Game: Session 2
We’re back – sort of. Quin and I are back; Salamander is dead. We’ve been gone almost a month instead of the two, two and a half weeks we’d been expecting.
I guess I’m starting at the end here, but the worst stuff happened closer to the end than the beginning. What did the guy say about telling stories? “Begin at the beginning, go on until you reach the end, and then stop.” But memories don’t really work that way. The things that made the largest impression keep popping up like sand-crickets after rain.
Big things. Salvation is dead. Captain Harakan is dead, along with two of his men. One of them, Khalid, I killed myself; he’d broken his spine somehow and wouldn’t ever walk again. I couldn’t fix him. I wasn’t strong enough. We had to move, and move fast, and we couldn’t move him without killing him anyway.
I gave him an overdose of poppy resin. He fell asleep and just stopped breathing after a few minutes. I felt him die, felt his soul leave his body and go into the afterlife. I almost was pulled along with him, but managed – just – to keep a hold on my body.
There was a large part of me that wanted to die then. I hate that I had to do it. But at least he wasn’t in pain any more.
The other was crushed under the Kahn’s paws and died almost instantly. I didn’t feel him die the same way, or the raider I killed. Small mercies, I guess.
The Northsail Company men – the men who’d hired us were a detachment from a mercenary company with a good reputation – had found what they’d come for, apparently, and pissed off something in the process. We couldn’t go back the way we’d come, so we went north along the canyon to a nexus of dragon lines, and from there through the Kahn’s valley to the Dying Fields. It was risky; the Kahn is apparently a paragon of tigers, and likes little better than the hunt. But it was that way or through a wyvern nesting ground. Captain Harakan judged the risk to be less in the Kahn’s valley.
The captain was probably right, though it killed him in the end. After the Kahn had killed Corporal Mahmoud, he said that he’d let the rest of us go if one more person volunteered to die at his hands. Paws. Not hands. Of all the people, Sal stepped forward. And then the captain said he’d go in Sal’s place. The Kahn grinned. Not a happy expression to be on the outside of. And then Sal wouldn’t go with us! He kept trying to get the Kahn to let the captain go, and the captain kept trying to get Sal to go. Idiot. Sal, not the captain. The Kahn was going to kill the Captain anyway; that was what he’d wanted from the moment he dropped down in us.
So the Kahn took them both. The rest of us ran.
Khalid wasn’t the first person I killed. Before that, while we were still in the Dying Fields on the way to the canyon and its ruins, we were ambushed by raiders hiding under the sand. It started with four guys with bows taking shots at the rear of our train – captain Harakan started barking orders to his men and told his squire Palane to take care of us. He’d gotten a crossbow from one of the pack ponies and was firing back at the raiders. I got another one thinking I’d load for him so he could fire without having to stop and reload himself when four more raiders popped up from the sands not more than a few feet away. I still had the bow in my hands, so I shot at one, missed, and dropped the thing so I could draw my sword.
After that things got kind of messy. I remember losing my sword, wrestling with the raider and not doing so well until a knife (Palane had thrown it at him) appeared in his side below the ribs. I grabbed hold of the hilt and cranked the blade around inside him, doing quite a lot of damage. The light was still fading from his eyes when I stood up and saw a man standing over Quin, about to do something ugly to her. So I did something ugly to him, sticking my knife (which had stayed in my belt) into his back somewhere around his kidneys. I think Palane finished him off before I could.
My head was a little woogly from the hits I’d taken – the raider I’d killed had been trying to knock me out, not kill me. Women are valuable commodities out here. Anyway, I wasn’t ever very clear on how it all came out, just that the four raiders were all dead and I knew people needed healing. Quin had taken a pretty good scratch, Sal’s arm was bleeding from a very deep cut, and three of the Northsail men needed my help. I did the healing and then went off a little ways to barf up everything I’d eaten for the past couple of days. I’d never seen anyone die before, never mind seeing them die because I killed them. I felt better after that.
Healing feels good. I think I’ve mentioned that. I just wish I hadn’t needed to do so much of it. When the men came back from whatever they were doing, I had to heal a man with internal bleeding. I couldn’t do anything for Khalid except make him comfortable as he died. I hate feeling powerless.
We had to stop and fight at least eight times as we forced-marched along the canyon rim. Each time, there were casualties, none of them very serious. We almost lost one man when a horned lizard knocked him over the lip of the canyon. Salvation caught him somehow, and Quin got a rope down to him. The man was shaken, but other than that okay.
We didn’t have any serious trouble in the Dying Fields, once we finally got back there. It was a long, unpleasant hike through scores of miles of sand dunes, but there weren’t any raider attacks – maybe they learned that it wasn’t a good idea to ambush our particular little group. They’d had casualties of one hundred per cent, all fatal, to no gain whatsoever.
It wasn’t all horrible, though the bad parts are what I remember most.
The lieutenant – I never did learn his actual name; he was always just to as “the lieutenant” – is the most beautiful man I have ever seen. He’s even more beautiful than Archmage Ethan. Maybe that’s because I’ve never seen Ethan at all undressed, and the lieutenant wore as little as he could get away with. But Ethan’s pretty and the lieutenant isn’t. I spent a lot of time just staring at him (the lieutenant, not Ethan, who wasn’t there), watching his muscles move under all that smooth dark skin, wondering if the hair on his chest was soft or scratchy. Even his dick is beautiful, as I got to see during the few days we spent at the canyon’s rim while the captain’s group were off getting whatever the hell it was they were looking for.
If the lieutenant had seemed at all interested, I would have given myself to him in a heartbeat. He didn’t. So I just watched. Most of the other men asked me to sleep with them at some point or another, but I told them all no. I’m sure it was the best thing to do. Or my brain’s sure it was the best thing to do. Other parts aren’t nearly as convinced of it.
The Northsail troops all looked pretty much the same in their uniforms and armor. It wasn’t until we reached the canyon and set up camp that I got to see how different they were from each other. The captain took most of the men with him, leaving me, Salvation, and Quin behind with the lieutenant and nine other men. Almost right away the lieutenant set up one of the surviving always-full casks up as a shower, stripped down to his skin, and took a shower. In full view of everybody. Seeing him all glistening and wet made me all wet.
And then I got to see all the other men strip down and shower. It’s not like I haven’t seen any dicks before, but they all belonged to boys. These were men, and that made all the difference in the world. (Sal didn’t come off so well in comparison. Not that he’s bad looking, and I wonder sometimes what my skin would look like against his, but he’s not quite a man yet.) I tried to be all cool about it. That lasted for about three seconds until I just gave up and stared, biting my lip and trying not to reach down between my legs and relieve some of the… I don’t know what word. Pressure, I guess.
I can’t stop thinking about sex. It’s getting to be ridiculous; even bringing myself off hasn’t made it any better. Maybe I should just go find an Alexian priest and ask him to help me get rid of my virginity. It’s not like I was keeping it for any big reason; I just hadn’t found anyone I wanted that much yet. Now I’ve found some and I can’t have any of them. Maybe I’d think about it less if I could make sex more about memory than imagination.
At least it’s better than thinking about Khalid and the way he died.
The nexus was pretty amazing too. In the middle of the desert, with no spring in sight, there was an actual tree. It was all twisty and gnarly, but it was a tree. And it spoke to me, sort of. Quin and Sal just felt it as safe and welcoming. I got something that might have almost been words saying the same thing. At first I was kind of paranoid about it – what if the tree stayed alive by inviting people to stay and rest and ate them after they’d fallen asleep? – but the captain said he’d come here specifically because if we prayed or meditated or whatever, we’d regain our magic much faster. Which implied that we’d probably need it, which wasn’t actually all that comforting. But anyway, I curled up with Felicitation and sort of fell asleep, talking with the tree. I can’t remember what we talked about, but it was the kind of feeling I figure having a mom would be like. The tree loved me and wanted me to be safe and happy and well and it would be there for me for ever and always. It was hard to leave in the end.
Anyway, we’re back. We lost the lightning wand that Sal had, and we gave the spring rod to the captain after Sal blew up one of the ever-full water casks, but we brought back everything else Ethan had given us.
I’ve been trying not to cry, but I don’t think I can hold it back any more. It’s such a girl thing to do and I hate it.
He’s not dead! Sal isn’t actually dead. He’s pretty badly fucked up, but he’s not dead. The Kahn – who is apparently some sort of demon in the shape of a gigantic tiger – decided to play with him for a while. Archmage Ethan went to get him back. Sal’s got big scars across his face and his left eye’s gone (he has one of the steel balls he plays mindforce tricks with in the socket) and it looks like the Kahn flayed his back. The Alexian priest had a hell of a time fixing what damage he could.
Naturally he’s pissed. I’d be pissed. He’s got a list of demons he wants to kill, and it’s getting longer. I’ve got my own reasons for wanting to kill demons (hi dad!), and Quin thinks it’s a good idea. So that’s what we’re going to do. Starting with the slug demon infestation here at school.
A little research might’ve been a very good thing. Killing slug demons is pretty easy – they’re not exactly strong – but they can make you regret it if you’re not prepared. We weren’t prepared. We’d found five of them in a room practicing music of all things, and they didn’t last long.About five minutes later Quin and I started throwing up what appeared to be slug demon slime. And could not stop. We couldn’t even empty our stomachs, they kept filling up with more. Hers was singing; mine, mercifully, was silent. Sal got Father Iyr to come fix us – it took a quick exorcism and we were okay except for sore stomachs from all the throwing up. I wanted to wash my mouth out with lye. Of course he asked what happened, and we told him.
So all the teachers know we’re entering the demon-killing business. Well. It’s more of a calling. My mother was stupid, but she didn’t deserve what happened to her in the end. I can’t think of anyone I’d be willing to turn over to the demons’ tender mercies if I were in charge of that sort of thing. Kill them, sure, and hope they do better in their next life, but eternal damnation is pretty harsh. Maybe the Lord of Nexus deserves it, but I’ve never met the guy.
Anyway, since we’ve decided to do this, the teachers have been crazy helpful. Even Kerun the Librarian has let us into the restricted sections to do more demonology research. We don’t have completely free access – some of the books in the restricted sections eat the unprepared – but we’ve got much broader access than we had before. It’s pretty fucking cool. The rich kid, the one who when he screws up, we get beat for him, wants to join us. He’s actually a nice guy and goes out of his way to stay out of trouble so we don’t get hit. (I guess it works as a form of punishment, which I wouldn’t have thought.) He’s also rich and connected, qualities which Sal and me lack. So it might work out pretty well.
I cut my hair off. Actually, I asked Anah to cut my hair off for me. Out in the desert, my hair in all its oiled braids was a serious pain in the ass. Some of the Northsail soldiers wore theirs short (those who didn’t wear a warrior’s tail or just shave their heads entirely) to keep it out of their eyes and to keep their heads cooler. She must have asked me a dozen times if I was really sure I wanted her to cut my hair that short. “Yes. Really. I promise I won’t blame you if I hate it tomorrow.”
She did an awesome job with it. It actually looks cute in a boyish sort of way. I like it a lot.