I have a headache, and I feel sick. It’s probably that damn dagger. Ugh. I can’t believe what I did to that man. I mean yeah, okay, human and male, not the best combination, but still – I can only think of one man I’d willingly do that to – and this guy wasn’t him.
We’d finished the fight, Nera and Rifus had controlled themselves nicely and we had three mages and five of the soldiers unconscious and awaiting our interrogation. Okay, my interrogation. Tanc woke one of the men and took up his place behind him, ready to make a grab in case he went for me. As he always does. He’s really not that bad – for a human male. I still had the black poniard in my hand, Rifus had given it back to me after checking it for magical auras.
“You know the drill. I ask the questions and you answer them,” I said. No response.
“Okay, let me try and actual question. Where were you going?” Nothing.
“Where did the other mages go?” No response.
“What’s in the box?” Nothing. I hate these fanatics, I really do. It’s impossible to get anything out of them. My hands tightened into fists in frustration and I felt the hilt of the poniard in my right hand. It was obviously important and Rifus had confirmed it was magical, though not what it did exactly. It was worth a try.
I stepped forwards, brandishing the weapon, I glared and lowered my voice,
“You will start giving me some answers, or-” I never finished the sentence. He flung himself forwards onto the damn poniard! Before Tanc could grab him or I could pull away he’d stuck himself with it. He stared up at me, his eyes boring into mine. They were full of madness.
“Damn.” I swore, carefully pulling the poniard from his side. As much as I wouldn’t weep for such as these, I also didn’t want them and their valuable information skewering themselves!
“I don’t think they’re going to talk,” I admitted ruefully.
“It’s always the same,” Nera grumbled. “These guys never want to talk. It’s starting to piss me off.”
“Me too,” I agreed with a grim smile. “Time to try the next stage I think.”
“Which guy?” Tanc asked, looking over all our options.
“Same one I think,” I replied. “No point in waking up more than we need.” I could see Lester shaking his head out of the corner of my eye. “It won’t hurt him my Lord, it’ll just make him – tractable.” He grimaced, apparently still not impressed. I shrugged and turned away from him. If he still has a problem with how we do business after all this time well – that’s his problem, not mine. Right now, my problem was gasping on his knees in front of me.
I took my time with this spell, I didn’t want to chance it failing. I spoke the commands carefully and wove my hands in the accompanying gestures with all the accuracy my dancer’s training could afford. Finally I reached down and stroked my hand down the side of his face, gently, as a lover would. I managed to hide how much it disgusted me from my friends.
I had him. I knew it the minute I released the spell. His mind was my own – completely dominated.
He screamed. I stared in disbelief – I hadn’t done anything! He screamed again and clutched at his head. His whole body jerked to a stiff, jerking halt and he threw back his head, still screaming. With a high-pitched wail he tipped over backwards and blood exploded from his eyes, his nose, his ears. Then it was all over. He was dead.
Tanc let out a choked cry of disgust and pulled away from the blood. Rifus and Nera both let loose startled cries and Lester hurried forwards. I stared dumbfounded, my hands falling open and my mouth not far behind.
“But! But, I didn’t do anything!” I cried. “And even if I had, I had him, that spell shouldn’t have had that affect. What happened?” I was baffled. I took a step towards him, as if his body would answer my questions. As I did so, my toe nudged the poniard. I stared down at it, unblinking and stupid. I must have dropped it in my surprise. Then...
“Rifus!” I rounded on him, “what did you say this dagger did?”
“I didn’t,” he replied. “Strong aura of necromancy evil, I think it acts in a similar way to those rings these guys wear.”
The rings... What were they called? Rings of the Fanatic? The rings that killed a man if they failed to defend their minds against a compulsion effect. And what were most of my spells? Compulsion. And what had that man just thrown himself on? That dagger. And what had...
I snatched the poniard off the ground and holding it horizontally shoved it at Rifus.
“Take another look!” I demanded. “I need to know exactly what that poniard does.”
“All right, all right. Don’t get your pants in a twist,” he said mildly, taking the weapon from me and screwing his monocle into his eye. The others crowded around curious, but I refused to explain. I wanted to know if I was right first.
“Yup, it acts just like one of the rings,” Rifus said after a while, taking the monocle out of his eye. “Get stuck with it and – well, just pray no one like Silver here casts a spell on you any time soon.” He clapped me on the shoulder and grinned, offering the poniard back to me. I didn’t take it. I suddenly felt sick.
“What?” He asked, looking confused. “It’s a pretty cool when you do that. Like earlier when you killed that bunch with a spell... What was it?”
“It wasn’t a spell. It was one of my new dances – the wearying one,” I replied absently. “And it’s NOT cool!” I snatched the dagger away from him, holding it warily by the hilt. “Someone-” I turned slightly and pointed at the dead man with the dagger, “him in fact, stabbed me with this thing!”
There was silence for a moment, then
“Oh, well, we’ll just make sure spellcasters stay away from you-” Nera began, only to be interrupted by Rifus.
“Oh. Oh dear. Uhhh... that’s not all the dagger does,” he said, sounding upset. I ran through elven curses in my head then faced him.
“All right,” I sighed. “Tell me the worst.”
“It – er... well, it... ummm... Itslowlykillsanyonewhogetsstabbedwithit,” he blurted it all out in a rush, sounding horribly upset. I didn’t blame him.
Very slowly I turned to stare at Rifus, who was twisting a couple of fingers around each other, looking miserable. I stared. I could feel the blood draining from my face. The stunned silence of the others just made it worse. I’d just been condemned to death. Three weeks! It’d only been three weeks since the last time I’d been killed and had been brought back, thank the greedy Abarites. And now here we were, stuck in the middle of a foreign continent not even I had heard much about.
“The good thing-” Rifus broke off, with a sheepish cough, “well, the not-so-bad thing at least. The ring effect will only last about 24 hours. So if we just stay clear of spellcasters you’ll be fine.”
“Oh yes, fine,” I snapped. “I’ll be just peachy until this damn thing can kill me slowly! Wonderful!” I flung my arms up, forgetting I still held the damn blade and everyone ducked away from me. Now it was my turn to be sheepish. I lowered my arms and held out my hand, wanting someone to take this thing off me. No one did. I didn’t blame them.
“Silver, you’ve been dead before. You got better,” Tanc said wryly. “We can fight this, we won’t lose you. I wouldn’t want to deprive The Mage’s Hand of your dancing,” he grinned at me. I glared at him and Lester came up behind me, resting a hand in the small of my back. I was so upset I forgot to move away from him. After all this time, idiot paladin still hasn’t realised I don’t like being touched.
“Things this evil should be destroyed immediately,” he said, “before they can do any more harm.” He held out his hand for the poniard.
“Well, it only has one charge left in it,” Rifus started. He broke off upon seeing my face and the face of Lester beside me. “You know what, let’s just get rid of it.”
“But – what about getting healing for Silver?” Nera asked, “what if we need to show someone the dagger?”
“Poniard,” I muttered, as Lester spoke over me.
“I will try a restorative spell on the lady Silver later, that may help. Otherwise, we should only need the shards of the blade itself to show a cleric or paladin like myself. The weapon itself should be broken.”
“Just do it” I told him. “I’m willing to take my chances and I’d be happier without that thing wandering around.” He nodded gravely at me, then took the poniard off me and stepped away from us as we gathered in a tight little group around the dead solider. He carefully placed the poniard on the ground and unsheathed his sword, preparing himself for a blow. With a cry to his god he smote the blade – the hilt vanished in a flitter of black smoke, while the blade shattered into pieces. With care, Lester gathered them and wrapping them in a piece of cloth, tucked them away into his gear.
“Well, what now?” Rifus asked, looking around the group.
“What do you mean, ‘what now’?” Nera cried, “we go and find help for Silver!” Gods love the girl, she has a good heart.
“Not right now,” I said. “This sort of thing won’t have an immediate affect, am I right?” Both Rifus and Lester nodded. “So right now we need to get every scrap of information out of these guys that we can. Lester, you said you had a couple of those speak-with-the-dead oils?”
He nodded and stepped forward, pulling a small vial out of his pouch,
“I suggest one of the mages-”
“Use it on one of the mages-”
Lester and Tanc spoke together and both chuckled.
“Which one?” Lester asked, gesturing with the vial. Tanc shrugged and looked at the rest of us. Nera and I exchanged blank looks and shrugged at each other. Rifus looked between the three dead mages for a while and finally said
“That one!” Pointing definitively to the one lying on the right, in rather horribly clashing robes of dark orange and tan. Lester nodded and walked to the corpse. Kneeling beside it he carefully worked the stopper free and with one hand spread the oil over the mage’s face. Behind him, Nera asked Rifus curiously,
“How did you decide which mage?”
“Eenie, meanie, minie, mo?” Rifus said, looking sheepish. Nera looked like she couldn’t believe her ears, then burst out laughing. I rolled my eyes behind them, idiot elf.
“We should hurry, it won’t last long and we’ve only got three questions,” Lester said. This of course engendered a hasty discussion between the rest of us as to what we needed to know. It was obvious really and soon Lester was posing the first question.
“What is inside this box, that is scanning so strongly as evil?”
“The great source of knowledge.”
“What is the nearest town to the location the other mages teleported themselves?”
“Freeman-what?” Nera whispered, “what the heck sort of a name is that?”
“Shut up guys,” I hissed. “It’s the largest settlement on the east coast. It was started here since the end of the Shadow War.” I waved my hand vaguely in the direction of the east coast, far more interested in the hurried conversation Tanc and Lester were having about what the third question should be – more details on the thing in the box, or more details on their location? Eventually the thing in the box won out and Lester concluded his questions with
“Will whatever is in the box pose a direct danger should we open it?”
Lester stood up, looking unhappy. He wiped his hands and tucked the empty vial back into his pack.
“I strongly suggest we take the box with us. We should ensure it remains undisturbed until we reach a temple or some other hallowed ground and can investigate more closely. We will need a temple to help the lady Silver anyway. We can take care of this then.” He looked around, a little belligerent I thought. I don’t know that I blamed him. We didn’t always treat our paladin – friend, with the respect he received from everyone else on the Trade Coast. We – well, Nera – tended to belittle him at every opportunity and rarely bothered to listen when he spoke – except Tanc that is. They seemed to have an understanding the rest of us didn’t. Still, if he wasn’t used to it by now, that wasn’t my problem.
For once there was no argument from anyone and we turned to the problem of transportation. Thanks to Tanc’s speed - gods that man can run!- Nera and I managed to calm enough of the horses to bear each of us and we left the horses that were attached to the wagon the ‘great source of knowledge’ was on and led them away. We were all ready to leave, when -
“What way should we go?” Nera asked. Everyone stopped and stared round at each other, then all turned to me.
“Why are you all looking at me?” I asked.
“Because you usually know these things...?” Nera suggested.
“And you’re most likely to know anything at all about this continent,” Tanc added.
“Well I don’t!” I shot back. “You’re lucky I’d even heard the name Freemantown. Still,” I thought aloud, “settlements are going to be along the coastline probably and stick to watercourses. We either need a river or a road that leads to the coast.”
“Rifus, go scout,” Tanc said, “take a look around and tell us what’s out there.” Rifus nodded and floated off, quickly vanishing to our sight. He was back again soon and dropped to the ground to tell us what he’d found.
“There’s a river to the north, but it just flows through the forest, no road anywhere near it. The road is south and it goes along a ridge before coming to a valley. Couldn’t see anything else.”
“There is likely a river in the valley and the road itself is heading in the right direction for the coast. Besides, where there’s a road there are people-”
“And we should avoid sleeping out in the open, if we can,” Lester interjected. I simply nodded. He seemed awfully jumpy, but after the day I’d just had, my slow – and probably painful -death sentence and a mysterious wooden box that would kill us if we opened it – I wasn’t in the mood to take chances either.
“The road it is then,” Tanc said turning his horse in that direction.
And that is how we’ve ended up here, sheltering off the side of the road beneath some trees because we were unable to find shelter before nightfall. We’ve kept extra watches and slept even more uneasily than usual. Well, I assume Tanc, Nera and Lester slept worse than usual. I found it harder than usual to get into a trance, but Rifus? Well, nothing bothers Rifus. He’s probably fine.
“Are you all right Silver?” Lester’s voice, coming out of the dim early morning light. He crawled awkwardly to join me, his armour only half on. “You look pale.”
I automatically moved to help him, and it wasn’t until I had done up a couple of buckles and fought down the bile rising in my throat that it occurred to me to answer his question.
“Actually, no, I don’t think I am. I feel – nauseous – and I have a horrible headache,” I dropped my head into my hands and felt Lester’s hand on my back. I didn’t bother to shake him off. That’s the second time in as many days I haven’t reacted to his touch. I must be losing mine.
“We’ll get you help,” he assured me. “If need be, you can travel in the wagon.”
“With the evil?” I said sceptically. “I appreciate the thought, but I think I’d rather ride.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Nera asked, concerned. The others had gathered around us.
“Yeah,” I said. “Stay away from me. I don’t want to throw up on anyone.” That got chuckles, but Tanc looked thoughtful.
“Rifus, that rod of yours... would that help?”
Rifus looked blank for a minute, then his face brightened and he pulled a slender rod from his pack.
“Yeah, it should,” he said, handing it to me. I made no move to take it, just looked at him, with my ‘please explain’ expression. “It’s a rod of - bodily restoration. I use it to counteract the affects of my hellfire,” he grinned mischievously. “I don’t need it right now and it works three times a day anyway. Try it, see if it helps.” He pushed the wand at me and I took it. I eyed it briefly then touched it to the back of my left hand and activated it. I don’t know what it did, but it helped. The headache cleared and the nausea vanished like it had never existed.
“Thank you Rifus,” I said, actually meaning it this time. “It really did help.”
“No problem. Looks like this dagger-thing is going to drain you every morning. We’ll just counteract it with this every day until we can find someone to remove it permanently,” he grinned, looking and sounding utterly pleased with himself. Still grinning, he scrambled to shove the rod back into his pack and tugged his horse towards the road – we had convinced him that flying alongside us might be great fun for him, but wouldn’t make us the inconspicuous group of travellers we were trying to be. He shoved through the bush around the edge of the road and stepped out.
As I watched he paused for a second, then immediately turned back to the rest of us.
“Uh guys... I think we may have another problem...”