The Tavern Cursed
Part Four – The Kurushu Warrior
The Souk outside stood empty, the patrons having sensibly fled. Bakanon, in all his time there, could not recall it having ever been so before. Stalls stood overturned, their merchandise strewn across the ground, while the smooth worn stone pavers were littered with discards hats, lost sandals, dropped cloaks and the other detritus that marked a hasty retreat.
It did entirely stand empty though. A giant ebon skinned warrior of the distant southern kingdoms remained, one clad in a shirt of iron scales, over which he wore a lion skin cloak. In his hands he wielded a curved axe in a double handed grip, hewing away with all his might at the form that stood tall in the centre of the Souk, one that matched nothing Bakanon had seen or heard of before. He did not know whether it was bravery that saw the warrior make his stand, or if he had been too besotted with drink to comprehend the nature of that which he fought.
His foe was a manifestation of horror dredged up from the very depths of nightmares, an amorphous shape of darkness that drank in the light of the torches that illuminated the Souk. As it rolled across the Souk, it constantly changed form and shape. At times it towered high to scrape against the colourful cloth shades that stretched out over the Souk, while at others it spread out over the pavers like a flowing liquid. It held no features, neither face, nor eyes or ears, that could be discerned. Lashing tentacles and grasping claws were forever emerging from its shifting body to strike at the warrior who opposed it, before once more being subsumed into it. Time and again they whipped at him, darting forward with the speed of a striking cobra. Their fluid nature allowed them to slide by desperate parries, blows raining down upon the man until he was left blooded and battered, strips of skin hanging loose where they had been torn loose by barbed extrusions that rasped across his body. Yet he fought on, roaring full throated defiance and hewing away still.
Peregrine reacted first, as was her nature, sprinting on silent step across the pavers to come at the manifestation from behind with no regards to risk or consequences. Her sword arced like cold lighting through the air as she cleaved at it. Yet even as she struck, a nebulous appendage rippled from the stygian form, striking at her with all the speed of a hawk swooping upon its prey from great height, wrapping itself tight around her body. As it tightened and constricted, seeking to squeeze the air from her lungs, to crush bones and rend flesh, she hacked away at the offending limb. Only the iron constitution of her frame helped her withstand the forces pressing against her. Those of a lesser fortitude, men of lowland cities not hardened by the elements, would have been pulverised beneath it, left broken and mangled.
Her sword sliced downwards, ripping into the limb of the fetid darkness that entangled her. It bit deep into a form that felt spongy beneath her stroke, being neither solid flesh, nor unresisting liquid, but something that lay in between. Droplets sprayed from the rents, beads of darkness that scattered, to fall dissipating into smoke before fading away entirely. From it oozed not blood, but some form of viscous liquid, black as the nether regions beneath the earth, which gave off acrid vapours that brought tears to the eye and stung the lungs.
Again she struck, hewing deep into it with her sword, setting upon it like an axemen taking to a tree, her strokes methodical and precise, yet driven by an arm of iron. As her vision began to waver under the strains of the constriction, her ribs groaning, the tentacle detached from her, dumping her to the ground as it merged back in with the rest of its body.
Bakanon cowered back in terror from the roiling mass of coalesced evil as it thrashed about. Unable to move, his feet frozen in fear, all he could do was watch as the manifestation bludgeoned away at the pair battling it. He could see no manner in which it could be defeated. While it had been damaged, for wounded seemed not an appropriate word for such a thing, it seemed to have had no impact upon its capabilities.
Blade, his rapier held before him, looked about the Souk, studying what was to hand that could aid in the battle. From a wall where it had been lodged in a rusty iron sconce, he snatched up a burning torch and quietly slipped towards where the fight took place.
“Fire will have no effect upon it, man,” the Kurushu warrior called out through battered lips when he spotted Blade approaching. A lashing limb had coalesced, snaking around the warrior’s ankle and upended him. As he lay upon his back, he desperately fended off a snapping claw that protruded on a groping tentacle.
Blade nodded and sheathed his rapier. He lingered back at what he hoped was range enough away from the manifestation. With his now spare hand, he drew a pinch of dust from the pouch at his side. He tossed it into the air above the flames of the torch, and as it drifted down into the flames, he breathed upon it, the exhalation of breath accompanied by a piercing note like the ringing of trumpets ablaze.
The dust burst into sparks of brilliant light, glittering motes that glistened like diamonds and cascaded outwards to fall upon the morass of darkness. As they touched it, it recoiled and a howling wind echoed around the Souk. The sparks sunk into its flesh, glowing from within like stars blazing in the night sky. The manifestation thrashed about, its skin losing the deep tenebrous murk that had marked it, with patches of a dark sapphire hue rippling out across it.
The Kurushu warrior hauled himself up from the ground. Though battered by the malevolent entity, with one eye half closed and his cheeks swollen from blow received, his scalp torn open so that a flow of crimson blood fell as a mask over his face, his arms and legs rent with many cuts, he stalked forward with a resolute, unyielding step, pain a distant though, taking a firm grip on his axe.
“Now it is my turn,” he announced, his deep voice echoing through the empty Souk with a thunderous retort. The axe descended, rippling with cold fire in the torchlight, and smote the manifestation fair in the centre of one of the paler patches that mottled its body. The axe bit deep, and from the gash it tore in it, a burst of cerulean light gushed forth, illuminating the Souk with its dazzling brilliance. Rolling backwards across the Souk like a cresting wave, the manifestation wrenched the axe free from the Kurushu’s hands. Light continued to bleed forth from it as it convulsed, and from its amorphous form great bubbles emerged to burst, each one accompanied by a fresh flaring of luminance. Limbs flailed about, changing in both form and length, emerging and subsuming, sending stalls to crashing and spilling their merchandise in its violent thrashing. It shook as if with some great internal force, quivering under volcanic pressures, and the whole time the axe remained firmly lodged in it.
When at last it ruptured open, it did so accompanied by an ear rending roar and the Souk was shaken by a blast of light and fury and force that tossed all about like leaves on a gale. Doors were ripped open and the shade cloth stretched out over the Souk tore free. The flames of the torches were snuffed out, leaving only the light of the stars and moon to cast a pale light down through the now open sky.
From a tangle of carts and rolls of cloth, Peregrine picked herself up from the ground, a fierce light burning in her eyes. Of the thing that they had battled, no sign remained bar for a few luminescent glowing patches that faded even as she watched, seeping away between the pavers. Sheathing her sword, she touched a hand to her brow, her fingers coming away moist with blood. Not alone did that wound score her, for the contest had been fell and furious.
A low groan nearby marked where Blade had come to rest. With swift stride, Peregrine crossed to him and gave him a hand back up to his feet. Across the other side of the Souk, they could see Bakanon likewise assisting the battered Kurushu warrior.
“That did not turn out as I had expected,” Blade noted, a wan smile twitching upon his lips.
“Good fight though,” Peregrine responded and laughed. “It may be that we have overstayed our welcome here though.”
Blade sighed as he started to straighten his dishevelled clothes, plucking at the cuffs of his sleeves and brushing dust from the cloth. “You may have the right of it. There are liable to be questions aroused about the sequence of events that led to this disturbance.”
Peregrine laughed boldly again and gave him a solid slap upon the back. Already people were beginning to make a tentative return to the Souk, slipping in through the narrow alleys. “I did warn you.”
“Where shall we go?”
“Let us leave this iniquitous city, with its vices and squalor. There are roads to be travelled, and the world lives vast before us, ripe for adventure and rich with plunder, and I would see it all. This city has stood a thousand generations and will await our return.”
Blade nodded languorously, straightening the lie of his baldric across his chest. “Let the road take us where it will.”
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