Shift World Chapter 5
by Christopher W Gamsby
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Dawn broke on the first morning of travel. A bolt on the door of a small shack scratched as it slid from the door jamb and snapped to a rest. Light filled the windowless building. Karp walked out, squinted, and tried to block the sun with her arm. Wili followed and was equally disoriented by the bright light. Karp reentered the shack after adjusting to the brightness, reached into her canvas bag, pulled out a handful of nuts and dried fruit, and threw them in her mouth. She washed down the food with a gulp of water from the hollow gourd.
The old shack was an abandoned guard post. A series of similar guard posts rested along a long-extinct highway that followed a mountain range. Each post sat approximately a day apart. Each building was built in a location with access to well water or a nearby stream. The shacks were ideal for traveling between ruins because they all locked and could store items. Karp left the shed carrying her staff, and Wili exited with his spear.
˝first thing every morning, we are training. today, we only have about an hour if we want to get to the next stop before dark.”
˝How will we know when an hour’s up?”
˝it’s actually quite easy, you just...”
Karp swept Wili’s legs with her staff, and he fell to the ground.
˝don’t do needless things... i mean, don’t ask needless questions.”
The Whitecoat had done the same thing and had given Karp the same message when she first started training, and she felt a little nostalgic. Wili groaned as he rose to his feet.
˝pick up the spear.”
Wili picked up the spear and held it gingerly. Karp knocked the spear from his hand with a quick downward strike.
˝grip it tightly.”
Wili picked it up and grasped it forcefully. Karp smashed his hand, and he dropped it again.
˝why would you just stand there and let me hit your hand?”
Wili picked up the spear again. Karp swung at the spear, and Wili moved it; she swung at his hand, and he moved it. Karp’s staff then connected with his spear. She turned to his other arm, and he withdrew the spear. Finally, she swung the staff and hit his shoulder. Wili dropped his weapon and clutched the spot the staff had impacted.
˝an opponent is going to adjust; you must too.”
Karp swung the staff at Wili’s right hand, at his shoulder, at his left hand, at his other shoulder, and finally connected with his left hand. He hissed in pain and dropped the spear.
˝pick it up.”
Karp conducted a series of shots aimed at his hands, shoulders, and chest but didn’t connect for several minutes. Wili smiled at his progress, and Karp belted him across the side of the helm.
˝you can die at ANY time! you get cocky for one second and you die!”
Karp’s hands shook until she realized who she was talking to, and then she felt the weight of her words. The two of them practiced until Karp looked at the sky.
Karp let Wili nurse his bleeding hands and aching shoulders, He swayed as though his head rang, and his armor weighing on his body made him move slowly. Karp took a handful of food from her bag, quickly ate it, took a sip of water, and they departed for the next station.
Karp and Wili had departed Karp’s storehouse a week before and had spent all their spare time training. Now they unbarred the door to a safe house on the edge of a settlement of ruins and left the house carrying practice weapons. Karp swung her staff at Wili’s hands, shoulders, chest, and head. Every attempt came from a predictable angle with a typical trajectory. Wili parried, blocked, or dodged for almost a full hour. Karp raised her staff over her head, and Wili lifted his spear to block. Karp then brought the bottom up and smashed him in the abs. Wili dropped to his knees, gasping for air.
˝you’re improving at an incredible rate. it took me a month to do as well as you. korg said it takes most people six months to do that well. i think you might be able to go in the keep with me.”
Wili tried to sit up straight, but his abs clenched, and he balled up again.
˝don’t worry. anything we face in there will be predictable; you should easily be able to protect yourself.”
˝that’s the attitude.”
Wili pushed himself to his feet using his spear.
˝what do you remember about this world?”
˝Just what I told you a week ago.”
˝a week ago? oh right, so you don’t remember anything. come over here.”
Karp and Wili walked to the other side of the safe house and looked into a small settlement. There was a two-story stone keep with a small tower on the west side surrounded by approximately a dozen cozy clay houses like the ones found near Karp’s storehouse. The keep’s clay bricks were cracked along their edges, and the wind blew away clay slivers. Sand was piled around the building’s sides. Images of daisies were pressed in the doorway’s central arch.
˝we’re located somewhere in the arid desert. probably along the southern mountains, judging by the sun and mountains. the shift world is geographically similar to our world, with small differences, like an oasis that exists in the shift world doesn’t exist in our world. that kind of stuff. buildings are similar in the shift world, but in some ways vastly different. for example, houses in the arid desert in our world look almost identical to these clay ones, but in our world, only the greatest of lords have a keep made of stone. most settlements in the shift world have at least one stone ruin.”
˝Why is that?”
˝i don’t know. our world has only had metal for five hundred years, and it’s impossible to work stone without it. maybe some ancient civilization that always had metal built a lot of stone structures. before the monsters came and killed everyone.”
˝you heard them last night, didn’t you? shuffling around outside the house.”
˝Yeah, but how do you know they are monsters?”
Karp was losing patience with Wili’s denial and naivety.
˝well...i’ve faced two types of monsters. skeletons that look like people, or rather they look like a person’s skeleton with skin draped over it. there is nothing in their eyes. no pity, no fear, no hatred. they just sluggishly attack you. if they have a weapon, they use that. if not, they claw at you.”
Wili looked bothered by Karp’s description.
˝i’ve also faced devils. they are kind of like skeletons except they are fast, vicious, and fight with a degree of skill. they have pure hatred in their eyes. they’ll kill you on sight.”
˝Are there more than those two?”
˝i’ve never seen them before, but korg told me about banshees, asaghi, and dragons. banshees are as fierce, smart, and strong as devils, but they tend not to use weapons. instead, they shout, and when they do, any monster that hears it will come running. asaghi are naturally reinforced by armor and use a much wider range of weapons. dragons and asaghi can fly and shoot fire. the massive dragon's claws can rip apart stone and steel with ease. water steel can damage them a little, but dragon fire steel, water dragon steel, or demon steel are the only ways to kill them.”
˝What are we going to do if we face a dragon?”
˝according to korg, dragons and asaghi fly and shoot fire at night, so we should have seen one last night if they were here.”
Karp winced every time she mentioned The Whitecoat, but then she used a sudden realization as a distraction.
˝have you tried using any powers?”
˝yeah. repair armor, change its shape, make a shield, shoot a shockwave.”
˝No? I don’t think I can do that.”
˝take your spear and put the butt into the sand. ok. now lower it down, put the spear tip between your hands. now concentrate on thinking about it changing. do your palms feel warm? no? well, try to force a warm feeling...”
Wili tried everything she asked, but nothing happened.
˝ok. let’s try something else.”
Karp went into the house and removed two chairs. She placed the first one in the sand a little distance from the home and brought the second toward Wili. Karp took a few steps away from Wili, slipped off her gauntlet, straightened her arm, pointed her palm toward the chair, and closed her eyes. She concentrated on her palm, which glowed, and a shockwave shot from her hand. The shockwave knocked the chair into the air, blew it into two dozen pieces, and created a twenty-foot semicircular divot in the sand. Karp winced and swayed weakly but caught herself before she fell. She deposited the second chair in the twenty-foot groove.
˝you try now.”
Wili raised his hand and concentrated. A few minutes later, when nothing had happened, he lowered his hand.
˝it’s ok... i don’t think we should use powers unless we absolutely have to. stick close to me. we’ll clear one floor at a time and then gather all the valuables, armor, and weapons.”
˝If we have power, why shouldn’t we use it?”
˝i’m not going to have powers in the real fight. i have to win without them.”
Wili didn’t understand but nodded anyway. The main keep's central section was two stories tall, and the exterior had small rectangular windows. A tower rose another story in the western corner. Karp opened the door and entered. The windows were boarded up, and little light shone in the hall. Karp and Wili’s eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. Karp stepped off a stoop into the main room and froze at the sound of a snap. She tensed as her foot slid. She had crushed the femur of a corpse that had likely sat in the hall for hundreds of years. Dried leather surrounded the fleshless bones.
Karp opened a door on the north side of the hall. Bodies were stacked waist-high on the floor of a kitchen. Pots, pans, knives, and different types of metal valuables littered the room, but nothing useful for combat. Wili opened the door to the southern room, and a skeleton sat in a chair. Wili crept behind it, and its head slowly turned, creaked, fell off the body, and bounced on the ground. Karp removed a helm from the skull, slid gloves off the body, and handed them to Wili.
˝oh please, every piece of armor came from a dead person, one way or the other.”
After clearing the first floor, Karp and Wili headed to the second floor. The keep’s living quarters were scattered around the second floor. Karp opened the door closest to the stairs. A child’s skeleton rested on a small bed. The skeleton’s arms were crossed over its chest and grasping a doll. Decomposed flowers ringed the skull. Karp searched the room for valuables. Dust encrusted all of the room’s furniture except for a chair that sat on the bed’s side facing the body. Karp and Wili searched the toy chests and wardrobes but left the room after failing to find any valuables.
Another door led to a room with a large empty bed made for two. Dry, rotted leathers hung in the room’s corner. A small pouch rested on the dresser near the end of the bed. Karp opened the bag and dropped a small iron coin into her hand. An engraving of a person’s head decorated the iron coin’s face. Karp wondered at the strange picture since coins in the regular world were based on weight, so engravings seemed like a waste. Karp and Wili cleared the second floor and ascended the stairs in the western tower.
Karp noticed a chest in the rear of a landing, removed her right glove, and headed for the treasure. Wili reacted too slowly to stop the devil that was bearing down on Karp’s flank. Karp reflexively released a barrier from her palm that sent the devil flying and sent her sliding into the other wall. Wili stepped between the devil and Karp, and the devil bounced back and rushed Wili. The devil’s claws wildly struck Wili’s chest and arms, lightly damaging his iron armor. Karp then ambushed the devil while it waylaid Wili, and she stabbed it through the side of its head. The devil dropped dead, and Karp recovered her dagger. She didn't relax again until they cleared the room.
˝training-wise, this trip was a failure.”
˝What do you mean? We just learned devils can set ambushes.”
Karp wondered if Wili’s words were wise or ignorant. She continued to the chest and grabbed the lock securing the lid, melting it away. The chest popped open to reveal a steel breastplate and a sunshine steel helm. Karp lifted the helm and cupped it in her hands. The faceplate melted away, and the sunshine steel redistributed to create an open-faced helmet. Karp then picked up the plate armor and slowly changed it to a chainmail hauberk. Karp exchanged Wili’s iron hauberk for the steel hauberk. As she examined the iron hauberk, she was struck with amazement to find that the devil’s attack had only broken a few links.
Karp and Wili collected the keep’s remaining valuables and brought them back to the safe house. At the safe house, Karp resized a pair of steel greaves to fit Wili. The two had finished clearing the keep with enough time to spar a few hours before shutting the safe house door for the night.