Shift World Chapter 6
by Christopher W Gamsby
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Karp shifted back to the square and stood in her position before destroying the wall. She watched and waited to confirm what she was thinking. A white kite shield with an embedded sun smashed across the figure's face, and he flew backward. Karp's gamble paid off. Wili stood in place of the lordling and drew his sword. Karp spun to find her broken whip and ran. The Sunflower moved to block her path, but she slid a knife from her buckler and threw it at his face. He flinched, covered his head, and the blade bounced off his chainmail. Karp was long past by the time he had moved his hands down.
The Sunflower stepped in pursuit, but Wili bowled him over from behind. The Sunflower rebounded and swung at Wili. The two traded blows until the figure slashed Wili's back with his dragon fire sword. Wili stumbled forward and spun to keep both opponents in front of him. The figure hacked at Wili, but Wili blocked every slash with his shield. The figure tried stabbing through the shield's soft sunshine steel center, but the sword merely slid off, leaving a small scratch.
Karp reached the whip, picked up both halves, and then the weapon was whole again. Karp ran toward Wili faster than she had moved before. The Sunflower attacked Wili alongside the figure. Most blows bounced off the shield or landed on Wili's armor. Wili ineffectually swung his sword around, rarely connecting with his targets. The figure and The Sunflower slowed, and their sluggish attacks became even less effective. The figure tried one desperate gambit and put his full body into a downward swing that connected with Wili's shield. The dragon fire sword cracked up the center, and the figure stared incredulously at his blade.
The Sunflower stopped hacking mid-swing. He coughed up blood that now trickled from his mouth. He crept forward but started arcing down until he fell to the road. Fire trailed from his upper back, just left of his spine. The figure used the momentary confusion to grab Wili's arm, but nothing happened. Wili swung the shield at the figure, but the figure ducked the blow and ran off. The crowds that had gathered to watch the fight now scattered as the figure approached. Karp lost him in the masses and didn't want to pursue such a formidable opponent.
Karp walked over to The Sunflower's body. She had not only pierced his back, but she had also thrown the whip's blade with such force that it exited his chest. Using her whip's lash, She pulled her blade through his chest and out his back. Blood covered the edge, an uncomfortable sight for Karp since monsters didn't bleed. She walked over to The Sunflower's riding cloak and wiped the blade clean. She rolled and holstered the whip.Karp moved over to The Whitecoat's body and rolled it on its back. She gently removed his helm. A dried-out husk was all that remained of his face. Karp's stomach sank, but she had had over a year to accept this reality, so the confirmation gave her closure. Wili dropped to his knees near The Whitecoat and reached a shaking hand to his face.
˝i guess you're not used to death in this world.”
Wili looked up at her and then back down at the corpse. Karp walked to the store's entrance and retrieved Wili's book. Slart was arriving from the east, with an entourage of guards from The Whitecoat's compound. She panicked when she saw the dead bodies littering the village square. She cried when she saw Korg the Whitecoat and ran to Karp.
˝i told him to run; i'm sure he got away.”
Wili got up from The Whitecoat's body and walked over to Karp and Slart. Karp looked at him.
˝wili, thank you for saving me.”
˝Who's Wili? I'm Nort!”
Nort removed his helm, and even after aging ten years, he still looked more like Nort than like Wili.
˝you know...i didn't see that coming.”
˝See what coming?”
˝that you were wili. though when i think back on it, it's kind of obvious.”
˝Who is this Wili guy?”
˝here, this will explain everything.”
˝Ugh! A book? I don't want that.”
˝then again, the confusion is a little understandable.”
˝The inside is gibberish.”
˝if you try to read it for a while, it will come back to you.”
Slart stirred from her bed, opened her eyes, and sat up. Karp had moved Slart to her bedroom after she fainted and had set the guards to clearing the damage in the village square. Now Slart swung her legs out of bed and put her feet on the ground.
˝I uh had the weirdest dream. Nort was an adult, The Whitecoat was uh dead, and there were bodies in front of the store.”
Slart looked over at Nort and Karp.
˝well...do you remember that strange person from the shift world?”
A knock came from the downstairs door. Karp descended the stairs and returned with a bloodied messenger.
˝Ah...there's a...riot...at the compound...”
˝Right...one convoy leader...came back and...gathered all the people still at the compound...they started fighting about what to do...some wanted to take all the valuables, and some wanted to wait for you, Slart. I ran when the fighting started.”
˝We need to go!”
Slart stood up straight, one foot forward and pointed at the door. The four headed down the stairs. Slart called over the guards.
˝There's a riot at the compound; we need people to come with us!”
˝Things are bad, like really bad HERE. The fight in the town square was just the start. There are corpses piled in the town hall...”
That news stunned Slart.
˝O-ok. Five guards, come with us. The rest clean up here.”
Five guards stepped forward, and the group departed. The tent cities in the convoy staging areas were in a tizzy. People shouted laments about missing weapons and armor. Servants frantically searched for their lords and other servants amidst heralds calling out reports of death and dying. Many lords abandoned their property and valuables, seizing the opportunity to leave while they still could. They even wore leathers so that if they were robbed, the thieves wouldn't kill them for their armor.
The group entered The Whitecoat's compound through an open and unmanned pedestrian gate. According to the messenger, about twenty people had remained after Slart left with the guards. Half wanted to loot, and half felt loyal to The Whitecoat. After the fight broke out, the rioters raided the weapon cache in the barracks, and the loyalists fled to the warehouse and locked themselves inside. Karp's group was met by ten people carrying spears and banging on the warehouse door. The rioters stopped and faced Karp's group. Slart stepped forward.
˝Drop your weapons!”
A woman in the group rushed at Slart with a spear. Slart drew a knife from her pouch and threw it into the woman's shoulder. The woman’s advance halted when she dropped her spear and clutched her wound. Three more rioters stepped forward. Karp freed her whip, threw it forward, and shot the blade into the air, cutting one spear in two. She swung the weapon through the air, cut the heads off the other two spears, and caught the blade on the rebound. Another rioter stabbed at Nort, who disinterestedly grabbed the incoming spear and thrust the butt back into his attacker's face. The remaining rioters threw down their weapons and surrendered. The guards escorted them to the barracks and locked them in two rooms. Slart, Nort, Karp, and the messenger proceeded to the warehouse door.
˝This is Slart, the manager of the general store and Karp, The Whitecoat's apprentice. Open the warehouse door.”
The bar securing the warehouse door scraped, and the door crept open. Injured workers filed out, followed by a few uninjured workers.
˝What happened here?”
An older gentleman stepped forward.
˝Well, uh, one of them convoy bosses came here after you left. He gathered all us workers and said The Whitecoat's dead, the inn's destroyed, the general store's destroyed, and all the lords that supplied The Whitecoat was dead. He said w' all should talk about what to do after Korg's business crumbles. Sure 'nough the whole crowd was riled up, and a melee broke out. That convoy boss tried to calm everyone, but it was too late. Durn fool tells everyone we'll be starving in the streets come winter, but stay calm! Those traitors ransacked the barracks, so we ran to get weapons from the warehouse, but uh...”
A large hole had been blown in the side of the warehouse's weapons vault. Crates plugged a matching hole in a sidewall.
˝We couldn't do nothin but watch 'em ransack the manor. After they looted there, they came poundin' this door, and you came save us.”
Given the number of deaths of prestigious guests, there was never another Founder's Day Festival in the Village of the Traitor's Tavern. Eventually, the day of the incident was named the Last Festival. After several days of quelling the aftermath of the Last Festival, Karp, Nort, and Slart finally sat together for a meal and discussed what had happened. Slart carried two mugs of ale.
˝The next round for Karp the Scorpion!”
˝That's what the uh traders going through the store call you. They say, 'we heard The Scorpion that fought Jorn the Betrayer and The Mandrake works here.'”
Slart whipped her hand and made a swooshing sound.
˝mandrake? why mandrake? they aren't even supposed to be blue. they're supposed to be an ugly brown.”
˝I think it's because he looks like The uh Manta and is a herald of death. Man-ta, Man-drake, get it?”
˝yeah... i bet whoever thought of that thinks they're so clever.”
˝Do they say anything about me?”
˝Sure do! They say, 'that Morning Shield sure can take a beating'!!”
Nort put his head on the table, too depressed to look up. Karp and Slart patted his shoulders to comfort him. Nort's childish mannerisms clashed with his adult sound and appearance. A man walked by and felt the need to comment.
˝Some guys have all the luck!”
Karp pushed back her chair so that she could put her hands on both of Nort's shoulders. The man promptly tripped on Karp's chair and crashed into a table of men drinking and spilled all of their mugs. The group picked him up and hurled him out of the front door.
Karp just shrugged, sat in her chair, and pulled it closer to the table. Karp fingered her whip's handle while she thought about everything that had happened since the Last Festival. Karp and Nort had started wearing armor around town since they didn't know their enemies' identities or the number if enemies and didn't want to be ambushed.
˝It's been uh kind of tough for you with Korg gone, huh?”
˝i had a year to digest what happened, but you must still have a lot of feelings.”
˝Oh...yeah...for sure. Though I'm more in shock about what happened to Nort. I know they say kids grow up fast, but...”
Slart faked a big smile. Karp explained everything they had learned in the Shift World.
˝Ha! So Nort is called a scholar? It's weird how the same person could be so different... But uh why exactly is he older?”
˝well, we learned that if i shifted near him, he would follow me to this world, but he wouldn't have any memory of me. then i got to thinking, what if he was there when i shifted to find supplies? then i remembered the little lordling outside the store who wore armor similar to wili. it's hard to tell outright that it was him since his armor was so generic, so we decided that he'd try and memorize the words 'protect the woman.' you see, he could remember a small phrase when he shifted, but a scholar ages about five years for each word he remembers.
“this came with its own risks, though. if i was wrong and wili was never in our world, he'd still be an adolescent when we shifted back, but it would be worse if he were already middle-aged in our world because if he put on too many years, he'd be a little old man. i was betting that he was the lordling that was near the general store, and, fortunately, the gamble paid off.”
˝Uh, but weren’t you worried that he was just going to be some confused guy who didn’t know how to fight?”
Nort lifted his head and wiped around his eyes.
˝I’d have to admit that it was pretty confusing at first. One moment I was standing behind Karp, and the next moment, I was standing there in armor, and she’s telling me to run. From then on, I tried concentrating on shifting, but nothing happened until The Mandrake was getting ready to kill me and then suddenly I was taller, I felt much stronger, I was holding the shield, and the phrase 'protect the woman' was running through my mind, so I fought back.”
Nort cracked a little smile, proud to contribute.
˝well slart, that idea had occurred to me too, but there were two last things written about scholars i could take advantage of: one is, things that aren't natural to the world affect and are affected by a scholar, like something that did actually exist in the world, and two is, a shifter's powers don't affect scholars.
“in the shift world, all of the metals had the same effect on his seashell shield. so it seemed like everything worked like iron. there is no metal in this world, so we figured it must be as strong as wood or something, and given how the mandrake's sword broke on his shield, it seems we were right.”
˝What if, uh, they had aimed for exposed skin?”
Karp chuckled nervously.
˝good thing they didn't... as far as the powers go, one time a banshee shouted and knocked me off my feet. wili was standing next to me, but he was unaffected. he also got directly hit by an asaghi's fire and wasn't affected, so it seemed like our idea was right. it was a risk for me to get my whip, repair it, and kill the sunflower without them realizing their attacks were futile, but it worked out.”
˝I've been reading the journal, and it looks like I've had thirty-two lives. In those lives, it says nothing about someone being able to use powers in their home world, so I think they were down-shifters from another world.”
Nort seemed very proud of himself.
˝yeah, wili and i figured that out a while ago.”
Nort put his head on his arm and sobbed. Karp and Slart rubbed his shoulders and neck to comfort him again. A man walked by, the stench of booze following him.
˝How do I get in on that action?”
Slart reached over and flicked a steak knife sitting on the table. The man shrieked as the steak knife jutted from his foot. He tried hobbling away but fell onto a table of men drinking ale and spilled all their mugs.
The men grabbed him, dragged him to the front door, and hurled him out.
˝slart…no, never mind, he deserved it.”
˝So what do we do now? Pretend like none of this ever happened?”
˝we need more information.”
˝What about The Bog Djinn?”
˝that's just a legend.”
˝What if it's not? What if it's a three-hundred-year-old up-shifter, and just parts of the tale are exaggerated or wrong?”
˝Well...maybe...we could ask Trolt, one of Korg's OLD business partners. I mean, he's old, but more like ninety. We need to talk to him anyway if we want to keep the store open.”
˝good. we'll leave in a month. that will give us time to set things straight here. until then, we train every day!”
Nort gave a nervous smile.
One month later, Karp, Nort, and Slart visited the general store for supplies before leaving the Village of the Traitor's Tavern. An assistant manager was running the store until Slart returned, which wouldn't be too difficult a task because, without most of the supply chain being available, there was not much to manage.
˝Oh, Scorpion, there’s a package here for you.”
The assistant manager walked to the vault and returned with a small wooden box similar to the one that had housed the water dagger. Karp opened the box and was dumbfounded at the dragon fire dagger she found, accompanied by a little note: ˝You've grown a lot over the years, see you soon.”
˝Wow...looks like we're set now.”
Karp looked at Slart, who was grinning.
˝Who do you know who can give a gift like that? Can I meet them?”
˝i don't know. only korg had that kind of coin, and he's...”
After looking over the dagger for a few more minutes, Karp closed the box.
˝can you add a sheath to the order?”
The trio completed their purchases, packed enough food and supplies to last a few days, and Karp brought the remaining goods to her storehouse. When she finished, there was a water steel dagger on her left side, and the dragon fire dagger was attached to her whip. With preparations completed, Nort and Karp shifted into the store in large travel cloaks which hid their armor. Slart traveled only in leathers.
Slart, Nort, and Karp departed the village through the northern gate. They gave the blue and red gate one last look and headed north until dark. They made camp before entering the Rocky Valley. Karp, Nort, and Slart all spent the night wondering what waited for them up the road.