Shift World I Book IV Chapter 2
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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Triled's eyes only opened a crack as if he couldn't muster the energy to spread apart the puffy dark skin surrounding the sockets. The wagon jostled on a divot, which seemed to wake him a little further.
"are you going to say something?" Karp interjected as the man looked around the wagon's interior.
"Were we attacked?" Triled mumbled as though he fought the urge to fall back asleep, and Karp wasn't sure if her knock-out dart or that strange energy he emitted had drained his spirits.
"attacked? why do you say that?" Triled weakly pointed to a hastily repaired slash in the wagon's white canopy. "oh, that? i cut a hole to throw out the driver."
The answer only seemed to confuse Triled even further. "Why does my shoulder hurt?"
"i had to sedate you."
"You? Me?" Triled looked around, probably trying to make sense of the scene. Ban sat next to him, holding on to his hand. Karp sat in the far corner with several darts lined up next to her. A different woman coiled in the wagon's other corner gripping a dagger and glaring at him. Dragon fire plates barely covered her lower chest, biceps, and thighs. She didn't bother with any other protection.
Ban tapped his shoulder when his gaze lingered too long, and the conversation resumed. "Why's Baln here?"
"she's here to kill you." Karp's frank demeanor made her words more incredulous. Triled's jaw dropped, and he stared at Baln.
"Geez, Karp. If you put it like that, he's gonna think I'm some kind of enemy, or even a monster or whatever." Baln wasn't helping her case by staring at him unwaveringly while clutching the dagger, but that single-minded determination and willingness to act made her the perfect choice for the job. Rong had hesitantly volunteered, but no one believed him capable of killing someone crying out in pain, no matter how much of a danger they represented.
"it seems you don't remember anything from last night. i'll be frank, we're worried you're dangerous. you woke up after some kind of night terror, screaming and emitting energy. ban pulled you from the stupor, some, but i ended up knocking you out. we've separated from the rest of the convoy, and only shifters are here now. understand?"
"Yes and no. I had a nightmare yesterday, but it ended, and I woke up here, now?"
"i heard from slart i acted similarly. sometimes at night, i'd thrash and scream. it's a result of what the demon's wrath did to us. for me, i endangered myself. for you, you're a danger to all of us."
"shifter powers twist the life of non-shifters. it makes them monsters. that stuff leaking out of you could do the same thing. do you want a whole village or city blighted like the crossroads in our shift world?"
Karp explained last night's scene to Triled, who released periodic, exasperated sighs and gasps.
"Has this happened before?" Triled begged Ban for help.
"Nightmares have, but nothing like the light. I don't know how that could've happened..."
"i have an idea, but it's mostly a guess. i think you're healed enough that your shifter powers are coming back stronger but still too unstable to control them. in other words, you'll be a danger for the time being but should get better... eventually. for now, rest up."
Triled frowned and turned on his side to face Ban. They quietly chatted while Karp and Baln watched over him.
Triled had remained calm ever since freaking out and leaking some kind of energy several days ago. He stabilized enough to continue lessons. Karp stood in a field behind the nearby convoy staging area, preparing to demonstrate another weapon.
"watch this closely." Karp removed a powder from a jar at her hip and threw a fine dusting. A moment later, she sprinkled in another powder, and the air sparked until Karp disappeared behind Ban and Triled's reflection. Of course, in Karp's perspective, Triled and Ban disappeared, replaced by herself. "this technique has many limitations but could save your life. it can hide your presence to any unaware person or distort your appearance to those who know what's happening."
"Distort your presence?"
"yes. your enemies will still know you're behind the reflection but not where. assuming they're launching projectiles, that could reduce the chance that some hit you rather significantly. though it's a last resort."
"Why not use it all the time?"
"because you also lose sight of the opponent. it's a fair trade when grossly outnumbered, but not when the attacker understands your motions." Karp reached out two sets of bowls. "for now, you're baking!"
Both ban and Triled gave a confused sigh, and Karp chuckled.
"i have flour in one bowl and salt in another. the salt has approximately the same composition as the shimmerfish compound, and the flour is like the starfire fruit reagent. the actual reagents are too expensive to waste practicing. so, you'll train with these and eventually try it for real."
Ban picked up a pinch of salt and launched it, but the powder only dropped in an awkward clump instead of fine grains. Triled picked up the flour and threw. Even though it finely spread in the air, he began coughing after breathing in the dust. The duo practiced until they were covered in gritty white powder.
"good. now, clean yourselves off before getting in the wagons. i don't want salt grinding in my skin while we travel."
Ban looked to Triled, slightly distressed. "Where we going to clean off?"
Triled let out a soft 'hmph' as he contemplated an answer, and Karp laughed. A bucket appeared in her hand, and she dumped the contents over Ban, who yelped in surprise. A new bucket appeared, and Karp threw it on a fleeing Triled. A final bucket appeared, which Karp placed on the ground. She rinsed some fine powder residue off her glove.
"use this to get the fine powder out of your hair and skin. then, change into clean clothing in the upper-world. make sure to leave your own clothes in this world to dry, or you'll run out sooner than you expect."
Karp escorted Triled and Ban to a wagon that acted as the convoy's scout. A man sat and scratched behind the ears of a lean dog with golden fur. The dog panted and indifferently watched the trio approach.
A member of Drom the Troupe Leader's retinue rose and greeted the travelers, "Good evening, Scorpion, are these the ones you mean to train?"
Ban scrunched up her nose and cocked her head. "Train in what?"
"In how to raise dogs to sniff out danger, of course... right?" The dog trainer looked to Karp for a little clarification, and a voice from the wagon called out.
"Don't mind them. Knowing Karp, she probably didn't tell 'em what she's thinking. Communication, Karp! You need to work on communication!" Drom hunched over as he hung out of the wagon's back flaps.
"well, you just beat me to it, is all. i thought that the trainer could answer any questions better than me, so i didn't bring it up until now."
The trainer laughed at her flimsy excuse for being inconsiderate. With two clicks of the man's tongue, the golden dog shot up and joined his side with every trace of friendliness gone. "If you need to train a dog to detect the unseen, first you need a command to show them it's time to work. Dogs are like people in that worrying all the time is bad for their health. Plus they usually can't take the strain of always being on guard. That's why I let Wheat Stalker know it's time with a couple of clicks. It's not something I'd likely do on accident."
Ban spoke up at the first natural break in his explanation. "What are you trying to show us? What is the dog trained to do?"
"these dogs smell out ambushes. they let the caravan know if people are waiting on the side of the road. in your world, you should use them to smell out furies. understand?"
"No. Not really. I thought you were teaching us weapons to kill the Furies. We currently know their location."
"for now... i don't expect this lesson to help you rescue nort, but what about after you clear out this pack? more will eventually show up. are you just going to hope they're not like the ones there now? still dreaming that this is all one misunderstanding?"
Karp shot a glare to Triled, who shied away. As far as the followers of The Mandrake were concerned, fundamentally, a misunderstanding caused the murders and ensuing instability. Shifters from Triled's world tried to minimize the damage they caused, but the Furies seemed bent on destroying the upper-world. Karp didn't willingly make a distinction between the two groups of shifters.
"I see. So, after this clicking, what happens?" Ban broke the awkward silence.
"You bring the dog to the area you want to investigate. So over here, for example." The dog tamer motioned for Wheat Stalker to investigate a series of nearby bushes. It lowered its head and returned standing without barking. The man took out a small piece of jerky, and the dog perked up. "It's important that you give treats when it comes back with a correct response. That means don't give it treats if it barks and nothing's there or if there's something there and it doesn't respond. Usually, you'll just give him a treat only once in a while when he comes back with nothing."
The dog tamer led Wheat Stalker around the field's edge, and the dog never signaled it found anyone. After finishing a loop around the bushes, the dog tamer handed Wheat Stalker one more treat before clicking his tongue twice. The canine yawned, stretching out his face, drawing back his ears, and grinning. The dog jumped into the wagon and laid down.
"So starting..." Wheat Stalker's head bumped the man's arm, causing a momentary hesitation to pet behind the animal's ear. "So starting tomorrow, which one of you will be joining the forward carriage to learn how to actually train the puppies?"
Every other day, Ban and Triled swapped turns escorting the caravan's vanguard to observe the dog trainers' work conditioning their faithful servants to detect hidden enemies. While Triled escorted the front, Ban and Karp sat in the wagon's back. Having picked up supplies during the travel, various crates of vegetables filled the wagon's nooks and crannies. Typically, those goods could have been stored in the Shift World and returned when needed. That type of strategy ran its own risks. If the shifter who transported the goods died, the group lost access to the stores. Even in a more mundane sense, if cooks wanted to prepare dinner, and the crates sat in the Shift World with the transporter nowhere around, dinner would be delayed.
Karp traveled to her storehouse to prepare materials for Ban to practice constructing darts. She also sometimes stopped at the storehouse to train, nap, and convert the building into a proper dwelling. Despite being unsure if it would make a difference, Karp anxiously wanted to show Wili that he could have some of the finer things in the Shift World.
Karp started thinking about life in her world. "how has he been?"
A bored-looking Ban stopped fidgeting with a dart. "You see how he is, so I guess you already know."
"sometimes he seems like a regular person, and sometimes he awakens screaming in the middle of the night. i don't know him very well, though. is the normal person i see the triled you remember?" Karp understood that Ban knew the importance of making the weapons, but a person could only work on the same project for so long without the tedium taking a toll. In this case, it led to Ban giving snippy answers.
Ban lowered her head in shame. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have given such a flippant response. The short answer's no; the long answer is sort-of. He's like a very muted version of himself. I see his kindness trying to come through, but it's buried in self-restraint."
"i'm sorry for bringing this up, but i just want to understand how slart felt..."
"These are almost incomparable situations." Ban scooted next to Karp and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "When I saw you that time in the Bamboo Coast, how long was it since you escaped from the Aviary?"
"four months? it's difficult for me to remember lengths of time."
Ban frowned. "It does amaze me how people in this world have no sense of time, but moving on. Triled's been out less than half the time and acts much better off than you did. Any mention of the Royal Guard or Tark, and your face twisted into this murderous scowl... Even when you fought The Narwhal's forces, you looked more like one of her crazed tamed, laughing each time you killed an enemy."
"you saw all that?" Karp's jaw dropped.
Ban shook her head. "Some of the people you rescued told The Wyvern when she ousted the rest of The Demon's Wrath's forces. Though, I obviously saw you when you thought about the princess. Oh, don't pout like that.
"There's a legend in Triled's world about a shaman who controlled peoples' minds. In the end, someone who knew the shaman's methods bested them. Knowing its effects beforehand weakened the powers. In that sense, Triled was far more protected than you."
Ban's attempt to cheer-up Karp ended up making her feel worse. "so, i was even worse..." Karp's pouting probably tarnished her image as such a serious woman.
"I don't want to sound dismissive, but do you really think that Slart could be so easily shaken?"
"i've been too afraid to ask. i got this stupid idea in my head that i'd save the world, but i only came back deformed! i lost her son! i started a civil war! how could she not?" Ban squeezed Karp a little tighter, and slow tears ran down her cheeks.
"Not even you should hold all this in! It'll eat you away until there's nothing left... From the time I spent at The Bog Djinn's, I can tell you she feels more than a little responsible herself. I think she's afraid you hate her. You two really are two peas in a pod.
"I should correct you on something, though. You did save this world, but not at the Royal Citadel, at the Last Festival. If The Sunflower lived, he probably would've destroyed this world in retribution for the Furies destroying ours. The Demon's Wrath started this war, not you, and you caught him and put an end to his schemes! What happened to your body is also not your fault! Each of these wounds came from your compassion. It'll take time, but I think you'll come to realize that."
The group rode within two days of the Royal Port and the end of the wagon's journey. Triled assisted the vanguard with rooting out hidden brigands and Royal Guard, and Ban constructed darts with the parts that Triled made the day before. She became so proficient that she assembled the pieces Triled spent the entire last day, creating in an hour. With the extra time, Ban exercised by jogging along with the carriages, lifting crates to strength train, or doing mild stretches and calisthenics in the wagon's limited open space.
The wagon slowed and stopped. Karp jumped out of the back and looked around the other curious travelers who similarly left their covered wagons. Karp listened for a moment, and a bell sounded in the direction of the vanguard wagon. After shifting into her Scorpion armor and waiting for Ban to don hers, Karp bolted for the lead wagon. Ban and a trail of fighters in armor ranging from ones as grand as Tark's royal demon steel armor to an apprentice in Drom's Troupe who wore leather and iron.
At the head of the wagon, Triled dragged one of the dog trainers behind the wooden structure. The man scowled while examining an arrow that punctured his lower shin. Triled pulled out a water steel knife, clipped off the arrowhead, and pulled the shaft free. The man screamed as blood pulsed from the open wound, and Triled thrust his hand over the hole in a panic. The hand faintly glowed.
"TRILED! CALM DOWN!" Karp's shout surprised The Wolf, and he caught himself, lifting his hand from the leg. The hole looked smaller than the group expected, and the blood flow slowed considerably. A field medic arrived and inspected the man's wound. The doctor calmly fished a bottle from a leather satchel and poured what looked like pure alcohol on the wound. The dog trainer winced, hissed, and then calmed.
"There's no major artery or vein damage. That blood must have just pooled around the arrow shaft, and all came out when it was pulled. Your life's not in danger, but relax for the next few days." The dog tamer nodded, and the rest of the gathered warriors seemed relieved as well.
"How were you accosted?" Tark inquiring about the incident reminded everyone that some danger still lurked just off the road.
"Wheat Stalker barked at someone in the bushes, and before we could respond, an arrow shot out at him but hit me instead. Whoever shot me fled in the confusion."
"I've formulated a stratagem!" Tark started to express an idea, but Karp interrupted her train of thought.
"wait! if it's alright with you, i'd like to take triled and ban to track the enemy and use their new gear."
"Our lack of intelligence worries me. Three against unknown numbers may spell disaster."
"someone like the coral snake could help since she works with subterfuge, but i won't be able to see how much they've learned if an entire army just attacks."
"I don't mind showing the rookies around." Baln tapped the handle of one of her knives.
"no, just stay back and protect our rear flank."
"Volvet, get out here!" Drom the Troupe Leader spoke, and a young apprentice wearing leather with iron plates stepped forward, clearly intimidated by the older fighters wearing named armor. "He may not look like much, but he grew up tracking game. He'll lead you to the enemy. Don't participate in the fighting, got it?"
"Yes, sir." The boy crossed his arm over his chest, extended his arm in greeting, and bowed toward the group he now joined. Karp only frowned, and the others didn't return the greeting when she failed to set an example.
"i'm glad to have you with us, but cut that out. we now live in a world where someone can kill you with a touch that salute's going to fall out of favor..."
The boy puckered his lips, and Karp guessed that he practiced his greeting to not embarrass himself, and then that happened. Karp signaled for a handler to bring over Wheat Stalker, and an attendant came with the dog on a leash. They used a restraint since a dog running based on its own whims would become a liability if it alerted the enemy about their presence. Karp handed the leash to Triled and looked over him and Ban. Darts fed into specially made belts rested on their left sides, and pouches held throwing knives on the right. Ban wore her long dagger, and Triled carried a bastard sword.
"good. don't bother with the whip right now. you need more practice before facing an enemy that wants to kill you. i'll use a pop-gourd if we need one. we don't need rookies blinding the whole group. triled, you take the lead with wheat stalker, and volvet will follow. listen to where he tells you to go. understood?"
When Ban and Triled nodded, and Volvet signaled his readiness. Karp motioned for Triled, and the group skulked from behind the wagons and plunged into the nearby bushes. The group's full armor gave a great measure of protection, and snipers blindly firing into bushes were unlikely to connect with a weak point.
Volvet whispered as they advanced, "Left. Right. Straight. Right. Left." After each change in direction, Wheat Stalker shot its head up, sniffed, and turned back down. The group continued on between bushes and through the thick overgrowth. Wheat Stalker balked, and Triled motioned for the group to halt. Ban and Volvet lowered to more completely hide in the brush, and Karp turned to watch the rear before squatting. She pulled a throwing knife from her buckler to react to any emerging threats. Ban followed her lead and protected the left flank.
"volvet, move to the center!" Karp's tone turned harsher when he hesitated. "what are you going to do, bleed on them to death if you get shot? you have no ranged attacks or armor; get between us."
The rebuke sent the boy creeping to the center. Although Karp felt slightly guilty about her harsh treatment, she wanted to avoid remorse caused by his death. The three fighters closed together while they waited for Wheat Stalker to decide on the enemy's location. The dog finally turned back to the direction they came, but a little cockeyed, which is why they missed the snipers.
"that's weird... how did we miss them?"
"We didn't really miss them," Volvet explained, "they positioned themselves upwind. Stalker didn't get their scent because it blew away from us, but now that we passed them, he can smell it."
Karp hadn't thought about the wind's direction. Her ignorance wasn't surprising since she lacked experience with tracking dogs. So much for her image as a capable leader. Triled looped back with Stalker, and the other three trackers filed out to preserve their established order. Within another few moments, Triled signaled for the group to stop and waved for Karp to move forward. She halted next to Triled and watched a pair of archers laying on their stomachs and spying down on the caravan.
Although not an arduous trek, the forest actually moved from the road on a shallow hill. The snipers laid across a boulder looking down onto the street through a gap in the trees. Karp had expected the ambushers to wear the striped leather and red helmets of the Royal Envoys. Instead, they wore well-used and tattered leathers. Despite the poor appearance, Karp probably would have killed them on the spot if they approached the convoy with even a brief hint of aggression.
Although wearing old, tattered, and dusty clothing, their skin was spotless. A noble's guards or soldiers always seemed to underestimate how dirty farmers got while tilling a field. While working from sunrise to sunset, they hardly had time to wash at the river every day. If they washed up using a well and leather swatch, they'd still end up leaving streaked smudges. The current assassins had been disturbingly lazy when making their disguises. Before relaying a plan, Karp noticed that Stalker even pointed away from the snipers and down the hill.
Karp didn't like the idea that the trained dog would ignore the people in front of its face. The actions only made sense if a bigger threat lingered out of sight nearby. With that in mind, Karp formulated a new plan and relayed it to the group. Ban sneaked further uphill while Karp and Triled looped around to set an ambush of their own.
Karp and Triled waited behind a pair of oak trees. The moments ticked on, and just as Karp wondered if Ban forgot her job, four darts flew from a bush and connected with the laying men. Arrows shot from downhill hit the bush where the darts had flown from. A thud sounded before the projectiles collided with anything solid, which relieved Karp because that mean Ban ducked in time. After a grunt from one guard and a wincing hiss from the other, both men passed out. Their friends withdrew from the forest and approached the laying bodies.
"Do you think they're dead?"
"Shut up and watch out." The first man stopped with a soft huff.
Four archers in total joined the two unconscious men, and Karp reflected on the best strategy. She initially assumed one or two waited, but simply hurling knives might be too dangerous with so many foes. The plan had to form quickly out of fear that Ban would flee after the trap failed to spring. A low growl started from the groups' right.
"take out a pair of knives," Karp spoke lowly as she watched the men approach the side of the opening. Two took point while a third stood in the middle, and one fell back to provide backup. "take out the one in the back, first. try to hit him in the throat and then the back." Karp hoped if a knife first punctured his neck, he couldn't scream and alert the others. If Triled missed with the first knife, at least the second should down the archer.
Triled hurled the blade at the man's neck and quickly followed up with a second throw. The first knife started flying for his neck, but the man unexpectedly moved, and it clipped his shoulder instead. The man yelped before the second blade punctured his back, and he fell to the ground coughing. Karp threw a set of knives of her own at the closest archer, and he dropped with a pair of blades puncturing his heart.
The remaining archers turned toward their fallen comrades. The moment they notched arrows, a growling Wheat Stalker leaped from the bushes and pounced on the right archer. His shot flew wildly into the air, and the last remaining enemy flailed about, unsure what to do. In his confusion, he must have forgotten about Ban because she jumped up from behind the bush and launched her daggers into his chest.
With everyone unconscious or dead except for the person fighting with Wheat Stalker, the group emerged from the woods. Volvet pulled out his knife and plunged it for the ambusher struggling with the dog. With a snide smirk, the man released one hand to grab the boy's wrist and stopped the blow. To his surprise, only one arm couldn't control Wheat Stalker's thrashing, and the dog finished his life with cruel bites to the neck.
Karp assessed the results with a cold affect considering many people just died.
two prisoners. four dead. ban performed admirably: seven throws and six hits. triled handled the dog well but needs to work on his aim. choking when it mattered will get someone killed. even the tracker did well. still a far way from keeping up with the furies, though.
"ok. we just need to make sure there are no other attackers nearby. then, we can call it a day..."
Karp and the convoy stopped at an unnamed village one day's travel away from the Royal Ports. Generally, a town only received a name if it had historical significance like the Traitor's Tavern or a notable feature like the Wyvern's Cove. This village resembled a smaller version of the Village of the Lion's Gate, where Nort and Karp stopped on the way to Village of the Grain Fort. If the Village of the Lion's Gate weren't named for the gate, letting people know they reached an offshoot road, it wouldn't have been named at all.
Both the Village of the Lion's Gate and this town only had a two-stall convoy staging area, an inn, and a general store. The caravan stayed in the staging areas, with most of the travelers resting at the inn. Guards rotated in and out of field duty, but overall the convoy workers' spirits lifted at having a bed instead of a hardwood wagon.
Karp got permission from a local leader to use an abandoned house at the edge of town. The previous owners were most likely forcibly conscripted by the Royal Envoys or might have been victims of the followers of The Mandrake. Although possible, Karp doubted they willing left.
Karp, Ban, and Triled entered the house and looked around the unimpressive structure. Dust covered an unembellished table and chairs. Empty cabinets with webs nestled across their corners hung over rifled-through dressers. Someone had even taken the bed.
"this will be perfect." Karp nodded, but Triled and Ban eyed her incredulously. "it's almost time for you to return to your world and face down the furies. first, we'll need to make a plan and then prepare."
Brooms and dusters appeared in Karp's hand, and she handed one of each to Ban and Triled before retrieving her own. "ok. let's talk and clean. what? why should we clean in silence and then waste our time talking?"
Ban and Triled looked at each other and then returned to the eccentric woman. "I guess that makes sense..." Ban spoke with a plastic smile, but Karp didn't let that bother her.
"after this room's clean, i'm going to bring in all of the gear you created while we traveled down the trade route. there's a lot."
Ban nodded while clearing out a city of cobwebs infested by large mother spiders and scurrying babies.
"then, you're going to spend the next couple of weeks training the members of drom's troupe on how to throw knives and darts."
"What?" Triled wore his surprise on his sleeve, along with splotches of dust and dirt from sweeping.
"unless you plan on taking out the entirety of the furies yourself, you'll only have one day, two at most, to teach the people of your world how to use the darts and knives. if you practice teaching the people here first, you'll know how your students will fumble and fail. figuring that out right away could be the difference between people that hit half of their throws and people that couldn't hit a yeti in a cage."
"Hmm... makes sense," Triled spoke between light coughs.
"after you teach your backup, the next step'll be to rescue nort. you already know where he's located?"
"More or less." Ban chimed in after fleeing from a rat's nest hidden behind a pantry door. She drew a knife while stalking back and continued to explain. "He was taken outside of a keep surrounded by a moat. Most likely, he's being held there. The Paladin destroys wood and metal with a touch. They must be keeping him in the stone room."
"ok. i can see that. i forgot that the upper-world didn't even have hardwood before the whitecoat came. i wonder what type of material that stuff's acting like."
"Huh? His power isn't just the ability to destroy stuff he touches?"
"no... it's a little vague sounding, but according to wili's book, scholars affect and are affected by things unnatural to the world like something that naturally is in the world. it isn't just that they destroy stuff. that's why nort would hurt his hand touching a fire fury. it's like touching fire. here, metal seems to work like hardwood. a soft stone maybe, i guess."
"Oh. So it's not like The Paladin canceled out powers or destroyed shifters. The powers just affect him like something else? A fireball might feel like a spray of mist? A shockwave is a slight breeze? Fire breath is like someone coughing on him?"
"yes. the furies die at his touch because a person's body can't occupy the same space as the dirt and rocks. so, when their body melds with rocks and pebbles, it dies violently. back to the task at hand. do you think you can sneak in there alone, ban?"
Ban jumped away from a hissing possum that hid in the floorboards. "Me? Probably. I think if I snuck at night, I could get by..."
"great. i'll also show you some tricks on how to use the mirror powder to make you harder to spot. plus, i'll give you a blast-gourd if you have to blow down a wall to get to him. it should be a last resort, though. ideally, if you shifted near him..."
Karp often misunderstood people's exact feelings, but she could tell that Ban had no intentions of bringing Nort back to her world before dealing with the Furies. Karp sighed. "whatever you do, don't use those on people in armor. that's probably the cruelest fate you can leave for someone."
Ban had seen how coldly The Scorpion had dealt with the snipers and the followers of The Mandrake, and Karp wondered if the young woman found her sentiment surprising.
"if you need the blast-gourd to rescue nort, expect to have all of the furies following you out of the keep. for that reason, keep your forces waiting in the woods nearby and lead the enemy into an ambush. that might be your best shot outside of quietly leaving with him, of course."
The trio continued cleaning as they reflected on the roles they needed to fill.
Karp stood with Triled in the back of the small house watching Ban. Bowls of mirror powder components sat next to blast-gourds and pop-gourds on a table in front of Ban. Occasionally, she'd pinch powders that disappeared from her hand. The infiltration seemed to be going according to Karp's plan, and she didn't want to interrupt Ban's concentration to ask for updates. After taking reagents a few times, Ban reached for a blast-gourd, but instead of picking it up, Ban faced Karp.
"I got to Nort, but he's saying some strange things. He claims to understand the Furies."
"is that surprising? we use the same language between our worlds, and according to trolt, the shift world uses the same language. so, they must too."
"I see why you'd think that, but he says they speak something else. Something he couldn't understand at first, but now mostly picked up on. Does that make sense to you? After only a few days?"
"maybe. scholars pick up skills quickly. he's had many lifetimes' worth of experiences learning languages. if he already knew one similar to theirs then..."
"I guess... he also says something about being able to cause Furies to collapse near him. Does that sound familiar?"
"collapse? how do you mean?"
"He claims, though I don't really know what he means, that a Fury tried to kill him, and then, the world slowed down, and the Fury collapsed... does that sound like a power he has?"
Karp scowled at the painful memory. "nort once almost killed me because of that. he was trying to learn how to shift. when he tried, he'd go to our shift world and drag me along with him. wili, nort from that world, was getting crushed by a falling wall. so, he'd reflexively shot us back to my world. since nort had no idea it happened, he just kept trying to shift. soon, we pendulumed back and forth. after a few minutes, it looked like i was seizing on the store's floor, but he only looked a little tired.
"i guess this means that in the furies' world, he's in some kind of mortal danger. you could use that to your advantage, but it's incredibly risky..."