I’ve turned the lantern off, oil is expensive. There’s only light from the embers. This hovel isn’t much, but then again Ooshar isn’t much. It’s a frontier town corrupted by The Fox and Crow. The docks and lifts are slovenly. The Drop is essentially living dung. But the money is good. My family needs money.My daughter is sick. My wife is crippled. The Sheljar Guard offered up a spot out in Ooshar, so I took it. And then The Awakening. I’m constantly looking for swords, bows, weapons and now it’s even harder. I cannot tell who, or what, can cast these spells.
I’m one of two outsiders in the Guard. The Ooshar peoples are pretty simple. They’ll be bribed away from simple stuff, take a cut from standard shipping and will never allow someone to harm their nation. They aren’t really loyal to Sheljar. The Captain? She cares, a lot. But she does’t have eyes for everything.
My new team isn’t evil, just a bit selfish. I do not turn them in. They do not ask questions. I do not ask them questions. I work three days, off two, then three nights, off two. I work a lot lately. Rista’s body was just discovered in the waters.
It isn’t busy. Estrella’s messenger shop has a fire. Her shop is always bright, pastels by day, orange lanterns at night. Most shifts I end by dropping a note for her to send to my family. It is simple.
You are loved. I’m sorry I’m not home. Go to the Emperor’s Bank. Show them this seal. Stay well. I’ll be back by winter.
Estrella knows me. I’m one of the few goliaths in service to Sheljar rather than raising geese, ducks, chickens or axebeaks. I’m just a big, dumb guard that normally manages Down River on Sheljar Side. I’m honest, and I think the families here like me.
The others have fires, but now it is late. They are dwindling. I’m off. Jelse and Horold replace me and Jhom.
“Pirti, go home, or wherever.” Jelse is a jerk. Rista is, was, his older sister. Losing another guard in some bizarre attack that leaves no wounds is frightening. It’s not that he dislikes me, but Jelse isn’t concerned with being happy today, or yesterday, and probably not tomorrow.
So I drop the note off in the post-box for Estrella. She’ll send a pigeon tomorrow. I do not see Rohan. But I do see Tlipa and Pipa. They are two low-class idiots. They are struggling to hide in the bushes near ‘Strella’s place.
I head home. It’s been twelve hours. Glight day is tomorrow. I do not need to work. Tlipa and Pipa continue to move towards the coops.
My home isn’t much, just a room, a bed, a table and a stove for heat and warmth. I have one chest of goods with a lock and a rack where I store my spear, my shield, the cape of the Guard and the cheapest armor I could buy. My wife needs the money. My door has one window. The wall opposite it has the other. As I close the shutters I see Pipa enter Estrella’s coop.
My lantern is a foot away. I snuff it out. The stove and chimney still have some heat. They offer little light, but it’s a two moon eve. I shutter the window with force.
I want them to think I’m asleep.
Slowly I open the door. ‘Strella’s home is many dozen feet away. There is a inker, a villien and a cheesemonger between us. I start to creep. How does a 12-foot tall man creep on a two-moon even? Carefully, slowly.
There is a noise. It’s the snick of a lock. The inker has a lock, but he is off to the south. Estrella has a lock. It is her lock.
‘Strella reminds me of my daughter, but grown up a bit. She is sweet and caring. She is so loyal to her friends – Teegan, Kellamon, Piyu and Rohan. Mostly to Rohan though. She is fascinated by him. No one has seen the little shit for a couple of days.
Estrella has been in tears during that time. Rohan and the rest saved her during the day of Awakening. When she felt overwhelmed they stood by her. At the time Kellamon and Piyu were strangers, but all protected her. More than anything she talks about how Rohan and Teegan comforted her, and how he protected them all. Her adoration for the little Kirtin halfling shows through.
But tonight Tlipa and Pipa are moving in on Estrella’s home. The pigeons coo. That’s a constant noise. Jelse and Horold are looking down at the river, obviously. Jelse is emphatic that something is down there. Horold cannot see a thing.
Pipa rises from the coop and climbs on the roof. Estrella has two rooms, because her home is her office. He is over the main door. Tlipa is in front of it. Tlipa, a goliath like me, breaks the door down.
It immediately reforms. That’s Estrella’s thing. She can repair items quickly. Another massive fist bangs into the door.
I run. Spear in hand and my warbler overhead, why did I go into the army with a warbler??!, I run. My letter must get to my family. They need vials of the Everflow. My money is the only way. A message from Estrella is the only way.
Estrella’s door falls apart. Pipa has pried up some shingles on the roof.
She’s just a girl that sends messages. What are they doing to her. If anyone is full of brightness and joy it is this young girl who cannot go back to her home because of a price on her head.
I glance towards North River. Jelse is pulling Horold to look at something. That bastard is involved.
Where others have certain powers after the Awakening I have nothing, but I’m 12 feet tall. That’s big for a goliath. I’m also not one of those Crinthians. I can think. I’m a free man in the Sheljar Guard. These members of the Fox and Crow are trying to hurt my friend.
The dagger at my belt is in my left hand. I throw it underhand into Pipa’s chest. My dagger is as big as his femur. It’s also sticking through his chest.
“By Sheljar’s rightful Emperor you will surrender.”
My voice booms. Tlipa is my same size. Horold looks over.
Tlipa is at the door, and then is gone. In his place is a skeleton surrounded in a purple-black apparition similar to a body. That thing, that corrupt thing, turns to me and wails.
It is the scream of suffering. It is the scream of pain for thousands. It is the haunting cry of my daughter. I fall to my knees. That noise is too much. Huge tears fall to my cheeks and the ground.
The wailing will not end. I’m stuck. I drop my spear. My warbler crawls into my beard. She is crying too. There is a rot in this voice from beyond. I collapse. My face falls into the mud created by the water of my eyes.
A small dog, but no, not a dog. There is no form. Is this a nightmare? It comes to me and licks my brow without touching me. Sleep overtakes me as Rohan steps through the broken door. He has a staff, a robe and a book.
I only have sorrow.
A small voices wakens me.
“Pirti, please Pirti, rise.”
It is Estrella. Next to her is Rohan, the commander of death.
“Please Pirti. We didn’t mean for this to happen to you.”
I shake. I nod. I rise. Estrella’s voice gives me faith.
“This?” I ask.
“Rohan can prevent the dead from dying, but it has odd effects on the living.”
Rohan smirks. “Those I love will never die. Those I hate will never live.”
I lean on my spear. My daughter, little Llead, she can be rescued. Everyone loves her. If only I can talk Rohan into going to Sheljar.
“Please, please,” I start to beg. Rohan interrupts. “Do not beg. You will live. I am only concerned with the Fox and Crow.”
“No, I need help. My daughter, Estrella, tell him of my daughter,” I’m pleading. “My life does not matter. Llead needs you. She is rotting away. The blight has her.”
Rohan looks to Estrella. She nods, knowing the truth. “Rohan, Master Pirti tells only the truth. Can this thing help him?”
“I will try. You must keep safe. I will go to Sheljar. Find Piyu, Kellamon and Teegan. Tell them I’m leaving and that Willan wants you dead. Tell them to run.”
“Why?” asks Estrella.
“Because Tlipa is still under Willan’s control. Every night Tlipa’s skeletal form will try to complete its task – to kill me and you. Tlipa will try to do that until we are dead. Please, run. I cannot lose you as I lost Alleway.”
Alleway is next to him. The terrier and a boulder occupy the same space. That tiny dog moves through the boulder beside the Kirtin-ish shepherd.
Estrella responds, “We will run. Meet us in Telse.”
Rohan smacks me across the head with his staff. I drop to the mud again.
When I rise, I’m in the infirmary. There is panic. All that remains of the Guard is myself, Horold and a middle-age halfing that worked Glight Gate. Horold tells me that Willan’s forces are in charge of Ooshar. They’ve declared indepence from Sheljar.
Trade still runs the river. The road is still a passage, but a petty gangster is in charge. A few outsiders left, heading to Telse and the Font of Two Paths. They hope that the Everflow can be sanctuary. Those that stay are haunted by the wailing of a goliath that will never die and a gang that will kill to take its wants.
Rohan broke the town. But he got away. I pray to Selley, goddess of life and hearth, that Rohan can save my Llead. I pray to Glight, god of knowledge, that I may return to them.
We hide. We hide and we hide for days. There are three of us. Hiding in the guard tower on the Ooshar Bridge means they will not burn us down, for the whole of the town will collapse.
And we wait. Willan will have to make an offer, because we can bar the gate. But we cannot ask for much. I have a spear. Horold has his sword and mastiff. Old Davd has a goat, a suit of chain mail and the peculiar ability to create food.
Please, Lord and Ladies of life and light, let my Llead live. Let Rohan help her.
And so I rise. I have my spear. I have my reason. I’ve heard death, and it will not stop me again. I have my Llead.
I step to the gatehouse door, slamming it open.
“Tell Willan I will talk to him about Tlipa’s fate. Tell Willan that Pirti will speak now.” As I shout I slam the butt of my spear into the bridge. Its massive 60 foot wide, two-story, 700-foot long structure shakes.
“Tell him now. Before I have to find him myself.”
I have my reason. I have my Llead.