This is part 2 of an ongoing story. Check out part 1 of the Man With No Soul before continuing. Mel descends the hill with me following. Up close, the small wooden hovels look no
This is part 2 of an ongoing story. Check out part 1 of the Man With No Soul before continuing.
Mel descends the hill with me following. Up close, the small wooden hovels look no better than they did in the distance. There isn’t even a wooden gate surrounding the area. Predators must have free reign, especially with the jungle so close.
I don’t see any signs of current habitation. “Where is everyone?” I ask the girl.
“They’re mostly out gathering food and water.” Mel picks up her pace and runs to a slightly smaller dwelling. She casually pushes the door open to reveal the inside.
A man with a bandaged leg sits stirring a small pot, hung on a spit over a cookfire in the center of the room. Steam rises from the boiling broth. The dwelling is sparse, even by outland standards.
Mel points at the man on the ground. “This is my Dad, Zeb.”
Zeb looks up in surprise at the sound of his daughter’s voice. He brandishes his spoon like a weapon at the sight of me. Despite the pathetic threat, I must stop my instincts from taking over. My sword always desires to leave its sheath, but that would only exacerbate his fear. Better to play the part of a peaceful man.
I raise my hands in a sign of friendship. “Well met.”
“He’s okay Dad. He’s here to get the Baron.”
The father scoots back toward the wall of his hut while beckoning for his daughter to join him. When she obliges, and I stay at the door, he relaxes a little. A quiet second passes, and Zeb notices he’s still holding a spoon toward me. He drops it and replaces the utensil with a sharpened flint knife, pulled from behind him. Now he might actually manage to draw blood if he attacks me.
I remove my sword from its sheath. The metal sings as it hits the air, but I silence the weapon by shoving it into the dirt outside. I step toward the cookfire and sit cross-legged, unarmed.
Zeb lowers his shiv. “Did the King send you? Has he finally answered our pleas?”
Lying is easy when a person wants to be fooled. “He did. I have a mandate to remove the Baron from power.”
I catch a flicker of something in Mel’s eyes. She doesn’t buy my story. Clever girl.
“I told you, Mel. Trust the King. He’ll do right by us. And you always disparage him.” Zeb directs a judgmental look at his daughter. “Please, take some soup.”
My stomach betrays me with a rumble, and I am unable to deny the invitation. Mel fetches me a bowl, and I dip it into the boiling liquid. After it cools, I greedily consume it. The father and daughter stare at me the entire time.
“What can you tell me about the Baron and his castle?” I ask, setting the bowl beside me.
Zeb hesitates to respond.
“Speak freely. He’s no longer under the King’s protection.”
“He demands too much food from us. He never leaves his castle. And…” Zeb’s voice trails away.
Mel chimes in. “And he asks for all girls to be sent to dine with him when they turn thirteen, but they never come back.” Mel casts a steely glare at her father. “That’s what happened to Leann.”
“Did you deliver your daughter to the castle?” I ask.
Zeb looks insulted but nods affirmatively.
“Describe the entrance to the castle.”
“It’s got a huge iron gate. Stone walls. A typical castle.” Zeb replies.
“How many guards?”
“None that I saw at that moment. The gates opened, and Leann went inside.” Zeb pauses for a moment before continuing. “There was an overhead gap—”
Murder-hole, my mind fills in.
“—in the stone archway beyond the gate. That’s all I saw before Leann disappeared within the winding path.”
I unsling my pack and use it as a pillow as I sprawl out on their dirt floor. “I’ll head up there tonight. I’m going to rest until then.”
Mel and her father both look frightened.
The girl speaks first. “You can’t go out at night.”
Zeb continues. “The Baron’s victims return seeking the warmth of human bodies. You need to stay close to the light of a fire to keep safe.”
Wight’s indicate stronger dark magic then I anticipated. This Baron has apparently drunk deeply on the void if his magic leaves behind hungry ghosts. Maybe his dealings with the old ones even rival my own. No time to waste.
I sit up and rummage through my pack. It only takes a minute to remove the small beans I scavenged in the jungle. I pop three into my mouth. Their bitter taste and rough feel are offset by the energy they provide me. Some people crush them up and put them in water to absorb their effects more easily. I stand and hoist my pack back on before heading to the door.
“Thanks for your assistance.” I don’t stop to look back.
Outside, I collect my sword and follow the road out of the village. It begins to climb up along the mountainside. Trees encroach on the path and look like they are rarely hewn back. The sun’s about halfway through the sky, but I should make the Baron’s castle by dusk.
I call out to my tail. “Time for you to head home.”
Mel rushes out of hiding behind a nearby tree to stand next to me. “The King didn’t really send you.”
I smile at the girl.
“If I end the Baron. Does it matter?”
I take the first of my final steps on the road to my target. High above, I see my foe’s fortress sticking out of the trees covering most of the mountain. What eldritch defenses await me?
To Be Continued…
The next installment will be available on March 13th.