Shift World Chapter 8
by Christopher W Gamsby
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Karp and Nort returned to the Village of the Traitor’s Tavern in four days by wearing leathers and running from sunup to sundown. After sunset each day, they erected a tent by the side of the road and slept for a few hours before walking the path by moonlight. Karp wanted to move the whole time, but Nort couldn’t handle the stress. Even if Wili slept in the Shift World, Nort would still tire. They had no choice but to sleep in their present world.
They arrived at the village square in the early afternoon. Karp walked toward the charred remains of the razed village hall and shifted into armor. Ash-covered workers removed burnt wood and clay debris from the pile of rubble.
˝We’ve found another.”
The workers backed away from the rubble, and others numbly approached with a leather sheet. They laid the material over a small section and worked it around a six-foot oblong object. They carried the blanket and bundle to a barracks-size tent in the rear field.
Karp turned to the Traitor’s Tavern Inn. One side of the inn’s main door was missing. The remaining hinges bent and stretched. Smashed tables dotted the floor inside. Barmen removed splintered kegs from the walls, and serving girls cleaned blood stains from wooden plank flooring. Karp and Nort approached one of the young women cleaning the floor.
˝what happened here?”
The woman balked at Karp’s words and then cleaned faster.
˝A few nights ago, someone came, burned the village hall, and killed every witness. They broke in here and...and...”
The girl stopped for a moment to wipe away tears.
˝so there are no witnesses?”
˝Just one. Some graybeard from the village hall. He died shortly after talking to the manager of the store, Slart.”
Karp and Nort both sunk in relief at hearing the news that Slart was alright. The young woman noticed their sudden change and looked up from her task.
The girl jumped up, threw her arms around Nort, and cried.
˝I was so worried... Slart told me about the attacks, and then this happened.”
Nort didn’t know how to handle the sudden outpour of emotion.
˝I was worried too, Malis. I was worried too. I heard everyone near the village square died, and we couldn’t find out anything more, so we rushed back.”
˝If it hadn’t been a slow night, I’d be dead too! The graybeards were meeting to talk about saving the festival, and merchants haven’t really come back since the last festival. Workers haven’t gotten paid much, so they weren’t here either.”
Karp put her hand on Nort. ˝i’m going to check out the general store. remember what i said a few days ago...” Nort turned a light red.
Karp exited through the alley and entered the side door of the general store. The display fixtures sat up in their original positions, but most were emptied. The attackers had smashed clay jars lining the wall and broken down the vault door. Small stone chips littered the ground, and deep gouges crisscrossed the door’s face. The vault was empty.
˝They even uh took The Whitecoat and The Sunflower’s bodies.”
Karp embraced Slart.
˝i was so worried about you.”
˝Luck was on my side.”
Karp let go, and Slart winked.
˝all the merchandise is either broken, stolen, or soiled. what’s lucky?”
˝Well, uh, I originally brought the girl from the Village of the Bog Djinn to my apartment here, but all the people moving around made her really nervous. So, I moved her to a guest room at The Whitecoat’s manor.”
Slart pointed toward The Whitecoat’s compound.
˝so you were with her when all this happened?”
˝Yeah. Crazy, huh? First night in years I’m in the village but didn’t spend the night here.”
˝one of the serving girls said that you talked to a survivor?”
˝One of the graybeards was near the wreckage with a huge gash over his stomach. I talked to him, but he wasn’t making ANY sense!”
˝what did he say?”
˝Demons came to avenge one of their own.”
˝demons? do you think he meant down-shifters? i’d bet people that can shoot fireballs, shock waves, and move quickly probably seem like demons to someone who’s delirious from blood loss.”
˝Yeah, um maybe. Why did they take the bodies, though?”
˝where were the bodies?”
˝In caskets in the cemetery waiting to be buried.”
˝maybe they took the bodies looking for korg’s armor. maybe since they are from a different world, bodies have some special meaning for them.”
Slart pouted and shrugged.
˝I mean people have sentiment here too, remember? Otherwise, why haven’t you started wearing Korg’s old armor?”
˝well...i...uh... just didn’t want the attention, that’s all.”
Slart giggled, smiled, placed her hand on Karp’s cheek, and gave her a couple of light slaps.
˝You’re so uh cute when you get all upset.”
Karp growled lowly out of the side of her mouth.
˝so i talked to trolt.”
˝hmm...what did he say?”
˝that you would run the store, and i would run the warehouse.”
˝That’s great! I’m glad he took my suggestion.”
˝your suggestion? you weren’t even there.”
˝It’s what I suggested in the letter I sent him after we decided to go.”
˝i was wondering how he knew we were coming.”
˝Yeah, I figured he’d go for it when he sent you that dagger!”
Karp put her hand over her face.
˝you knew who sent the dagger and why? the whole time?”
˝Yeah...but I wanted to surprise you!”
Karp put both hands over her face and started shaking her head.
˝So... Lark started talking.”
A week later, Karp, Slart, Nort, and Lark, the little girl from the Village of the Bog Djinn, ate dinner at the tavern. For the first time since Nort and Karp had known her, the little girl wore leathers that weren’t in tatters; she also had had a haircut and a bath. She was still emaciated but no longer looked like she might die. Every move the girl made during dinner was slow and deliberate, almost like she was afraid that if she moved too quickly, her meal would run away. Karp had already finished by the girl’s second bite.
˝lark, so you’re fourteen?”
She was timid and withdrawn. She seemed to speak in fear of her listener becoming angry and hurting her.
˝so you were thirteen when when your village was destroyed?”
˝I was fourteen when this all started.”
Nort smiled, but his attempt to cheer her up only caused her to shrink away from his voice. Lark became fidgety and distraught with the tavern’s growing crowd.
˝Why don’t you go to uh my apartment, and I’ll come to get you in a little, OK?”
Lark ran over to the side exit and left.
˝do you think she’ll ever be normal again?”
˝I don’t know... She’s been through a lot.”
˝has she told you about what happened?”
˝Bits and uh pieces. She said that one day a man came to talk to The Manta and they started fighting. The man grabbed The Manta, but he broke free and ran into the woods. Some of the villagers followed. There were explosions, and most of the villagers who were in town went into the streets. Devils flooded the town and started killing everyone. Some of the houses caught fire, and the fires spread. During all the chaos, The Manta returned, but he was much worse for the wear. The devils attacked him, and he killed them with that dragon fire sword. It was too late though; all the other villagers were dead, or they had locked themselves in the warehouse. The next day, The Sunflower and a few of his lackeys showed up. The Manta took off his armor so that his friends could treat his wounds, and Lark says that it wasn’t The Manta!”
Slart took her finger and drew a line down her chest and stomach to symbolize the wound Lark described.
˝I think so...anyway, so after The Mandrake put his armor back on, they turned to the warehouse. They banged on the door and shouted. After a minute, The Sunflower blew the door open, and inside the warehouse, skeletons started tearing people apart.”
Slart snarled, bared her teeth, and swiped her hands with spread fingers, imitating a clawing wolf.
˝Well, the group then went in and cleared out the skeletons.”
˝but why did they do all that?”
˝According to Lark, there was another big explosion in the warehouse, and one of the men with The Sunflower walked out with someone wearing white armor.”
˝the man who attacked us?”
˝Probably. There’s more... The group started breaking into the crates at the warehouse and bringing things to one of the other people. He would touch the goods, and they’d disappear. Soon they did the same thing with anything they could salvage from the houses.”
˝what kind of stuff?”
˝Metals and food mostly.”
˝Why did only the one guy take anything?”
Slart and Karp looked at him.
˝Well, I mean at least The Sunflower and The Mandrake were shifters too, so why didn’t they take anything?”
˝i don’t know. maybe the other guy was just in a better position in the upper world. like maybe he was in a warehouse or lived near a place that could sell the merchandise.”
˝What were they all doing there anyway?”
˝since it was a hub of cross-world trade, they probably lived nearby. slart, how did the girl survive all this?”
˝She hid in her house until it caught on fire, and then she lay in the mud behind some bushes. That’s where she saw The Mandrake kill all the devils and loot the town.”
˝so she lay in the mud for two days?”
˝More like a week, according to her.”
˝they didn’t find her while they were getting rid of the bodies?”
˝She says a much larger group came a few weeks later and did that.”
˝why didn’t she join them?”
˝She said The Mandrake was with them, so she hid.”
Karp sighed because she didn’t want to say what she thought, but she forced out the words anyway.
˝given what just happened, i don’t think they are going to leave us alone, and they clearly don’t mind killing to get what they want.”
˝What are you getting at?”
˝we need to find that man in white, or the mandrake. they are the only two we know by sight, and we need better gear, weapons, and armor if we are going to face them. so, we are going to spend a week gathering supplies, training, and resting. then we are going to the provincial capital in the shift world.”
One week later, Karp was arranging Korg’s armor on a table in her storehouse in the Shift World. Wili stood by quietly watching, contemplating everything Karp explained a few moments ago . Karp picked up the seashell steel hauberk and slid it on. The sleeves were too long, the chest squeezed too tight, and it hung too low. Karp struggled to remove the hauberk and placed it on the table. She removed strips from the sleeves and lower section with a glowing hand and expanded the chest section by integrating the pieces into the hauberk’s chainmail. A few further tweaks and it fit comfortably. She did the same for the leggings.
Karp slid on Korg’s fingertip-less gloves, and they might have worked, but she didn’t want any exposed skin while fighting enemies who could kill with a touch. So, she removed the gloves’ little seashell steel plates and fastened them to a full pair of gloves. Karp also transferred the boots’ metal plates. She could barely breathe while wearing the cuirass, and the shoulder flaps made swinging her arms uncomfortable, so she thinned the shoulder flaps and redistributed the metal into the chest. The stomach and back areas were shrunken until it was possible to maintain a full range of motion while wearing both the cuirass and hauberk. She also molded the sides high enough to wear her belt with an attached whip and dagger.
Karp placed her hand over the right breast and embossed a little scorpion symbol. She turned the cuirass over and stared at the blank canvas, thinking about the best way to honor her master. Finally, she brought forth a symbol of an open coat that spanned the width of her shoulder blades. Karp dawned the cuirass, her buckler, and The Whitecoat’s helmet.
She exited the storehouse and practiced basic fighting techniques. Wearing gloves instead of gauntlets gave her more precise control of her whip, and the leather boots and seashell steel leggings made her footwork twice as fast. In a seashell steel cuirass and hauberk, her upper body feints felt more nuanced and fluid than when she wore sunshine steel.
Compared to The Whitecoat’s white cloth under-armor, Karp’s brown leather mixed with the seashell steel made her arms and legs look dingy. The cuirass and helmet’s matte white enamel blended into the desert more than a polished coating, but the armor still stood out because of the uniform color.
˝Does this mean I get your old armor?”
˝why would i give that to you? it would do you no better than iron and costs much more. i’m just going to keep it here as a spare.”
Karp took Korg’s old boots off the counter and handed them to Wili.
˝try these on.”
The old boots fit, and he handed them back to Karp. She removed an iron kettle from a cabinet and used the material to reform the boot’s plates.
˝wear these from now on.”
˝we’re trying a new kind of training. we’re going to sneak around whatever we can.”
˝Huh? Anything we can sneak around we could probably kill just as easy. Anything we can’t sneak around...well, we might want to get a jump on those.”
˝remember what i told you about these creatures? well, learning how to avoid them might give me insight into how to avoid regular people. the real danger i face is those shifters back in my world. i need to avoid them if i’m going to survive. learning from these creatures will help with that.”
˝Why boots, though?”
˝we’ll get trapped if you are clanking from room to room.”
˝They won’t notice your bright white armor?”
˝i’ll think of something for that...”
Wili sighed in resignation.
˝OK, so what’s the plan?”
˝the provincial capital is three months northeast of where that asaghi was.”
Karp unfolded Wili’s hand-drawn map and circled an area northeast of the asaghi’s dungeon.
˝this is probably our destination. on the way there, we are going to return any goods stored at the safe houses to my world. once we get to the asaghi’s keep, we are going to follow whatever road travels northeast. we will stop at dungeons we find along the way and try to explore them without being discovered.”
˝No training along the way this time?”
˝for now, every step will be training until we can walk side by side and are so silent that we forget the other person is there.”
˝What are we going to do for food? If we travel that far from the mountains, will we have access to water?”
˝we’ll carry a couple days’ worth of food and water on us, but when we run out, i’ll just shift back to my world and get more. any other questions? no? good. we’ll leave tomorrow.”