Tomas, pt. 18

**the battle of the Stone**

He was to hunt the Stone in the west. Once the shifters had made it past, he could follow. That was the price of his passage, of his freedom. Such a little thing, really. Something he might even enjoy.

He slid through the trees, effortlessly moving from cover to cover. It was as if the land moved to conceal him. He paused at the edge, senses tingling. They had said it would be near, but they also could not describe it. Shifters cared so little for physical form. He waited… and the sun began to move across the sky. Nothing… had they betrayed him? Sent him here so that they may escape ‘Him’? His knuckles began to ache as he gripped the dagger tightly. If they tried something so foolish, they’d find him far deadlier than one of these Stones.

A light caught his eyes, flitting through the reeds near the water’s edge, no larger than a pixie. Nothing else moved. It didn’t fly like a pixie, random and distracted. It moved with purpose… it was hunting. It floated a bit further, then stopped suddenly. Even before it changed direction, he knew he had been spotted. Faster than before, it began crossing the distance to where Tomas had found cover. Reacting without thought, he pulled the rolled parchment from his belt and uttered the words he had practiced so many times before. He saw no threads, but felt the wave of power go out from him as the scroll turned to ash. The light stopped in its approach, shuddered, and let out a wail. In that moment, Tomas was on his feet and charging, closing the distance. The sun was lower and too his back. The shadows from the tree line reached out ahead of him and he used them. The glowing light darted again, but he was already beside it. Driving his blade forward he felt it connect with something solid. Another wail told him it could be hurt. If it could feel pain, it could be killed. For an instant, or an eternity, he dodged and struck. The touch of the creature brought the smell of his own seared flesh to his nostrils. He met blow with blow, avoiding as many as he could. His ears rang, his heart thundered…

And ages later, the light went out. The sun had set. Only a fading orange glow lit the sky. He dropped to his knees, exhausted. It was over. That was when he saw it, as his eyes adjusted to the dark, laying in the grass in front of him, smoldering. Surrounded by a layer of ash. There it was… a scarred and battered Stone. Each blade thrust had left a razor thin line on its surface, but the Stone remained intact.

Hesitantly, he reached towards it. His fingers brushed the top… it was warm, but cooling rapidly. It was a Stone! He closed his hand around it. Even in this state he could feel its power. Safe. He would keep it safe. None must ever know what he held. For they would take it from him, destroy it, and he could not allow that. No. Not that. The Stone still had its uses. He knew he could best it, and in time, he’d learn how to control it. Moving quickly, he thrust it into the bottom of his pack. He still had to reach the boat. They were waiting for him after all. They had promised to take him with them. There was nothing left for him here. And besides. He had work to do.

~to be continued~

Tomas, pt. 17

We are nearing the end of our time on this damnable island. I’ve been offered passage by the very ones that once sought to kill me. Will I fight for them? If they ask. I may need to, to get away. Agnomen is more dangerous than I. He’d cut down anything in cold blood if it was in his way, but he is less scheming than Aurik. Together, they may be unstoppable, but they don’t work together as they once did. I think Agnomen has begun to understand that he is expendable. We all are, in Aurik’s eyes, as long as he reaches his goal. Raynah saw this some time ago, but her reluctance to act… may have been caused by my reluctance to voice the support I had for her. I see now, how it could have been different, if we had only acted sooner. If we had never entered the cave. If we had not railed against him. He had little choice but to dispose of us.

I may ask Raynah if she can help. Offer a way to escape the long dark road ahead of me. Life as a stranger among shifters… surrounded, but always alone… How long can one bear that and remain sane?

Tomas, pt. 16

He approached cautiously, keeping to the shadows. He could hear a group that had gathered ahead. Through the quiet, they chittered to one another. Peering around the edge of the rock wall he saw them. The tentacles that hung from their faces twitched nervously. They sensed him, he was sure. He repeated the words to himself, locking them out of his mind. He would not be turned away again. He would not fall for their tricks.

Pulling back, he checked over his supplies. Several traps to choose from, simple or deadly, but the bottles of fire called to him most. He had vials of holy water, to consecrate the bodies and keep them from rising again. He would need to be quick. If one got away, if one was not taken by surprise…

Not trusting his own perceived skill, he swallowed a potion and watched as his own hands disappeared. He crept forward quickly; setting the triggers at the entrance… none would escape him.

Shadow to shadow, he moved and watched. The flayers shifted, growing uneasy. They chittered back and forth. He felt their tension as surely as they felt his mind, but his walls remained. They started to group, their chittering hushed… and he felt the world shift. One rose, staring at him in surprise. He was discovered! The face changed before him, but he closed his eyes against it. The flayers would not fool him again. A knife flew from his hand and was followed by a gurgling scream. Eyes now open, his head was clear. The flayers took a step back, tentacles darting this way and that, as if they could escape on their own. When one reached a hand out to another, he screamed. “This ends, now!” and charged. Two fell to his blade as the others scattered. Another fell, knife in its back… and a blinding flare at the entrance where one was turned to ash. He prowled, dispatching them one or two at a time until only one remained, covering in the corner. It chittered as it looked about, desperate, eyes focused on him as the world started to shift again.

“Please…” the words layered in fear. “Take anything you want… my shop has little…” it squirmed back, trying to sink into the wall.

“I only require one more thing…” his steps were steady as he shook away the vision. “… your life.”

He left the bodies where they had fallen, taking nothing. With the vials, he cleansed the area, splattering the dead on head and hands, circling the bodies and marking the walls. He was no cleric, but he was sure it would do.

He wiped the remains of the holy water on his forehead and under his eyes.

At last… his mind was clean.

Tomas, pt. 15

Are they really as concerned as they sound? Two of the three have offered to ‘help’. I expect the last would not ask, only act as he saw fit. I’ll not idly wait for that.

I know when this cloud started. I know where it waits for me still. I will go to them, but not as a servant. They will know that I will not be their tool.

I will have my freedom.

Tomas, pt. 14

The cool night breeze brushed across his face. His arms taunt, holding him close to the wall. Two figures had paused to converse just below him and he froze where he was, lest his motion cause them to look up. The window was only a few feet away, yet he dare not continue. A moment stretched into minutes that felt like hours. His muscles screamed impatiently and threatened to cramp. He would not move, not fall, not ruin this one opportunity. The figures nodded to each other and started walking away. He reached along the wall carefully, the pain of moving almost as bad as holding still. Fingers found the edge of the window, explored, and felt the light brush of a sheer fabric. The window covers. It was open, good.

He eased himself over and slowly to the floor, silent as a cat. Nothing stirred in the room. This would be easy. He strode across the room, the fine rug padding his steps. An ornate desk was against the wall, just as he was told it would be. The one drawer it had opened smoothly. In the dim light he could see a stack of papers, the hilt of a dagger, and a small dark figurine. Such a small thing to command such a price, but it was not for him to worry why someone wanted it so badly. Holding it up, it balanced easily in the palm of his hand. The carved stone radiated surprising warmth. A small thing indeed. He wrapped it in a cotton cloth and tucked it into the pouch on his belt.

“I hope what he is paying you is worth your life.”

He spun around to see an old man in his nightshirt, holding a crossbow pointed levelly at his heart. He froze, hands resting on the edge of the desk. The old man waited across the room, eyes never wavering.

“It’s a simple job, for a simple trinket.” He stalled, heart racing. The window beckoned to him, but a jump from this height would likely break a leg. He inched his hands forward, one sliding down into the drawer.

“A trinket?” the old man nearly laughed. “You really have no idea, do you? I suppose he’d not want to tell you lest you keep it for yourself.”

He shook his head, using the motion to keep the old man looking at his face. His fingers quested out and found the hilt he was looking for. It slid quietly over the papers as he brought it up behind his back.

“No. He doesn’t have to worry about you any more than I do.”

He could sense it, in that moment, as the old man steadied his grip on the bow and pulled the trigger. The bolt shot out, but he wasn’t there. Desperately he had dropped to his knees. As the air parted above his head he rolled forward. There was a loud thunk behind him as the bolt was imbedded in the desk, but he was already coming to his feet under the old man. The dagger thrust up and he caught his target in the belly, pushing him back and into the wall. He pressed in harder, and the crossbow dropped.

There was a shocked gasp. “… why?…”

Tomas looked up, eyes widening as he stared into others soft and gentle. “Raynah?” He couldn’t move. Her hands slid forward to his, where the dagger had driven into her. They clasped around his, slick with hot blood, but already growing cold. Her eyes held an unspoken plea. Tomas shook his head. “No…” and then her smooth skin began to peel and flake away revealing a white skull underneath. Bony hands held his in an iron grip. “NO.” They pulled the dagger out and raised it between them so they could both see it, and each other.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Tomas woke with a start. “No!” He was outside. Alone. His breath came in short gasps as if he had been running. When he looked down, his right hand was covered in blood. He had slept near a stream, and scrambled towards the water plunging his hand in, scrubbing at it viciously. The red flowed away from him, leaving him clean. He sat on the bank for a long while, never closing his eyes.