The God of Duals and Duels
The God of Law and Chaos
The God of Life and Death
The God is powerless in the middle.
—Ancient Ükardhi proverb
The southron from Ükardhi did not mind the white-heats across the planes. He had been molded by it in youth, as the sword is molded by the forge-fires.
He came at length upon a briny smell, and he staggered at the new weight on his cloak. More spirits hereabouts, he guessed. Instinctively, he reached out to steady himself, focused on the distant sound of waves lapping on the shoreline. His hand closed around a wooden pole. The sand gave way to a wooden floor sprawling across a small village. It was slightly soft and overgrown with seaweed. It mushed under the Ükardhian’s feet as he stumbled across the threshold, laughing, and set off to explore the territory.
He found first a bald woman, bare breasted with a floral-patterned dress that reached her ankles. She wore a delicate scrap of linen over her head. A spear rested beside the tavern she leaned on like a comrade beside her. “Welcome, traveler,” she said, “to Plankytown. Have you business hereabout?”
“Not business,” huffed the man, “Just a drink. Please.”
“A drinker with a sword at his hip,” the woman said. The spear was resting beside her, and then in her hand, between blinds. It was pointed at his throat. “You’ll hurt yourself, old man.”
“Wary of strangers, I see.” He raised his hands as he approached. “Call me Albarran.” He extended it toward the woman.
“Khalee,” she said, shaking his hand.
“Is there anyone else here in Plankytown?”
“They’re hiding,” said Khalee. “We don’t chance strangers around here.”
Albarran bit back a smirk. “It’s a good thing, then, that I’ve given you my name. Can’t say we’re strangers, can we? Now, about that drink…”
* * *
The beer was a froth of corn and malt and yeast and water. Albarran savored the drink, his throat working as he finished it without pausing for breath; beads of foam slicking down his gullet.
He set the wooden cup down on the small round table. Khalee was watching him from across the tavern. He inspected the walls and found barnacles clustered onto them, grouped in sizes like white turtle shells, patching the wooden frame like quiltwork.
He looked to Khalee, a question etched onto his face. But before he could noise it, Khalee spoke.
“Two years ago a traveler angered the Restless Dead when he came to Plankytown. Drowned a man on the docks in a drunken scuffle, then tried to flee on a trading galley. The Restless Dead sank it off the coat before they returned to their Never.
Albarran wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “And?” He gestured to the ship’s hulls that now walled them in.
“And one year later a new traveler came, wearing a cloak with a single eye sewn onto the back—much like yours. She claimed to be a patron of Kafmir.”
“God of Duels and Duals,” Albarran finished. “Did he open the third eye?”
“The one on the cloak?”
“That is so.”
“She did,” Khalee grinned. “She summoned the Restless Dead to scavenge the sea-floor for sunken vessels, and they built Plankytown as it is known today. I remember the sight of that murderer’s corpse being dragged into the Never the second time.” Khalee sat herself across from Albarran. She’d brought a pitcher of beer with her and refilled Albarran’s cup. “She didn’t stay long…will you?”
Albarran smiled gently. “No,” he said. “We patrons of Kafmir are cursed. Forces of Law and Chaos duel around us.”
“Duels and Duals,” Khalee muttered.
“That is so. I’m not adventurer looking for trouble. I’m a refugee, chased by it. I cannot abide friends or shelter.”
Khalee turned the cup in her hands, and then spat into it, a long, thin line of saliva falling into the froth. She handed the cup to Albarran. “I’ll be your friend,” she said.
“I never thanked Kafmir’s last patron for building our town, or avenging the man that was killed. I would amend that.”
Albarran nodded his assent and spit into the drink. He swallowed a mouthful, handed it back to Khalee, and she drank a gulp herself.
“We are kin now, Albarran. Go as you will, and know you will have one friend with you, always. Send my regards to the god Kafmir.
* * *
Albarran left Plankytown that night. The wind and sand chafed his flesh as he returned to the sand. The Ükardhian stumbled and fell to his knees. He did not get up, at first. Instead he wept. He wept for a long while, tears streaming, and the wind drying them on his cheeks.