Returning to the farm, the farmhands waved to us. Baen explained the situation to the rest of the farm, while Lapi joined me to take a look around the perimeter. She kept step beside me, watching the forest with keen eyes and pricked ears. “Sorry we didn’t bring you with us, thought they’d need you more here in case something happened.” I said absently, slowing every now and then as I Delved.
Lapi bumped up against me, her jaws gently clamping on my arm as she pulled me to rest. I turned to her, and she held my gaze. I sighed, dropping to a knee as I ran my hand through her fur. “Sorry, this isn’t very much like me I guess.” I said. “I came across three other dire wolves you know? Kinda like cubs.” I grinned. “Maybe sometime they might come down to meet you if you’re willing.” Lapi snorted, lifting her head to lick the side of my helmet. I laughed. “I’ll be fine, in time, trust me.”
Lapi huffed a little, unhappy, but let me go, the perimeter at least seemed sound, but considering how long it took me to circle the farm it could well have approached from a different side while I was circling. I doubled back towards the farm. Baen was organizing something with Baer, Teb instead nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was finally passing off his duties, would be about time.
“With the winter being here they’ve got the time to spare for watch rotations.” Baen remarked, gesturing to the others, who wielded spears and torches. “We’ll be closer, and if they see the chimaera we should be able to get there in time.” He said nervously, his thumb and index finger rubbing his bowstring. “Most of them are in pairs, but the fire should deter the chimaera all the same…”
Don’t jinx it… please. I thought to myself. It was practically a foregone conclusion for it to be hunting them, that was why it was here of all places. If we were lucky it might have gone for the ettin’s corpse after we’d slain it, but ultimately that was unlikely. The Aesor was comfortably placed against my chest. With everyone around me, I needed to be careful. The discomfort could well cause anyone near me to make missteps, and that could have terrible consequences.
I circled the buildings counter clockwise, watching the lights from each of the torches as they were carried by the farmhands. “Hey ah… sir?” I turned to the voice. It was the woman who had asked about the Aerathi. I spared another glance at the torches, but nodded to her. “I was jus wondering… about the Aerathi.” She started. “Now that they’re here and all… what’re they gonna do?” She asked.
I arched an eyebrow. “From what I’d heard… they’re going to make peace.” I said, thinking back to when I had met that person in the forest. In hindsight, a risky move, but I suppose I wasn’t exactly in the most stable of moods when I’d arranged it. She folded her arms, unsure. I nodded, I hadn’t trusted their intentions at the start to begin with either. “I don’t have a reason to doubt them, if they wanted to subjugate us they could’ve done so easily.” I noted. “That they arrived so late was… problematic.” I gritted my teeth. “But ultimately welcome. I think they’ll do the world some good.”
She mulled it over, thinking as she stared past me at the walls. “I don’t like it.” She finally admitted. “It sounds weird I ken, but they’re so… powerful, if they ever changed their minds we’d be goners for sure.”
I nodded. “Can’t disagree with you there, but on the bright side, it should make things safer, maybe even mend relations between the other races.” I sighed. “I suspect a lot about the history of the world, but it’s not really all that important now, their intervention is what prevented us from being overrun by the Edratchi, that will have to suffice for now.”
“I guess…” She said, turning to the side, and freezing in place. I blinked, cursing as I turned to look at the perimeter. One of the torches had been snuffed out, and something was loping towards us, pouncing at the woman. Without thinking, I pushed her aside with my right hand, trying to draw my sword with my left hand in an underarm stance. The wound on my arm slowed me, and the chimaera slammed into me, knocking me down and jamming the sword back into its sheath.
I quickly raised my right arm as its jaws closed shut, and screamed as I felt my gauntlet collapse into itself, bones cracking under the force of the bite. A paw pinned my chest to the ground, claws digging into my flesh. I struggled, sending a knee into the creature’s throat, before lunging my left hand towards the chimaera’s eyes. I dug in, prying my fingers under its eyelids as it tried to tear my right arm away from my body.
It tossed me aside with a flick of its head, and I quickly drew my sword in a reverse grip with my left hand. The world spun as I tried to focus on the chimaera. A growl and a hiss sounded from… somewhere, but my eyes flicked easily to sudden movement, and I turned to the side, making the most of my reach. The blade jammed itself into the beast, and my wrist screamed in protest. I slammed my body weight against the hilt, eliciting a pained yowl. The blade wrenched away from me as the chimaera whirled away.
I took the moment to catch my breath, there was nothing I could do now, it would either rush me again and wreck my other arm, or give me enough respite to dodge its next attack. I shook my head, trying to clear it, and took in my surroundings. The chimaera had been distracted, an arrow sticking from its side, just a few centimetres from its heart. I darted to where I’d been standing before, scooping up the Aesor as it dodged Baen’s next arrow, and prepared another pounce.
The blade flared to life silently, a solid, sharp blue blade once again formed over the hilt. The chimaera’s eyes flicked towards me, and I lunged, plunging the blade deep into its chest. It spasmed, collapsing to the ground, its breathing coming in ragged gasps as its claws raked futilely across the rest of my armour. I flicked the blade towards its skull, and it fell still. I toggled the Aesor off again, and the brilliant white blade dissipated. I leaned myself against the chimaera’s corpse, steadying myself.
I let out a deep breath. “Is everyone okay?” I asked, holding in my pain as I scanned the area. Baen nodded at me, his eyes never leaving my right arm. The others seemed stunned, and Baer walked around, checking the others for wounds. Fortunately, it seemed I was the only one injured. I spared a glance at my right arm and grimaced. The gauntlets had pinched inwards, blood seeping out of tears and cracks that lined it, and ordering it to move only made my fingers twitch. I’ll take a look at that once I’m alone… Definitely looks like it’s going to be bad. I thought to myself.
It was Gornath that had been taken by the chimaera. If the chimaera had simply taken him alone… perhaps we would never have found it. I’m sorry. I offered some basic prayers they used as the others buried him. Baer added his name to the tree, scratching the words into it with a dagger as the others bowed their heads.
I took off the gauntlet in an empty room Baer had shown me to, resting my arm on the table. I hissed in pain as I peeled the strips away, and blood spilled onto the table. I didn’t even know where to begin, the arm was completely mangled, skin torn off at different parts, bones jutting at uncomfortable angles. Walk me through this Page. I thought, gritting my teeth as I prepared myself.
[You need to set these bones here and here.] Page notes, overlaying my vision with neon yellow where the nanomachines had located the major portions. I grunted in pain, digging my fingers deep into the wounds to push them into vague alignment. [Right.] Page paused. [You’re going to have to realign your hand as well, I suggest using your armour as a brace.] I complied, reshaping the armour to hold my arm snugly in place while leaving the bottom half exposed for me to work on.
Baen walked in at this moment, gagging at the sight. “Kio help you… Why don’t the potions work on you?” He asked as I began to move strips of flesh to where they should have been. “Surely, with everything you’ve done, there would be no god that would maintain a curse like that on your person?” I barked a short laugh.
“Trust me. This has absolutely nothing to do with gods. I’m a special case, and that’s all you’re hearing from me.” I let out a small hiss through my teeth. “I know what I’m going to do now. Really with who I am there was nothing else I could be.” I started to ramble. “I wanted to hide away, maybe become a farmhand somewhere, but this world… that won’t be allowed.” My fingers fumbled, and I gasped as my fingers dug painfully into flesh. Two sharp pains from my left wrist and my right arm. “There’s always going to be slimes, ettins, all threatening every last settlement. I can’t ignore that, and being a hermit in the woods will only mean I get worn down and killed young.”
I chuckled ruefully, moving strips of skin back into place. “It may well be fate, but knowing that something is predestined doesn’t mean I can live with any other option. Maybe when I’m finally old enough, finally weak enough, I’ll be able to stop, knowing that I’ve done all I could.” I seal the gauntlet into place, locking it rigidly to prevent all movement. “But until then, I guess I really am an irregular…” I shook my head, leaning heavily onto the table. I heard no response from Baen. “Think you can get me a bucket of water?” I asked, gesturing to the table. “It’s going to stain otherwise.”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” I slung my arm against my chest while I waited for him to return, grimacing as each movement sent jolts of pain from it upwards. The punctures on my chest weren’t even close to life threatening, mostly just small gashes where it had pierced the armour. “I’m glad I guess.” Baen said when he returned. “Maybe you won’t be as morose now that you’ve figured it out?”
I gave a tight grin. “Maybe I’ll do that after this has healed up.” I said, gesturing to my arm. He hesitated for a moment, looking out to the wilderness. “I’ll be fine going alone, a quick wash will stop me smelling like blood and it’s winter, there’s not much out there now.” I shifted my gaze to where the chimaera lay. “Except that, it’ll feed everyone for a while I guess.”
We retired for an early night once the blood was taken care of, the others would take care of curing and disposing the body and hide. By the time I’d woken the next morning, the chimaera was nowhere to be seen.
When I stepped back into the guild house in Torven, everyone was in, for once, there hadn’t been any pressing jobs. It was quieter now, with so many gone away. “Kael? It is you!” Numen exclaimed, walking over and almost managing to give me a hug. I stepped back, eyes wide as I shifted my injured arm away. “What in the hells happened to your arm?” Numen asked, eyes widening as she noticed the sling.