because we took you without your consent. It's time that you go back. Let their suffering end."
"How can we do that? I'm needed here to stop the Furies! They will come back again!" Nort angered at the thought of abandoning the world.
"We now know ways of dealing with the Furies that do not involve you. The dogs will help us patrol, and these weapons can confuse and kill the enemies. We may find ways to bring you back and forth sometimes, but please let us correct this wrong. Let us keep our deal with The Scorpion and bring you back home." Triled pushed open the crypt's stone door, walked inside, and pulled out the morning shield.
Triled walked to Nort and held up the shield. "It's time to go home, Nort the Morning Shield."
Thank you for reading. Please consider purchasing the full book. Book III has a special prologue summarizing the events of Book II from Karp's perspective and special Epilogues that shows more about the world of the Furies and the history of The Followers of The Mandrake.