Nothing special to report. Here is the chapter I promised you.
Chronicles of Koeleth
Voice of the Damned
“Now hold on,” the barkeeper said. “You began this story by saying it was about how Tom met an unexpected comrade. I haven’t heard anything about him meeting anybody yet.”
“Oh, sure, you have,” the old man reassured him. “I’ve told you about Aaron and Collin. I’ve told you about Grace, Dennis and Rydia. These aren’t people you encounter everyday, you know. Well, your grandmother might have at one point in time. And so did I. That, my young friend, is quite off topic, though. Not to mention, I haven’t gotten to Tom’s most unusual—and most important—companion. But we have some time before we get to that. You must know about some of Tom’s other adventures first. Specifically this one.” The old man chuckled at the young man’s confusion and minor frustration.
“Fine, then. Get on with your story.”
“Alistair!” Dennis and Grace said in unison.
“Who’s Alistair?” Collin asked.
“He’s one of our pack mates,” Dennis explained. His abomination power lets him transform into a wraith-like shadow creature. While in that form, he can unleash a mind-numbing, blood-curdling, ear-splitting screech, like the one we’re hearing right now. The problem is…this scream, well, it’s while he’s in between forms. Any transformational abomination knows the pain of being in between forms. Grace knows it, Rydia knows it, and I sure as hell know it. Whatever is forcing him into this half state, it must be stopped, because if we can hearere his screech, the people at the camp can hear it all the more loudly. Right now, there are only two people in that area that aren’t affected, and if this is an attack, they will need our help!”
“Then we better get going!” Theo declared.
“Hold on, Theo,” Tom interjected. “We should get a scope on the situation first. Normally, I am all for rushing in with reckless abandon, but this Alistair’s powers could really cause damage if we aren’t careful.”
“You’re right. What do you recommend, then?”
“Grace, your power allows you to fly, right?”
“Yes, and they turn me into a giant leathery lizard thing.”
“I believe the word you are looking for is ‘pterosaur,’” Collin interjected.
“Thank you, Collin,” Grace responded politely.
“How is your hearing in that form?” Tom asked.
“Not fantastic, but my sense of smell and my eyesight are spectacular.”
“Then you should scout the camp from the sky.”
“Look,” Dennis interjected. “If something is causing this, we need to take it out soon.”
“Right, and as soon as Grace is done scouting, we’ll do something about it,” Tom stated. “We’ll send Aaron in to take care of it.”
“Why me?” Aaron inquired stoically.
“Because you’re better at stealth than anyone else here, and if our target is human, we need somebody to sneak up on him. Who better suited to that than a professional thief?”
“You raise a valid point that I can’t argue with.”
“You’re going to need something to cover your ears, then,” Grace suggested.
“And we have just the thing for that,” Dennis declared, producing two plugs of some unknown material. “Put them in your ears and it’ll block out Alistair’s screech, along with just about everything else.”
Aaron took the earplugs from Dennis and put them in his ears. Just as advertised, he could hear nothing.
“Tom, yell at me,” Aaron commanded. “Shout something at me that you would never say to my face.”
“I’m sure I can think of a few things,” Tom answered, knowing Aaron couldn’t hear him. He began to shout and scream a dozen insults and curses. “That felt really good.”
“Nope, didn’t hear any of it,” Aaron said in response to a question that wasn’t asked. He took the earplugs out to hear further instructions.
“Okay, let’s not waste anymore time,” Tom said. “Lives are at stake here.”
“Right, I’ll go, then.” Grace took a running start, launched herself into the air, and in less than a second, she had turned into a grotesque but useful flying dinosaur.
After about half an hour, Grace returned to the small company with news of the camp.
“I didn’t see what was causing Alistair’s pain, but I did see that Darren and Owen were fighting a group of soldiers outfitted in leather and chainmail. The insignia on their armor looked like a cross on top of a sun.”
“The Inquisitors,” Tom said. “That’s not good.”
“No kidding,” Dennis affirmed.
“Aaron, you’re on. Go find the culprit. In the meantime, do you guys have anymore of those earplugs?”
“Yeah, we always pack extras.”
“Good. Amelia, ready your bow. Collin, this will end in violence. Take Rydia and keep her safe. Diane, Artie, I assume you are prepared for a fight. And, Theo?” Tom’s face sprouted into a he grin.
“Yeah, Tom?” Theo grinned back.
“Man, this is gonna be fun!”
“Let’s get moving!”
The band of warriors headed towards the camp, with Aaron running off to find the source of the problem. As they approached the camp, the scene was surreal. They saw the battle, they saw the screeching abomination, caught between humanity and shadows, and they saw the cringing forms of the other pack members, but they only heard muffled voices and hushed sounds of battle. A hand gesture from Tom and Amelia began to fire at the soldiers. After a few of them had been crippled, the melee fighters moved in, backing up the two men who were already engaging the opponent. After a few minutes, Amelia noticed that the screeching abomination collapsed to the ground, and several of the crippled people began to recover. Taking this as a sign that Aaron had succeeded in his task, she took out her earplugs, directed the others to do the same, and began shouting orders.
“Anybody who can fight, help out when you’re ready!”
Soon enough, several abominations joined the fight, using a variety of powers to help them. One man turned into an apelike creature and began wailing away at his foes. A woman set her own arms on fire and then proceeded to set several opposing combatants on fire. Even Dennis, knowing that his pack was now safe, showed off his power. Morphing into a massive theropod with metallic scales, powerful forearms and an impenetrable metal skull plate, he plowed through his opponents. He may have suffered from a lack of sight, due to a lack of eyes in this form, but he made up for it with an impeccable sense of smell. Grace began taking victims into the sky only to drop them onto the ground below. Amelia did not stand on the sidelines when the fighting started, either. Pulling out her shield and sword, she charged into the fray, staying close to Tom and Theo. Her presence on the battlefield was beneficial to all, as her shield, the Neutral Party, boosted the strength and endurance of her allies with its magic.
Tom and Theo were the true stars of the battlefield. They could never be found more than a few feet away from one another, and they fought together with such ease and grace that even the more seasoned warriors were shocked at the skill. Tom hit hard and sure with his halberd, taking the wind out of his opponents, and Theo struck with speed and precision, twirling his blades in his trademark style. Tom was primal and aggressive, but he was always careful not to take a life. Breaking bones was not off limits, though. Theo was flashy and over the top, but he knew how to use his swords, a twin set of falchions, and every other strike was a kill. His spinning blades flashed in the light, the unique style proving to be lethally efficient. Tom pushed back the enemy, and Theo stepped in to deal the final blow. Tom guarded Theo’s back, and Theo cleared a path ahead of them. Before long, the two had amassed a pile of injured, unconscious and dead bodies lying in a circle around them. Before they could rest, however, some of the soldiers got past the frontline and deeper into the camp. Tom and Theo charged towards them, but Theo quickly redirected when he noticed that the soldiers were headed towards a young woman. Sheathing his swords as he ran, he dived towards the young woman, embracing her and rolling out of the way of the soldiers. While Theo took care of the girl, Tom erected an aquatic barrier to impede the soldiers’ progress, and, while they were still confused, he came up behind them and took them down.
“Th-thank you,” the woman muttered, looking up at her rescuer.
“Yeah, don’t mention it,” Theo said in response, captivated by the beauty in front of him.
For a brief moment, Theo’s hazel-brown eyes locked with the woman’s peculiar purple eyes, and they just stared at one another.
“I’m, uh, I’m Theodore Mapleleaf,” Theo finally said, breaking the silence.
“Oh, um, I’m, uh, Suren Northstar,” the woman responded, nervously playing with her jet black hair. “Thank you, Mr. Mapleleaf.”
“Oh, um, you can just call me Theo. Theo is fine. Yeah, just Theo,” Theo embarrassedly fumbled over his own words.
“W-well, th-thank you again, um, Theo,” Suren smiled, blushing all the while.
“Hey!” Tom interrupted. “Lover boy! We still have work to do. Save your romantic escapades for later.”
“Ergh! Right, right! Sorry, ma’am! Sorry! I’ll let you go now, as I must be going myself! Lovely meeting you, I hope we can do it again sometime!” Theo stumbled back to his feet, flabbergasted and abashed.
“Oh, wait! Oh, okay, um, I guess…I’ll see you later,” Suren mumbled as the warrior went on his way.
“So,” Tom smiled as he remarked. “Getting cozy with the ladies, huh? Never thought you were the type.”
“Oh, shut up!” Theo said, still flustered.
By the time they had returned to the battle, the remaining soldiers had been taken care of. Several people were wandering around the campsite, cleaning up debris, gathering scattered property, and checking on the wounded. Grace and Gabriel were checking on Alistair, Aaron was lying in a tree, and the Ramsthrone guards were patrolling the borders of the site, searching for any straggling Inquisitors. Darren and Owen, the ones unaffected by Alistair’s screeching, were getting themselves checked by a medic, having taken the brunt of the combat damage. Amelia, upon seeing Tom and Theo, approached them.
“Hey, Tom,” Amelia began. “It looks like nobody was too severely injured. Gabriel was knocked completely unconscious by Alistair’s screaming, but the medic says he is fine otherwise. He should recover soon.”
“That’s great,” Tom said. “But these guys were easy. If they come back in the future, the Inquisitors are going to bring bigger, badder fighters. They’re going to bring out people on mine and Theo’s level, or maybe even tougher. That’s not good for us.”
“Yeah,” Theo said. “At least we have something to work with, though. This pack has more than a few useful assets.”
“Yeah. A little bit of training and they would make good warriors.”
Dennis and Grace had finished with Alistair and were headed towards them. Aaron had moved from his spot and had also joined the group. Collin had kept a safe distance away with Rydia, but, when the commotion died down, he decided to check things out. Now that it was safe, Rydia and he both rejoined the camp. When Diane and Artie had arrived, they decided to hold an impromptu meeting.
“We managed to keep everyone safe this time,” Tom said. “But things are going to get rough if the Inquisitors come back.”
“We know,” Dennis responded.
“I have one question, bro,” Artie interrupted. “Why didn’t they attack when everyone was disabled by the shadow guy?”
“I think,” Grace began, “that they were trying to get the pack to kill itself. If Alistair had continued screaming, he might have killed a few of the more sensitive abominations, or one of them might have gone crazy and started killing the others.”
“No muss, no fuss, eh?” Theo commented. “Despicable.”
“What’s the deal with Darren and Owen?” Tom inquired.
“Darren is deaf,” Dennis replied. “Owen has a sort of magical barrier that prevents his senses from being inhibited.”
“That seems useful,” Collin remarked.
“What’s Darren’s ability? I didn’t see him use it,” Tom stated.
“He has a really unique ability. After he is hit with a weapon, he can recreate it with organic matter. In other words, he is really hard to kill, and, if you try, he’ll stab you with a copy of your sword that’s made out of bone. I saw him shoot a guy with an arrow made out of bone and toenails, shot from a bow made out of hair and fingernails. It wasn’t a great shot, but it was a shot.”
“That seems super useful.”
“As to why he wasn’t using it, steel is much more reliable than bone.”
“Fair enough. So, how do you guys communicate with him?”
“He’s adept at reading lips, which has come in handy for purposes other than communication, too. The only person he has any trouble communicating with is Rydia, and we’ve been teaching her to mouth out her words, since she can’t form sounds. We’ve been moderately successful. She mouths words to him. Just him.”
“Moderately successful indeed.”
“Enough about that,” Theo said. “We’ll learn all about the various magical diseases and curses as we go. Right now, we need to get working. If we can train some of these guys, you’ll be able to defend yourselves, and we’ll be able to better defend those who can’t.”
“You raise a good point,” Dennis agreed. “That can wait for later, though. For today, we should be safe. I doubt they have reinforcements waiting right here. That would be too big a tax on their resources, even for a blessed guild.”
“A blessed guild?” Artie asked.
“A guild that has a patron guardian, you doofus,” Diane responded. “Like the Adventurer’s Guild, though I can never remember who their patron is…”
They all looked at Tom and Theo.
“Beats me,” Tom said.
“It never mattered much,” Theo continued, finishing Tom’s thought.
“Fearl is the guardian of the Inquisitors. They inspire fear, and they are driven by it. A perfect guardian for such a guild.”
“Anyways,” Dennis said, weary of the topic. “Let’s get camp fixed up, and then let’s have a celebration. Today’s victory deserves it.”
“Yes, Dennis is right,” Grace agreed. “Let’s worry about the ugly stuff later.”
“Sounds good to me,” Theo exclaimed.
“Yeah, I could use a good party,” Tom assented.
“Woot woot! Cool, bros!” Artie shouted.
“Well, I guess I can’t fault Artie for his enthusiasm this time,” Diane sighed.
“As long as you keep him in line tonight,” Amelia laughed.
“Oh, dear. This seems like it will be eventful,” Collin said.
“Tom has that effect on people,” Aaron muttered.
Rydia just happily followed along, carrying a large jawbreaker in her mouth like a Labrador carries a tennis ball.
Just like they said they would, the community cleaned up the campsite and gathered together for a party. Everyone laughed and danced as the Sirens, the camp’s resident band, played a wholly unique style of music, using a few extraordinary magical abilities that had a more artistic bent than usual. The festivities went on into the evening, and after a large feast, the camp gathered around a few bonfires strategically placed so as not to burn the place down. The outsiders, along with Grace, Dennis, and Suren, were gathered on one side of the central fire, and even Gabriel had recovered enough to show up. Some would say that he even enjoyed himself, but he would never admit to it.
“So, then, we charged in, swords waving wildly, and somehow we managed to take down all of them without getting a single scratch between us!” Theo was telling one of his and Tom’s many adventures. “We earned the title ‘Fearless Chargers’ after that, to make it sound less comical and more dramatic, but it was really just a fluke we didn’t get hurt.”
“Yeah, that was only our fourth mission, too!” Tom added. “We didn’t get along at that point in time, much less understand how to work together.”
“What, your ineffable charm didn’t affect Theo?” Amelia jested.
“Quite the opposite, actually,” Theo answered. “I hated him when we first met. We were both fresh in the Guild, and I took my job so seriously that I thought any sort of frivolous celebration was a hindrance. When Tom would walk in the door, he was everybody’s friend and the life of the party. I hated him for it, but he wasn’t overly fond of me, either.”
“I wouldn’t say I hated you,” Tom clarified. “But I was always ready for fun, and you always managed to bring down my high. What a stick in the mud. Of course, I didn’t like you.”
“Yeah, well, the captain thought it would be funny if he paired us up for a mission or two, and, after those first two missions were blinding successes, he decided to keep us together. Initially, we both resented the fact that we worked well together. After the big one, though, we reached an understanding.”
“The big one?” Collin asked.
“Yeah,” Tom interjected. “The one that earned us the title ‘River Brothers’. We were sent to Deluge, a town that sat at the joining of two major rivers in our mutual home region of Sorowa’s Cradle. A group of rebels who were trying to start an uprising against the baron of Sorowa’s Cradle were nested in Deluge, and the Guild chose us to represent them in this scenario. At the time, we were the best two man team in all of Sorowa’s Cradle and were more efficient than most larger groups. We no longer loathed each other, but it was still a far cry from being best friends. Their base was littered with traps and hazards that threatened our lives, but if you know what to look for, they’re easy enough to bypass. Well, we didn’t know what to look for when it came to pit traps, and this one was particularly nasty. They had a means of controlling it remotely, and to this day I don’t know how, but they saw us coming and triggered it when we were on top of it. A lucky catch saved me, and I was able to climb out, but Theo almost bit it. His cloak got stuck to a floorboard that hid the trap, and he was slipping out of it. The spikes at the bottom seemed unforgiving, so neither of us was excited about the prospect. I dropped on my stomach to try and grab his collar, but he was just out of reach, so I did the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I swung the Hardened tear as hard as I could towards him, lodging it right underneath his left arm, locking his cloak into place and giving him a handhold. He did slip, and he did manage to grab hold of my weapon.”
“Wouldn’t that have cut up his hand?” Aaron very sensibly asked.
“The inside edge, the part of the blade that wasn’t stuck into the wall, is dull enough where it won’t cut flesh, usually. Axe blades, even the small ones you find on halberds, aren’t designed to cut using their inside edges. It isn’t a backsword, you know. I mean, Theo grasped it tightly enough to cause some bruising and bleeding, but that makes sense when you’re hanging on for dear life. Anyways, I finally managed to get him out, but not before almost falling in again myself. He later repaid me when I was ambushed and captured by some of the rebels. Theo took out a whole room of them by himself to get me out of there. We finished that mission successfully and came out with our lives and a healthy new respect for one another.”
“Wow, that’s amazing…” Suren whispered.
“Yeah, taking on a room full of rebels was probably the stupidest thing I ever did. You know, it would have been easier if you just killed them,” Theo joked.
“You’re probably right,” Tom laughed in response.
“So, um, how did you convince Gabriel to trust you?” Suren asked Theo.
“Oh, that?” Theo answered. “Well, pay close attention, folks. Only Tom knows this.”