Shift World Chapter 8
by Christopher W Gamsby
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Karp and Wili walked so awkwardly and unsurely on the first day of training that they needed to run for an hour just to reach the first safe house before sunset. Even though they departed at first light on the second day, they again rushed in the last hours of daytime to make the second safe house by nightfall. They reached the asaghi’s castle a month later. After walking silently in the sand, their first step onto the stone floor rang through the hallways. For a week, they searched the dungeon for important books to give The Bog Djinn, and they finally retrieved both a tome describing the local history and the asaghi’s journal. The journal chronicled the life of the lord Morgoth. It ominously ended with the description of bandits coming in his direction.
Karp and Wili spent another week traveling northeast on an offshoot of the main highway because the main road moved east. The pair spent two nights in a tent. Their tensions were high, but nothing approached or made a sound. Five days into this northeast travel, they arrived at a little village on the offshoot road. They set up a safe house in an empty home with an intact roof and front door. Creatures stirred at night, but there were no signs in the skies of an asaghi or dragon.
They spent two days exploring an unremarkable village containing a dozen smaller clay buildings surrounding a two-story stone dungeon. The little town was arranged like a way station in Karp’s world. The stone dungeon had most likely been an inn, tavern, and general store that sold supplies to travelers.
Two months after setting out from her storehouse, Karp and Wili stood before a dungeon they’d never explored before and were poised to test their new training. They crept into the front door and waited for their eyes to adjust. Three doors lined the hall, and a staircase led to the second floor. The first door was directly to the left of the main entrance. The second door sat next to a large hearth in the center of the left-hand wall. The third door was near a counter in the rear of the right wall. The staircase in the center of the back branched both left and right. Luckily, the three doors already sat ajar. A single skeleton wandered the rear of the main hall. Karp drew her dagger and headed for the door on her immediate left.
She stepped off the stoop, placing the ball of her foot in contact with the stone floor. She walked on the balls of her feet to let the leather soles of her boots absorb the shock. The skeleton stood in the room’s center, staring at an empty table. Karp entered the doorway and halted outside a storeroom only slightly larger than a closet. Wire brushes, wooden buckets, and other cleaning supplies littered the floor and shelves. Karp crept out of the room after assessing that nothing valuable was stocked in the closet. She stopped mid-stride when the skeleton wandered outside the doorway.
The skeleton stared straight at Karp but didn’t seem to regard her any more than it did a chair or bench. Karp sidestepped to a nearby table with a small clay cup sitting on top. The skeleton watched her the whole time but made no effort to approach, let alone attack. Karp reached down, lifted the goblet with her free hand, and tossed it into the empty room. The creature followed the cup with its eyes and pounced at the crashing sound. The skeleton clawed at the clay fragments, and Karp shut the door and secured it with a chair. Something upstairs moved at the commotion but settled down after the noise stopped.
The door near the hearth led to a small food preparation room. Iron knives sat on a scratched-up wooden board. Smashed jars and dried animal excrement were scattered about the shelves. Karp removed the blades and placed them on a table in the main hall. Wooden shutters covered a window on an outside wall. Karp decided to sate the curiosity that had been bothering her for a long time. She tapped her toe on the floor, and the creature on the second story moved. She picked up the knives, moved to the window, and threw a knife at the wall outside the second door. The knife’s edge connected with a ringing clank and the footfalls on the second floor moved toward the staircase.
She hurled two more knives at the wall. A devil barreled down the stairs and jerked to a stop outside the door. It initially examined the knives lying on the ground but then gazed around the hall. Karp raised her foot to tap her toe, but the devil fixated on her and sprinted across the dining hall. It was less than ten feet from Karp when Karp tore down the shutter and allowed the outside light to flood the devil’s face. It screamed and covered its eyes. Karp leaped forward and buried the heel of her boot into the devil’s face, and it flew back and fell through a table. Karp had knocked the devil unconscious, but it was still alive. Wili hurried into the hall at the sound of the table breaking. Karp waved him over.
˝help me with this.”
The skeleton in the closet banged on the door but couldn’t break through.
˝Are you insane?”
˝what? no. i actually learned several important things.”
Karp and Wili threw the devil into the small prep room.
They barricaded the door.
˝well, one, skeletons attack things that make noise. if you are quiet, they ignore you. two, devils are drawn to sound but attack on sight. three, direct sunlight blinds and disorients them, and four, they can be knocked out.”
˝Still, wouldn’t it just be easier to kill them?”
˝shhh...we should finish up before that devil wakes up.”
They cleared the last room on the first floor, which turned out to be the general store’s storage room. There were empty jars and jars with dirt. Cracked, hardened leather remained on shelves, but there wasn’t a single piece of metal in the shop. There were no skeletons or devils left in any of the rooms on the second floor. The only notable finds were a set of steel armor, a steel mace, and a small seashell steel shield. Wili picked up the mace and started swinging it, while Karp used the shield to make a buckler.
˝This will do nicely.”
Karp just put her finger on her lips and glared at him. She returned the steel armor and Wili’s steel sword to her world. Then, they left the inn and headed to the safe house.
One week later, Karp and Wili arrived at the ruins of a small two-story castle with a tower in the northeast corner. The castle had around twice the area of a standard dungeon and had a large open courtyard in the center too. Several wells dotted the opening with small berry-yielding bushes mixed in with plants growing at the base. Gourd-producing vines grew near the courtyard walls. Flowers bloomed with a vibrant orange hue that, at a distance, blended into the desert’s sand.
During generations of deterioration, sand had invaded the courtyard and covered most of the objects. Periodically, there were long wooden rectangular tabletops suspended by stone pillars. Benches encircled the tables. A single large chair broke the line of seats along one of the table’s long sides.
Karp and Wili snuck through the dungeon’s main door into an antechamber with long hallways of doors stretching from the sides. Karp and Wili entered a large hall with several rows of chairs and tables.
Two skeletons sat on chairs at the side of the room. Karp and Wili quietly walked to a large black slate with white cubes laid at the base. Papers were strewn about the floor. Karp picked up a piece of paper, but the decay of time had made it illegible. Karp rose back up to standing, and both skeletons stared at her and Wili. Karp skulked to the exit and didn’t take a breath until she left.
Karp and Wili casually strolled to a bend in the eastern hallway; none of the doors before that corner were open. Karp peeked out from around the corner and saw three devils ambling from room to room. Karp raised her hand to stop Wili from turning the corner. When the three devils had cleared the hall, Karp motioned for Wili to run. They couldn’t run as quietly as they could walk and still be silent enough not to alert the devils. Karp slowed when she passed a room that a devil had entered and walked by without a sound. Then, Karp ran by what she thought was an empty room, but a fourth devil jumped out, missed her, and smashed into the wall with a loud crash.
Even more devils flooded the hall after that. Karp had passed three already, but two more blocked her way. Karp slid under the grasp of one devil, popped up, and ran behind another that couldn’t turn fast enough to catch her. That devil reached for Karp and was taking a step when Wili shield-butted it to the floor.
They turned the corner, reached the entrance of the northern tower, and jumped into the stairwell. Karp closed the eastern door, and Wili rushed to the other side and secured the western access. Karp ascended to the second floor, and Wili continued to the third floor. On the second floor, two rooms sat on opposite flanks of an open landing. A skeleton sat near the far wall staring into stone. Karp moved to the westernmost section before dealing with the skeleton.
A few jars of powder and some dried gourds sat on a scratched-up cutting board. Karp picked up a gourd, and it fit snugly in her palm. She returned the gourd to the table and picked up a small sharpened steel spiral. She returned to the main room and moved behind the monster. Karp threw the piece of metal into the western room, and the monster turned and rose. It lurched toward the door but stopped at the empty space.
The skeleton turned and gazed at Karp. The look lingered, and its decayed face twisted into a mocking scowl. Then, a shriek knocked Karp to the ground. She writhed as the shrieking continued. Wili ran down the stairs as the banshee approached. The screaming banshee slowly crept toward the now completely incapacitated Karp. Wili drew his mace and hurried to save his friend. The creature stopped screaming and pounced, and Karp took the momentary respite to thrust up her hands and catch the banshee’s wrists. The banshee kicked, snarled, and lowered its head to bite. Failing to finish its prey, it shrieked again, but by this time, Wili had brought his mace across its head, killing the monster in one shot. Karp threw aside the lifeless body.
˝why did you do that?”
˝You’re kidding, right? If I didn’t do that, you’d be dead!”
˝i could have figured something out.”
˝No, you couldn’t! Sometimes you just have to kill or be killed.”
˝but these things are innocent. they didn’t want this! they are just kind of defending themselves.”
˝That doesn’t matter!”
Devils and skeletons piled against the first floor’s doors as Karp and Wili fought. The doors broke open, and devils filed up the stairs. Wili slammed the stairwell door and barricaded it with furniture.
˝Great...what do we do now?”
˝let’s look around; maybe there is another way out.”
Karp returned to the little room where she had thrown the piece of metal, and Wili went to the other room. A small scroll sat next to about a half dozen sealed gourds. Karp read the manuscript, scooped up the vegetables, and waved at Wili to meet her in the main room.
˝did you find anything?”
˝Nothing important, you?”
Karp held up a gourd.
˝Great! Now we have something to snack on.”
˝according to this scroll, it’s called a pop-gourd. if you throw it hard enough to break it, it explodes with a flash of light.”
˝What, like with powers or something?”
˝no, you take a small lightning gourd, drill through the stem, hollow out the inside and fill it with crushed light raven feathers, flour, and breathing powder.”
˝yeah, it’s a vegetable that gives a little shock when something bites into it. the whitecoat planted them to protect his starry night bushes from rabbits.”
˝So we are gardening? Those aren’t rabbits if you haven’t noticed.”
Wili was still clearly perturbed for having been scolded instead of thanked for saving Karp’s life.
˝according to the scroll, when the gourd breaks, the powders ignite, and the gourd pops with a bright flash. we can probably blind them.”
˝Aren’t these like three hundred years old? How do we even know if they’ll…”
Karp threw a gourd toward the wall, and Wili mindlessly followed it with his eyes. The gourd hit, the skin cracked, and it ripped apart with a tearing sound. A blinding light shot forth, which forced Karp and Wili to cover their eyes and lose balance. Wili stumbled into a table and then crashed to the floor. Karp fell to her knees, dizzy and dry-heaving for several minutes.
˝Well, they work.”
Now the creatures pounded the door more violently. Wili walked over and cleared away some of the furniture. The door cracked open, and an arm came through. Wili then let the door fly open. Karp launched a gourd at the incoming monsters’ feet, and she and Wili covered their eyes. The tool burst into flames and blinded the creatures. They fell over each other, tripped over furniture, and ran through the room wildly swinging their fists and kicking. When the last of the monsters entered, Wili and Karp ran out, slammed the door shut, and barricaded it with furniture from the third floor. Wili and Karp spent a week searching the building, but they didn’t find any other tools as useful as the pop-gourd. Karp harvested the lightning gourds growing in the courtyard and returned them to her world. She also found a large jar of crushed light raven feathers, but there was otherwise nothing else of value in the whole building.
Six months later, Karp and Wili stood before the provincial palace. The provincial capital was of a scale that Karp had never seen before. Several stone dungeons lay nestled between clay houses that sprawled out in all directions from the sides of a large lake. Countless stores and shops serviced many lords and peasants. Shifters had pillaged all the valuables in obvious targets, and now all that remained of these ancient shifters were burnt doors, shattered walls, and monsters. At night, puffs of fire filled the sky and occasional devils roamed the streets. Karp and Wili spent several months moving between safe houses and exploring emptied houses, shops, and dungeons. Devils and skeletons hid in these empty buildings and became unwanted surprises. Karp and Wili found all types of metal tools, weapons, and armor, but nothing stronger than Karp’s seashell steel.
The provincial palace was built on a small island just off the western bank of a lake. A stone bridge led to the stronghold. A wooden drawbridge controlled access to the stone bridge, and a barracks held access to the drawbridge. Karp used a rowboat to cross a narrow channel and docked on a little pier attached to the barracks. The main door was already opened when she arrived, and Karp entered.
Karp silently ran through the antechamber, dodging skeletons and confused devils. She learned that if she obscured herself with a large hooded cloak, then devils wouldn’t recognize her as a person. A banshee noticed her approaching a wooden staircase leading to a platform and reacted to the momentary sight of her face. Karp threw a pop-gourd at the banshee and set it off with her whip’s blade. The banshee clutched its eyes and thrashed. Karp ran to the top of the stairs and kicked a lever with her boot heel. Chains outside the barracks made a clinking sound. Karp ran to a boarded window and, without breaking stride, jumped through the shutters and grabbed a pillar. She slid down just as the bridge fell open. The drawbridge crashed to the road as Karp dropped to the deck where Wili waited. Bells rang to signal the opening drawbridge.
Karp and Wili crossed the lowered drawbridge and entered the palace courtyard. In stark contrast to most holds in the region with their scarce vegetation, weeds, vegetables, and flowers sprouted everywhere in the provincial yard. The heart of the building was three stories tall, and the central tower loomed another four stories above that. The keep’s door had been destroyed. Karp and Wili snuck past devils loitering in the antechamber and closed and latched the doors to the main hall. Several large stone benches lined the walls, and a pair of stairwells occupied the rear.
The left stairwell ascended, and the right stairway descended. The room’s cracked floor looked dangerous but felt stable to Wili and Karp as they crossed. A rumbling clattered down the stairs. Wili jumped in between Karp and an asaghi that emerged from the stairwell and parried the asaghi’s whip. Karp rolled and disappeared under benches on the hall’s side. The asaghi lashed Wili’s shield, but to its surprise, there was no damage. Wili drew his mace, but the asaghi’s whip wrapped around its handle. The monster pulled with its weight, and the mace flew from Wili’s hand. The weapon landed near the descending stairs.
The asaghi whipped at Wili’s feet until the stone crumbled and collapsed, and Wili fell into the basement. The asaghi walked to the edge of the hole, looked down, and shot fire into the dark abyss. Karp took this opportunity to sneak up behind the asaghi. She unholstered her whip, jumped on the asaghi’s back, and wrapped the strap around its neck. The asaghi pulled its head back and shot fire into the ceiling. It flailed, but wasn’t flexible enough to reach Karp. It stopped swinging and charged backward toward the wall between the stairwells. Wili rushed up the stairs and reached for his mace as he breached the staircase. He smashed the asaghi in the chest just before it reached the wall. Blood shot from its mouth, and it fell forward onto its knees. Karp released the center portion of the whip and stabbed the blade through the asaghi’s back and into its heart. It dropped to the floor.
˝Not going to save this one?”
Even after all these months, Wili still felt that sparing the creatures was a waste of time.
˝i don’t think we could have let this one live.”
˝it’s too powerful.”
Karp took a dragon fire whip from the asaghi’s hand.
Karp switched the dragon fire blade from her whip onto the asaghi’s dragon fire weapon. The new weapon was lighter, faster, more maneuverable, and stronger. Karp put the new whip in her holder and took her old whip back to her world.
˝how did you survive that fall? at least uninjured.”
˝I fell into some kind of stable and landed in a pile of grass or something.”
˝you seem to get lucky pretty often.”
˝Hmm... I exist in a world of monsters where I couldn’t survive without the supplies you bring from your world and almost die constantly really for no reason. I live a charmed life.”
Karp always thought of Wili and Nort as the same person but never considered that Wili had never known anything but training, fighting, and running for his life. Karp was now starting to understand his increasing despondency, but since she didn’t know what to say, she said nothing.
They searched the rest of the dungeon and found no other signs of life. Almost every item left in the keep was broken, battered, and burnt. Partial skeletons wore tattered, degraded armor.
There were no creatures or metal left in the tower. The tower’s stairwell continued past the seventh floor, and Karp opened the hatch at the top, and a surge of sunlight blinded her. A few moments later, Karp and Wili walked onto the roof. Wili drew his shield and jumped between Karp and a stirring beast. A bolt of fire shot at Wili and forked around his blocking shield. The two smaller flames hit the retaining wall on top of the tower and blew holes. Karp got close to Wili to avoid the fire. The dragon stopped breathing fire in order to inhale. Karp peeked out from behind Wili's shield and threw a pop-gourd. The dragon bit the incoming gourd and reared in surprise at the sudden burst and flash of light. Karp used that moment to shoot the whip forward and was able to lodge the blade in the dragon’s eye as the enraged beast fruitlessly blew fire into the air. The dragon collapsed in momentary confusion, and a few moments later, its head fell to the floor. Karp and Wili didn’t relax, though, until the dragon hadn’t stirred for a few minutes. Karp walked to the corpse, removed her dagger, and inspected the slain dragon.
The body thickened at the long, thin neck’s base but still looked sleek, and its legs were skinny compared to the rest of it. Dark purple scales ran down its back and over a long sweeping tail. Red and purple scales ran from its head to the base of its wings. The dragon’s wings tucked in at its sides. Karp stretched out a wing, and at full length, it must have been thirty feet from tip to shoulder. Something was stuck into the wing’s base. Karp examined the trunk and pulled free a water dragon steel dagger.
˝wow...that thing was injured. can you imagine if it had been at full strength?”
˝We’d probably have to run away...”
˝i guess dragons aren’t shy of sunlight like the other things.”
˝Doesn’t seem that way.”
˝don’t you find something weird about the dragon?”
˝Like, how did it get that dagger in it?”
˝that’s a good question, but i mean, look at those purple scales and look at its neck, head, and legs. when the pop-gourd went off, it reared on its hind legs. does it remind you of anything?”
˝Like a horse?”
Karp attached the dagger to her whip. Karp shifted out of the world and back again, and the dragon fire dagger was sheathed on her left side.
˝i think we’ll finish up here, return to my storehouse, and then go back to find the man in white...”
Wili seemed indifferent to the announcement.