You’re safe for now. So I’ll tell you what I can.
You awoke to Aos shaking you violently, your head jerking. Through the blur of movement, you discerned two bodies on the floor and red, wet blood dribbling between the floorboards.
“Carth!” Aos shouted. “Carth, wake up! We have to go!”
I know you won’t understand this, Carth, but people are…different, when they first wake. Sluggish and stupid—so you did not understand what it meant at the time, nor what peril awaited you.
Following Aos’s pull on your arm, you fell out of bed and stumbled across the room. Aos retrieved a sword from one of the bodies and belted it around her waist.
You retrieved your own and did the same. “What’s going on?” you asked Aos.
“We have to get out of here.”
“There’s no time to explain,” she told you. “Hurry!” The door squealed open, and you could see moonlight streaming through the open window at the end of the hall. Aos ducked her head out and looked both ways before returning to you, and waving for you to follow.
You did so, bounding after her heels like a puppy, all too ready to accept whatever was going on around you.
Aos had her shield ready. You tightened your grip on your sword. You didn’t even know Aos had a shield, did you? Did I leave that part out in previous recollections?
Or maybe I’m lying. Mayhaps I just want you to feel safe. Don’t say I’m not looking out for you.
Not after tonight.
The floorboards crawed like crows under your weight. Even with your scattered memories of that evening, you knew that no safe structure should be making this much noise. Every footstep was a muffled squeal.
And then you heard just that.
Not the floorboards, but a real attempt to shriek, cut short and muffled into silence. You heard wet sounds and grunts that you would have assigned an altogether different meaning, were it not for the two corpses back in your room.
“Is that the thing that killed—?” you began.
“Quiet!” Aos hissed. Her voice made as much noise as a snake slithering across a pile of wet leaves. “I’ll not discuss it. Not him.” She swallowed, thickly. “Not yet.”
You heard crickets outside, and on instinct your knuckles whitened around your axe-haft. “There’s no sound,” you whispered.
You squared up to the door you had heard the noise in, and there came a long rattle from the other side. As if the voice’s owner were gargling pebbles.
Aos unsheathed her blade as the thing burst through, all rippling fat and swirling samite. The innkeeper hurled himself at Aos, and though she raked her sword down his face, sparks showered from his right eyebrow down to his left jaw, and he grinned, unhurt. His lips peeled back to reveal pointed teeth. He wasn’t blinking. “It is time to pay now,” he said.
Aos took an involuntary step back, so the innkeeper stepped forward, bathing himself in moonlight. Every scrap of him that was awash in the glow revealed a new form.
There was no flesh. Only rows and rows of teethlike scales piled up over taut red muscle. He had no lips to speak of, and the scales of ivory that smothered his face were lightly chipped where Aos had cut him. He held out a hand of interwoven teeth, red muscles twitching and rippling beneath the gaps between them. “It is time to pay now,” he said again.
Backing away, Aos said, “Carth. Kill.”
You obeyed, dogged as a hound.
Regardless, you flew at the thing, sword raised, and as it surged forward you brought it down on its skull. I suspect your blade getting caught between the gaps must have done something and if not, dragging it headfirst to the floor as you made your clumsy retreat and retrieval of your blade certainly did.
You turned to Aos, only to find her staring out the open window at the end of the hall, eyes wet and glimmering. “They’re everywhere,” she said. “The whole town. They’re all borne of this—this thing.”
You kicked the corpse onto its stomach, but could not stand to look at his face for very long. “He created them?” you asked.
“No!” Aos said. “That’s not—no. I don’t think—” she rubbed the corners her eyes between two fingers. “I don’t know. It’s magic, most like. Leftover from the Great Conflict. These folk are poisoned. But I’m not sure how we’re going to get out.”
“Is there another way out?”
You two ran for the stairs, but by the time you had reached their precipice, you heard a crash at the door below, and heavy footfalls. Without a word to each other, you both turned heel and sprinted across the carpeted hallway. “That may as well have happened,” with a shrug and an involuntary laugh.
“Only one way out now,” you told her. “The window—”
“I have a plan!”
“What is it?”
“I’ll figure it out when we get there!”
The stairs whined behind you. You heard growling and stomping as the first of these ivory monsters vaulted up the steps.
You two leapt up to the sill and then caught yourself at the last minute, your hand braced flat on Aos’s back.
“What’s your plan?” Aos asked you.
The monsters in the hallway surged forward, iron cudgels and axes at the ready.
“I’m thinking,” you said.
Below you were scattered, pulpy bodies shrouded in beggars’ linen.
“What’s your plan, Carth?”
“Let me think!” Your hand twitched.
It was then that a loose floorboard snapped under Aos’s foot. She gave a whoop of surprise and, as she flailed, kicked your jaw and sent you tumbling back.
You turned back. The ivory creatures were scattered, looting the inn. One of them hurtled toward you, a sword raised that halved its face. “Come now, your Grace,” it said, unblinking and grinning. “Show me your skill with a blade!”
Its grating voice compelled you forward, into the path of the thing’s blade as you threw your own gray in its path. The steel scraped against steel, raw and harsh to hear. It broke the bind and darted to the side of the hall, ducking underneath your next swing.
You threw your sword down on the monster in murderous arcs. He turned each cut aside and your swords snaked around each other, trying to find a gap in your opponent’s defenses. The swords kissed thrice, sprang apart, and you circled each other, letting the steel breathe.
Your arms did not feel like your own. Your shoulders were throbbing. Your head was spinning, but you could see the thing in front of you.
Your swords bit each other, scraping sadly down the length of the blades, aiming for exposed flesh. If the red between the rows of teeth smothering its body could be called flesh.
With a shove, the thing sent you stumbling backwards, toward the window. Hands numb from your sword’s vibration, you turned his downcut aside, but the force of it had sent you to one knee.
The creature brought its sword down and cursed as you slid away like a wriggling fish. You kicked up your heel and brought it down on your friend’s hand, smashing it against the sill. His grip came loose on his sword. You pulled yourself to your feet, still standing on thing’s. Your swordpoint tunneled toward its chest, but he turned away at the last.
Your sword was trembling with your hands. The creature watched you, laughing. You could feel your heartbeat in your face and chest and back. You could feel a thousand bruises all over your body. But you had your sword ready, levelled at Albarran.
You ducked under a swipe and tried to shove your blade up and under the monster’s scaly teeth. He jumped back, arching away from your sword’s point.
“You’ll have to do better than that!” he laughed. And as it did, you put your blade between two ivory scales on its neck.
You spared a glance at the hall: the creatures were tearing the place apart, ransacking and looting. But none had reached you. You could hardly discern if they had seen you. I can’t say if there were others at the inn that they were feasting on. But I suspect your companions saved you one last time.
You wanted to retch at the thought of it. You felt like a wave breaking as you half-fell through the threshold of the doorway. You shut the door behind you and braced your back against the door. Here you will remain. Safe, for now. I will update you at first light.
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