“…The Salresian assassins blacken their poisoned daggers, except the very edge so that it doesn’t reflect light. However they can’t cover the edge as it will make it blunt. Their main weapons, the Daharii Crossbows are made pitch black…Magic is not used so as not to leave a trace of Aurora…”
Chapter 13 : Surviving Curses
“Your picture looks nicer than you”, Faeve said while balling up the piece of yellowish paper in her hands.
“I wish it was the same painter that did me last time”. I answered while I loaded up my gear in a basket.
I stared at the green fishes poking their lifeless eyes at me. Staring contest with dead fishes. Yay… Rigel 1 , Sanity 0.
The gruff sailor scowled at me, his voice harsh. He then gestured at the fish barrel.
I climbed in and sat inside it. The barrel was large enough to fit me. It still has half its space empty?
Not for long though.
Smelly, slimy fish landed on me, covering every inch of the barrel. If not for the small, concealed breathing holes at the bottom, I would have been dead in minutes. In a barrel with dead fishes.
I stared up at the patchwork reddish sky from under the multitude of fish bodies. The gruff sailor closed the lid, nasty grin on his face. My last view consisted of tens of dead fishes staring at me and then…darkness.
Happy journey, Rigel.
When Urun heard that we wanted to leave immediately, she had stared at us as if we were crazy. She had told us to wait and had gone out, barking after someone. After a while, she had come back with yellowish sheets of paper in her hands.
She thrust those rumpled papers at me. I took them in my hands—shit!
Now, I had wanted posters in my name earlier. After I killed bishop Andalus, Talaviel’s Order had asked for my head and issued wanted posters to that effect.
When I had seen those posters arrive at Salrest…I wanted to reward whoever painted them. The painter obviously had no idea of how I looked, I mean what’s with the curled horns? Anyway, due to that the Order’s bounty hunters couldn’t find me out easily.
Some did though. They were smart. Too smart. And they ended up in the room.
But this painting was…quite good. No wonder, since the Merchant guild was involved. The reward was also substantial. I can’t pass the checkpoints on the road towards Mountain of Trees. I grimaced at the picture—it would be hard to flee with these posted at every city, town and guilds.
“There is only one way, Eri-larr”, Urun said while offering me a usui-filled pipe. “The seas to the west. From there you can go to Forril village at the edge of Ebraven’s border, and then, the Mountain of Trees”.
Faeve sat sharpening her daggers. She looked up at me, “The sea-way is a bit longer, but at least no one will hunt us”. She picked up her tools and packed them in a bag, “Get ready. We leave now”.
“Ei, Faeve-larr. You can’t go out right now. The guards will be roaming the docks too. Wait till evening falls and the fishing Nampars come back”.
“Why?” I inquired, a sudden gust of wind carried in the gutter-stink.
“Because, Eri-larr, you will be going as cargo. No one checks a Nampar”, Urun gave an unsettling smile.
I do not like the sound of this.
“Stay here, Faeve, I am going out. I have things to do”, I said while I put on a drab looking jacket.
“Nay. I will go with you”, Faeve said as she sheathed her daggers.
I turned my face towards her while I called a girl over, “You won’t like where I am going”.
“I can’t risk you running away, humankin”.
“Don’t interrupt me then”, I walked towards the girl, “Turin, make me a different person. Someone people won’t look twice at”.
An hour or two later, I checked myself in the small mirror. Mirrors were pretty costly in this world, but…it was needed for these girls’ trade, so there were a few in Urun’s establishment. Matted brown hair fell over my face, coiled and untidy. Bits of dirt and grime stuck to my tanned skin, a huge black birthmark on one cheek.
Faeve too had received a makeover. She no longer looked the bisque-doll—smile lines and dust covered her untidy visage. She had a sick pallor, her hair being ruddy black. Her elf-ears were covered with a torn up straw hat.
We headed out towards the Spire.
The guard at the city gate stopped us, “Halt! Where are you going!”
I tripped and stumbled on purpose, while I muttered incomprehensibly under my breath. Faeve was holding me tight by my arm.
“Torr-guard, ma hussband ‘er drunk on Coolien. He cumma hom eerieday drunk. Me goin’ ta forrest fa sum buchi leaves fer heem ta feed on”, Faeve spoke like a slum dweller from outside the city walls.
“Why are you inside the walls?” the guard bellowed coming down from his Serrad.
“Ma hussband be a stinkin’ basstard. He gunn off to spend all ma ‘earnins on Coolien and….and whores!”, she sounded angry. “Whores I teel you, torr! –
“Okay, okay. Enough, woman. Don’t go near the Spires. The monsters will eat you”, The guard looked at me hard.
“Ofcuss, torr. Na be cumin’ with me, ye fool”, Faeve tugged at my arms.
“Shhutup woman, tek ye hands uff me”, I tried to add some dramatic effect. Hey, I did want to be an actor once!
The guard came at me, shoved me by the chest, “Don’t speak like that to your wife, scoundrel. Lowest of the lowest”. He strode back, “Go…get that man some buchi leaves and take him home”.
Faeve pulled me along the dirt road leading to the forest. For some reason, she was digging in too hard.
“You…you…little scrumper. You almost got us caught!”, she started yelling as soon as we were near the Spire, long past the Guard post. Her nails left marks on my skin.
“Dun…b like ‘tat, wife”. I said while I cut off the limbs of a vestar. We were near the marshes, under which lay the room.
Faeve scowled at me, while she kept watch out for any onlookers. We had to carry our weapons in the pouch I had found at Icchvarrion’s mansion. My fingers dug on the pouch, Arin…
I dipped the bleeding limbs of the Vestar into the marsh water, shaking it. “Say, Faeve, anyone could cut your hair while sleeping, right? So anyone could become an Aivern”.
She kept staring at the Spire while she talked, “No. Everyone back at Olyelnore Ur’van knows the rules, they would properly challenge a Ur’van-ere to combat to cut her hair. Besides, this hair is our connection to the tree of life, it can’t be cut by one ineligible to become an Aivern”.
“You said ‘back at your home’, so what are you doing here? Sounds like only Elves are chosen to become one”.
She cast her eyes down, and stayed silent for a while, “Yes, only elves are chosen to become an Aivern. The daughters are not to leave the Forest…but I was…” her voice trailed off. She cleared her throat before continuing, “I was exiled”. She touched the scarf that covered her throat. I knew what she was touching.The pitch black choker underneath.
I shouldn’t pry, should I?
By now I had seen the Crezets’ shadows under the surface. Two Crezets rose up, water draining from their blackish scales. The training I had put these beasts through for the last year, combined with the sacrifice I had give to learn control the sacred beasts of Zain compelled them to listen to me.
“What are you planning?” Faeve asked, drawing her daggers.
I smiled at the Crezets feeding on the torn limb, “Why, an underwater adventure of course”.
Faeve sat on the Crezet gingerly. Her eyes skittered fitfully, her fingers fidgety on its back. I shot a smile at her while I sat on another, teaching her to grasp the scales correctly. The Crezets sunk into the water slowly, taking us with them. Dirty water filled with debris swirled around us, the sunlight grew dim with each passing moment.
The Crezets swam into the whirlpool at the cave entrance, their powerful tails cutting apart the water. The whirlpool sucked us in, the current powerful enough to sweep in the heavy Crezets.
The beasts surfaced at the underground cavern. Faeve stood up, water dripping down her wet clothes. She had worn grayish clothes so it had grown transparent. Bits of kelp and moss stuck to our clothes.
I whistled at Faeve, my eyes traveling down her well defined curves, free of the compressing assassin attire. Her clothes stuck closely to the body, accentuating her features. She glared at me with her daggers out.
I walked towards the cave entrance with her closely behind me. Our shoes brushed against the rocky cavern floor, the sounds echoing like a ghost’s cry. Staleness hung in the air. Some of the crystals shone bright with the filtered sunlight through the shafts reaching to the surface.
“Eridan, what is this place?”, Faeve asked in a quiet voice, “It smells of death”.
I didn’t answer her. I reached the rock blocking the cavern door, and shoved with my shoulders. Faeve dropped on one knee and inspected the green Sulpurian ore sprinkled around the rock, and raised an eyebrow at me. Her wet hair stuck to her nape, glowing faintly in the diffused light of the cave.
The rock moved with a grating sound, pebbles breaking underneath. The room stood in its dark haze, scant light playing game of shadows inside it.
Rank air rushed out, carrying with it the odour of rotting meat and decay. A low whimper sounded from somewhere inside the cave, echoing strangely.
Faeve started screaming. I looked at her, she had fallen back on her ass and stared at the room; aghast. Her eyes had gotten wide and she breathed raggedly. He hands were clutching at the small rocks underneath, clenching and opening—over and over.
“Wha….what is this? Why is— she screamed again as her eyes adjusted and she saw what was inside the door.
It was the woman knight I had brought here the other day. Her half eaten body lay near the door, meat and skin hung from her corpse. Dried blood covered the floor underneath her. She had in her hands the Executioner Sword I had left there, the tip sunk deeply into the carcass of a monster, also half eaten.
I trod inside the chamber. Things skittered away in the dark at my footsteps. The knight had her arms stretched towards the door—She had wanted to flee.
Chunks of flesh and organs were missing from her body. Maybe she had crawled towards the door—before the beasts ate her or after… I shivered at the thought of monsters feeding on her while she lived; her screams unheard.
Faeve whimpered and sobbed behind me, her voice choking up. Why is an assassin crying?
I glanced back at her, she had retreated to the edge of the rocky beach, far away from the cave. She cried while hugging her knees, staring at the deep darkness.
I tugged at the Executioner sword; the dying woman had clutched at it too tightly. Rigor Mortis had set her fingers into a steel grip, unyielding. I smashed her dead hands with my shoes to retrieve the blade. The motion sent the woman’s corpse tumbling—it flipped. The eyes and nose were—gone!
I walked back towards the entrance, looking back at the cave for the last time. Deep darkness played with light, birthing unholy shadows. Men and beasts had killed each other, and spent their blood on that floor, unable to flee.
I sat beside Faeve, not saying anything. After a while she wiped her tears and grasped her daggers, one of them pointed at my throat. She clambered in front of me, looking into my eyes as she pinned my legs underneath her.
“What is that, Eridan. Why is such…WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!!”, she screamed again, her skin drained of colour.
I sighed. I didn’t move the dagger from my throat. “Belief. That is what sustains a god, Faeve. The wishes, the aspirations, the worships of mortals is what gives them power and life. As long as mortals believe, a god exists. As long as he is in memory of people, he exists. That is why, the gods need mortals”.
Faeve looked at me with deep green eyes, her dagger wavering. She looked at the cave once and whirled back at me, “So?”
“Those believers…what happens when they denounce their gods? Thrown into the deep darkness where neither fate nor light reaches, they call at him. They beg, they cry. But the god doesn’t listen. They never did. In there, monsters feed on men, men feed on monsters; they kill, they take life to save themselves. Finally, when the hunger grows taut, you know what happens? The men eat each other”.
Faeve sat agape, her eyes filling with water. Suddenly, smells of rotten meat wafted out the cave. She reached over my shoulder and hurled near the lake. Her breasts brushed my lips, the contact made her shiver.
The Crezets wont like her vomiting in their lake. Probably.
I continued, “In their last moments…they lose anything that ever made them human. Their despair, their agony…they stare at the door, unable to get out. Their terror at the approaching death, either in form of hungry monsters or their fellow men stain the air. In their last moments, they curse and denounce their god, forgoing their own faith”. I was out of breath. I looked at the sword at then at Faeve.
She had gone even paler. Her face made dirty with makeup now looked even more haggard. She was shaking and shivering. The Cave was eerily cold, sending a chill down my wet skin. Something howled in the dark, making Faeve tremble… Or is it me scaring her?
I pointed at the Executioner sword, “This is what that keeps them alive in there. This blade is what they had swung in their last moments, slaying fellow men and beasts. Then, they cursed as the blade bit into their own flesh, swung by their companions”.
“This blade, Faeve, is the testament to their curses, their despair. Their agony stains this blade. And this…has become the weapon to slay a god, by the blood and curses of his own believers. Very few things can take down a god. A Curseblade made of his own believers is one of them”.
Faeve looked at me strangely; she removed the dagger from my throat, and sheathed it. Then, she hugged herself with her shaking hands.
“Why couldn’t they escape? Their priests could tap into the god’s power”., she asked.
“I sliced off a few limbs so that they couldn’t move the rock. Priests don’t come headhunting. I killed any mages so that they can’t use magic. And for the off chance some swordsmen could….that’s why I used the Magic-Negating ore dust, Sulpurian”.
“How many…how many have you—
“The members of Talaviel’s Order that came after me”.
“So, you are saying—
“Yes, this is a sword made for Talaviel, made just for him”.
“Eridan…what have you done!” she said again, under her breath.
“I do not ask for forgiveness, Faeve”, I said in a low voice, “I am not a hero”. I gripped my old friend, the Executioner sword, light glinted off it, “Also, my name is Rigel”.
Her hands dropped, and stared across the lake behind me. She took a deep breath, inhaling the stale air and stench of death. Her hands trembled as she moved herself from my legs which she had pinned underneath. She rolled to sit beside me, our skin slightly touching.
“Gods…I now know why you drink that dreadful Khaginar wine”.
I didn’t say anything, but stood up. Our bodies touched a bit more in this movement. She jolted to the side, as if my skin burned her. I turned towards her, she averted her eyes.
She hates me, eh? Well, that’s inevitable.
I walked towards the cave and dragged the half eaten corpse of the knight towards the lake. Bits and pieces of her body dropped along the way—jolting out when I dragged it over the rocks. I almost tripped over her trailing intestines, some still attached to her desiccated body. Finally, I thrust her body half into the water and whistled loudly.
I could see from the edge of my vision—Faeve stared at me aghast, her body shivering. She looked at the woman again, and then at me.
The water churned furiously as tens of Crezets rose to the surface, their blackish scales gave the water patches of dull metallic sheen. Their red eyes stared at us like lamps, hunger in their wake.
The Crezets began to climb onto the rocky shore, tearing into the body of the woman. Bits and pieces of fat and meat were flying around in their furious shaking. Soon, the woman’s body disappeared as Crezets dragged her into the depths. More of the beasts tracked the stench of blood from the cave and raced across the shore to get to it. Hungry Crezets jumped into the cave, almost tripping each other at the entrance. Sounds of snapping and gnawing echoed in the cavern, made by many hungry jaws. With this, there will be almost no trace of the room anymore.
A rustling sound—Faeve was sitting with her head on her raised knees, shaking fitfully. Even assassins can’t handle this, huh? What have I—become? The Gift of Knowledge has already warped my mind to some extent but…how far will it twist me?
I stopped two Crezets from joining in on the feeding frenzy. They looked at me, their eyes wide and skittering towards the cave. They wanted to join in—Enough to attack me?
“You can have your share as soon as you carry us back”, I told them. I wasn’t sure if they understood or not. After all, they were beasts.
Their eyes shone with eerie intelligence as they scampered over and presented their backs. Their tails swished impatiently. I called Faeve over. She came and sat on one of the Crezets, none of the previous gingerliness present in her motions.
I climbed on one too. The Crezets hurried on to the lake, almost jumping. Faeve held on tight. Her hands clenched the scaled ridge at the back. She had closed her eyes, as if not to let the cavern be in her view anymore.
When we rose back to the surface, I put the Executioner sword into the bag. She looked at it once and stole away her eyes. The whole way back, we didn’t exchange any words, she seemed resolute to not walk near me.
When we reached the city gate, the guard had changed. A young man with shiny new armour manned the post; he scowled at us.
“Who are you! What are you doing?”
Faeve tried to mumble something but she choked. Fuck.
“Ei Torr, me anf ma weif gun ta pick grass fer me was drunk”, I quickly said.
“Why is there bits of weed on you? Where is the grass?”, he strode over, his eyes shone.
“Dunn ya haf ane manners? Wat a wief an hussband does out in ta woods in our bussines. It be a gud day so I dragged me wief and haf some fun in the grass. Me tell ya, doing it in de wet grass—
“Okay okay; enough! Pass!”, the guard looked flustered, probably due to his young age. I could see his skin going crimson as he walked away hurriedly.
Stupid guard. We would be in trouble if he wasn’t young.
We trudged back to Urun’s dripping wet. She arched her eyebrows but didn’t ask too many questions. We quickly packed the rest of out things and waited for Urun’s contact to come.
Evening had already fallen when I went to say my goodbyes to the girls. Suri had red eyes, tears shone on her cheeks.
“I’ll come back soon”, I told her while I talked over things with Urun.
“Men always say that. They never keep their promises”, Suri choked, “Be safe, Eri”.
“Where is Faeve?” I asked her. She was nowhere to be seen.
“She is taking a shower”, Suri hesitated to tell me something. “Did…something happen? She was sobbing”.
I didn’t answer her. I didn’t know how to.
After a while, Faeve came back, wearing her leather gear. None of the previous turbulent emotions marked her demeanor. She had turned once again into the assassin she was.
Urun thrust a bag at me. I opened it; it had quite a few Shivang bottles and Apopris fruits. I looked up at her.
“Take it as a gift, boy. You will need it”, she said while shaking her hands. The gift must have cost quite a lot. “Go, follow Hurris to the dock, he will guide you”, she said while wiping her eyes. Even Urun cries, huh?
“Goodbye, Mama Urun. Goodbye, Suri”, I said as we passed the door. I didn’t glance back at them. I couldn’t afford to. When I was falling apart…these women were the ones who took me in, gave me a place to stay. They didn’t let me alone in my grief. Each of them would annoy me, try to break apart my walls till I laughed with them. I don’t know what they saw in a broken man, but…they were the ones who kept me together. I won’t be able to leave if I think all this.
Hurris waved his musclebound arms and walked at a brisk pace through the back alleys. The sun had set, but the skies still bled from its passing. Flocks of birds were returning to their nest in the trees.
Which direction is… my home?
We came upon the docks. Rows of vessels stood, bobbing in the waves that lapped up the piers. In a distance, huge wooden ships stood with their sails down. Some were receding into the distance, their sails patches against the darkening skies.
“Why did you pick the name Eridan?”, Faeve asked quietly.
“Because it means End of the River where I come from”, I said while I clutched at the Kivala necklace on my neck.
Bird cries resounded through the docks as they fought over fish. Men raised an unholy din while they prepared to set sails, or return from the seas. Ker’dals were lighting up slowly.
The tanned Hurris took us to a corner in the dock. A fairly large boat stood there, with its sails down. The barnacled wood vessel swayed lightly in the water, men scampered on it with ropes.
“This is it. Mama Urun asked her…friend to let you two stow away in The Kurrick’s Tooth”.
A gruff man looked over from the deck, peering at us.
“Ye all de cargo?”, he asked, setting a gangplank down its sides. “Me Vinter Crit, Grunter of de Kurrick’s tooth. Pleased ‘ta meetcha”, he grinned ear to ear, a few teeth missing fromhis heavilt tanned face.
“Eridan, and this is my wife Faeve”, I answered him.
“Yar wifee is lovely, if ya dun mind. Come aboard. Nice trip ta ya”, he said while flashing a nasty smile at Faeve.
Yep, this is why I said she is my wife, yet…
“Mama Urun will be eager to hear of their safe passage, Vinter”, Hurris said gravely.
“Gif her ma regards, Hurris”, Grunter Vinter said, “ya dunt hafta threaten me”.
We walked up the gangplanks. The rough looking men stared at us for a moment then continued on with their work. A heavily tanned and tattooed hulk of a man came towards us, rolling two barrels.
“Dressir, Torr and Sin. Please”, he pointed at the barrels.
Vinter had walked up the planks after us and stood beside me, “Git in dere, lad. Can’t haf de marin guard spot ye”.
Faeve sighed and scrunched up her nose. “What are you doing with the fish?”
Vinter gave a really nasty smile this time. “Pour it in de barrel to cover ye up, Tron…Fae..fave”, he fumbled saying her name.
The men had brought fishes up from the net slung back at the ship, the green scales glistened in the setting sun. The stink of fish had coiled around the boat…no the whole dock. Birds had fought for the fishes on the net.
“Git off, ye son of a scallven, filthy crunks!”, a lanky man had howled at the birds, making them take flight.
I had looked at the fish again and at the barrels.
“Faeve, why didn’t you kill me and get out of the mess?”, I had whispered at her.
“I…I want to go home. Bringing a Arivern might lift my exile”, she had whispered back, touching her choker.
I had left unspoken what I had thought myself.
I can’t kill you…because you are my key to power.
Faeve had taken out the wanted poster that had my face from somewhere.
“Your picture looks nicer than you are”, Faeve said while balling up the piece of yellowish paper in her hands.
With a hammer, the man nailed in the lid of the barrel. Darkness fell. I clutched at the Kivala necklace.
I am going to the seas, Arin. Have you reached there yet?