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Weeks passed, and pristine white snow blanketed the land. Travel became more difficult and Kal’s routine now consisted of chopping firewood, tending to the animals, chopping firewood, checking animal traps, chopping firewood, cleaning and processing furs to sell at market, and chopping firewood. Visits to Ikuno’s cave became rarer and Kal took to making overnight trips, much to Ikuno’s delight, as the trek seemed to become longer with each new layer of snow. Perra was coming to visit the oni with even less frequency, always sending a hug and a kiss on the cheek for Kal to give the large blue woman.
Kal’s mother would look on with bemusement every time he packed his night bag and made ready for his overnight stays. One day she walked in as he was packing one of the runed leather vambraces made with ink from Aradelle’s nectar.
“What’s that Kal?” she asked.
Kal jumped, having not heard her walk in, “Um… it’s something Ikuno gave me,” he said quickly stuffing it into his pack.
Kal’s mother calmly held out her hand.
With a sigh, Kal produced the leather strip and handed it to his mother.
She ran her hands over the runes, “These look like magic,” she stated.
Kal flinched, “Um… they are.”
“When am I going to meet your Ikuno, Kal?” she asked, not lifting her eyes from the runes. “I’d like to one day thank the person who saved my life. It’s unfair that you haven’t brought her to see me yet.”
Kal hung his head, “I don’t think that would be wise mother. Ikuno has some… attributes, that you may find unsettling.”
“That’s almost exactly what Perra said when I asked her about your mage friend. I assume they can’t be that bad with how much you love her.”
Kal tensed, his eyes widening with surprise. He had been incredibly careful to not make mention of his and Ikuno’s relationship. Perra had been sworn to secrecy from the day she first arrived.
“Stop it, Kal,” she said looking up at him, “Since I became sick my body is weak, but my mind is still sharp, I know perfectly well what it looks like when someone is in love.” She handed the vambrace back to Kal, “Is she teaching you how to use these?”
“Yes,” he replied, “and other types of magic but using runes is what I’m best at right now.”
“The last time I saw any magic was before you were born. Show me please, I would like to see it again.”
Kal nodded, holding the piece of leather to his arm he traced a small rune that glowed dimly in the air in front of him. His mother’s face lit up as the leather laces on the vambrace came alive and cinched themselves down before tying into a tidy knot.
“Healing, shield,” he said, pointing to each rune in turn before pulling another similar strip out of his pack. “This one makes me run as fast as a horse, maybe even faster,” Kal indicated another rune on the new piece of leather, “and this one keeps me from ever getting tired, so I could chop firewood all day and night if needed.” He groaned inwardly at the thought.
Stuffing the other vambrace back into his pack, He then stepped back from his mother.
“Are you ready?” he asked. “I’m going to need something to heal.”
His mother nodded slowly.
Holding out his upturned hand he raised the other one high and sent it slamming down onto the underside of his exposed arm. Kal flinched, he had wanted it to be a good demonstration but that was a bit more painful than he had planned. Grabbing his arm, he sucked in a breath through gritted teeth as the stinging feeling radiated out from the point of impact.
“Kal! What on earth are you doing?” yelled his mother, reaching towards him.
Kal held up a hand, stopping her, then presented his arm where a distinctive angry handprint was beginning to welt up.
“Look,” he said drawing her attention to his leather-clad forearm. Reaching out with his magic Kal quickly pierced the clay-like barrier and filled the rune with power making it glow bright white. His mother’s eyes widened as the welt quickly shrunk down only leaving the handprint until that too faded, within a few moments the skin of his arm was as pristine and unblemished as before. “It doesn’t even hurt anymore,” he said.
“That’s amazing, Kal!” her astonishment quickly turned to motherly annoyance, “But don’t ever do that again. I hate seeing my boy hurt even if it is only for a second,” she said taking his arm and running her hands over where the mark had been.
“I would have shown you the shield, but my room is kind of small,” he suddenly felt foolish for not taking her outside and showing her that instead, it would have been a lot less painful. “You aren’t upset that I’m learning magic? I was worried you might not trust magic-users like most of the people in the village”.
“No, not at all. Most of the townsfolk have heard stories about evil and power-hungry mages and have never seen it in real life. My experience with a mage was brief but positive.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
She reached up and put a hand on his cheek, a gentle smile playing on her lips. “I may tell you one day, Kal, but we both have our secrets to keep.”
Kal, sighed, “Fair enough, but can I ask you something?”
“While the rune is mostly to heal myself, with some effort I can heal others too. I’ve noticed that you’ve been getting weaker, mother.”
“You want to try to heal me?” she asked.
“I don’t suppose it would hurt to try,” she said hesitantly.
“Is something wrong?” asked Kal.
His mother seemed nervous, “Just a bit worried. I have a feeling deep down that it may not work.”
Kal placed his hand on his mother’s shoulder, the healing rune flaring brightly for a moment before settling into a soft glow.
Since their time with Aradelle Ikuno had been very keen on developing Kal’s ability to ‘see’ magic. She had dragged him into the library his next visit and drilled him for hours on how he had known the exact moment of Eludora’s conception. She also wanted to know exactly what he had seen, or more appropriately felt, when the magic around him and Ikuno had changed after his somewhat humorous declaration. He explained to her how this ‘sight’ allowed him to change the shape of the energy he put into his runes, giving him the ability to pierce the barrier and activate the runes quickly and easily. Ikuno believed the clay-like obstruction was a representation of either the leather the runes were printed on or imperfections in the ink.
His newfound ability allowed Kal an amount of control that baffled and amazed the oni. Where spells such as her strength spell affected the entire body equally, Kal could direct the magical energy to specific areas like making his hands strong enough to crush rock without enhancing his strength anywhere else on his body. This became especially useful when using healing magic as he could direct the flow straight to the injury instead of healing the entire area the way Ikuno did. As an added bonus using his runes in this way allowed him to use far less magic than Ikuno to perform the same feat. Though she did take some pleasure in reminding him who had more power when his natural reserves ran out and his runes flickered and died.
The oni was fascinated by all of this and a little bit envious when she discovered that she didn’t have the same capacity to manipulate the flows of energy the way he described. Even after trying repeatedly, for her, the magic was either there or it wasn’t.
Kal had done the mixing of the new ink and most of the tracing of the runes but it was Ikuno that used a spell from her book on runesmithing to set them into the leather. After she had finished the new vambraces and introduced him to the healing rune, he quickly discovered that the most efficient way to heal someone was to flood the person with healing magic then narrow down the focus as the magic found the injuries it needed to repair.
What he saw as he tried to heal his mother both confused and frightened him.
The healing magic couldn’t find anything to fix.
Near as Kal could tell by looking at the flow of magic, she was perfectly healthy. The rune faded out and he let his hand drop lifelessly to his side. Having lowered his head in concentration as he attempted to heal his mother, he found it impossible to look her in the eye after failing.
“Kal? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I’m sorry mother, you were right,” he said still unable to meet her gaze.
Kal’s mother stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her son. “It’s okay dear, I didn’t really expect it would work.”
“Why not?” he asked.
She gave him a light squeeze then let him go. “Sorry Kal, that’s one of those secrets I have to keep,” she said with a sad smile before turning and walking back out into the living room.
Kal slipped the leather bracer off his arm and put it into his pack then lifted the leather satchel and threw the strap over his shoulder. As he reached for the handle on the door to his room, he stopped. Setting the pack back down on his bed, Kal sat down next to it. Part of him wanted to run off to see Ikuno and ask her if she knew what was going on with his mother, but he had an inkling that she already knew, even if he didn’t know why, and he couldn’t face the idea of confirming those fears.
He stood up and went out into the living area. His mother sat in front of the iron stove, with the heavy metal door open to keep her warm as she hummed some nameless tune and mended one of Perra’s dresses. A small pile of newer clothes that were queued for winter linings sat next to her chair.
She rarely moved from that spot anymore, only leaving the house to go and get materials with Perra and once back home only getting up to go to bed or use the outhouse, more than once she had needed his or Perra’s help getting out there and back since it had started snowing. Kal’s mother looked up from her sewing and smiled. He had been so lost in thought he didn’t realize he was staring. Flushing in embarrassment he painted a smile in his face that he didn’t really feel and made a hasty exit through the front door.
Stopping in the front yard he paused to collect himself; no, he didn’t want to go see Ikuno with his mind in chaos, perhaps a short ride on his horse would help him calm down a bit. As he walked to the barn he thought about the meditation exercises that Ikuno had taught him, then dismissed the idea with an unconscious wave of his hand. They would probably help but right now he needed something else, he just couldn’t figure out what that was.
Entering the small barn, he walked past the two oxen, giving each an affectionate pat on the head, and on to his newest addition, Bonn. Kal had bought the horse not long after he had gone back to see Ikuno the first time and the gelding had proven to be a huge asset with his mother being unable to make the trips into town on foot anymore. With snow on the ground, Bonn’s help made Kal’s job of going around and checking his fur traps far quicker and easier, as well as being able to haul more furs and skins to market in a single trip.
Taking the horse’s lead he opened the wooden latch on the stable door and brought him out into the main area. Tying the lead to a post he brushed the dust and straw off Bonn’s back and flanks before tossing a blanket over his back and placing the saddle. Once he’d cinched everything down Kal grabbed the pommel and put a foot in the stirrup.
“Kal! Kal kocaeli escort have you left yet?” Perra yelled walking towards the barn.
“I’m still here!” he called, sighing he vaulted into the saddle, he really just wanted to be alone right now.
Perra rounded the corner and walked into the barn, pausing for a moment as her eyes adjusted from the snow-covered ground to the relative darkness inside, “Thank goodness,” she said walking up to him and Bonn, “Mom said you walked out without your bag so you hadn’t left for Ikuno’s yet, could you take me into town? I need to pick up some things.”
“I thought we were pretty well set for supplies. What are we missing?”
“Mostly candles, Mom really likes the new ones the butcher is selling made from beeswax instead of tallow, they smell better and don’t leave black stains on the ceiling. While there I thought I would pick up a roast for Mom and me for tonight, something hearty to help keep her spirits up.”
He sighed again, instead of answering Kal just held his hand out, helping Perra up onto Bonn’s back behind him. Kal made a clicking noise with his tongue and gave a slight tug on the reigns, directing the horse out of the barn and towards the trail going into the village.
With Kal lost in his thoughts, the first part of the journey was quiet. Perra had her arms wrapped around his torso and gave him a little squeeze to get his attention.
“I know you’re worried about Mom, Kal.”
“She’s getting weaker,” he felt her nod behind his back, “I tried to heal her before I left, but there was nothing to heal. It scares me. She’s wasting away and now I know for sure there is nothing I can do to stop it.”
Perra hid her surprise that Kal had revealed he could use magic to his mother. “What about the clerics in the big cities, perhaps they could help her?” she asked
Kal shook his head, “I asked Ikuno about that when she gave me the healing rune. A cleric’s healing is no different from mine, the only thing that changes are the sources. We draw our power from the world around us, whereas they receive their power from whatever deity they pray to. They don’t need to use crystals, but they can only use the spells their deity dictates. If I can’t heal her then no cleric can either.”
“Could it be some kinda’ disease?”
Kal shook his head again, “When I first met Ikuno, mother had the coughing disease that makes your lungs fill up and drowns you. The apothecary had a magical potion that could cure any kind of disease a person might have, but the price was too steep. I would have ended up working as a slave for the rest of my life to pay off that debt. Mother flat out refused, saying she would rather die than live knowing her boy put himself in chains to save her.
“I heard some adventurers talking about a cave with riches that was just outside my normal hunting grounds. I typically stay to the forest west of here since pickings have always been unusually slim to the east. It made more sense once I met Ikuno and found out hunting east of here meant competing with her. Like a fool went to see if I could steal enough to buy the potion. Ikuno caught me, not that I was a particularly good burglar. I told her what I was doing and as ’punishment’ for attempting to steal from her, we had our first time together. As thanks, she gave me enough gold and gems for the potion and then some.”
“You tried to steal from her and she gave you money ‘As thanks’?” she asked.
“Very few of her partners over the past few decades have been willing.”
“Oh.” Perra had always been confused as to why moments after saving her from the knight, the oni had yelled at Sir Michael that she would have let him fuck her. Now it made a bit more sense.
“Anyway, when I left Ikuno’s I went straight to the apothecary and purchased the potion, with some interesting looks from the other customers mind you. Looking back, I’m surprised no one robbed me, but I was in and out of town as quickly as I could. I ran home and gave the potion to mother.” Kal chuckled, “It took me an hour to convince her that I hadn’t thumped some travelling noble over the head and stolen their purse and that knights weren’t about to come thundering into the farm and carry me off. The potion worked, in just a couple of minutes she had stopped coughing and she felt like the weight in her chest had lifted. In short, mother has already been cured of any diseases she may have had.” Kal thought for a moment then shook his head, “Not sure why I felt I needed to tell you all of that.”
Perra hugged him from behind, “I don’t mind, it’s the first time you’ve told me how you and Ikuno met,” a shadow passed over the girl’s face, “It sounded far more pleasant than the first time I saw her.”
Kal reached back over his shoulder and patted Perra’s head, comforting the girl as the memories of her run-in with Sir Michael threatened to well up.
“I’m sorry about that, Perra, but thank you for listening. I think it helped quite a bit.”
Smiling she hugged him again and laid her head on his back, “You’re welcome.”
Eventually, the trees thinned and the small village of Tilsen came into view. The town wasn’t much to look at, little more than a meeting place for local farmers to cross paths with traveling merchants. Over the years a few businesses had come to town such as an inn, general store, blacksmith, apothecary, butcher, and others as demand had grown. Nowadays the small town was no longer growing but had found a comfortable equilibrium that the locals were happy with.
Kal nudged Bonn in the direction of the butcher, the streets were far from busy with most people wanting to stay inside where it was warm. However, the sun was out, and business needed to be taken care of. A few brave souls were venturing out into the streets and town center, which had turned into a lake of mud from melting snow. Kal was once again extremely thankful for having a horse to ride instead of trudging through the mud as he had in the past.
Arriving at the butcher’s shop, Kal helped Perra down before dismounting himself, giving Bonn an apologetic pat on the neck for the mud that had splashed up and coated his legs up to the knees. He threw a couple of loops over the hitching post and followed Perra inside.
A few minutes later they walked out with Perra’s roast in an oiled leather satchel she had brought along just for this purpose while Kal had a strip of soft leather with the candles rolled up in it under his arm. Kal had carefully dropped the candles in one saddlebag then came around to help Perra slide the roast down into the other.
“Oy! I fuggin’ told ya that was me sis!” came a yell from behind them.
Kal and Perra’s heads whipped around to see three burly young men in winter travel cloaks walking towards them from the direction of the inn.
Perra froze in fear, her lips trembling, “It’s Emrick,” she whispered.
Much as Kal wanted to mimic Perra right now, his time with Ikuno had shown him that panicking was rarely useful. Gauging the distance between him and the three thugs, he knew there was no way to get he and Perra on Bonn fast enough to get away. Leaning over he undid the loops on the hitching post. Seeing this, the large men began slogging through the mud faster.
“Da fuck ya think you’re goin’?” yelled Perra’s brother.
“Me? Nowhere,” he yelled back then leaned down and whispered fiercely in Perra’s ear, “my bag with the bracers is on my bed, get them and get back here as quickly as you can.”
Confusion snapped Perra out of her fear-induced trance, she looked at Kal, “What!?” anything else she may have said was cut off by a screech as Kal lifted her by the hips and dumped her into the saddle.
“Da fuck!” came from behind him and Kal heard the lumbering trio try to run through the mud. Kal put Perra’s hand on the pommel then gave Bonn a shove on the neck to turn him, a slap on the horse’s rump sent them galloping towards home with another shriek from the young woman. Kal let out a small sigh of relief when he saw Perra grab ahold of the reigns and lean over Bonn’s neck. Now he just had to stall long enough for her to get back. As horse and girl tore off towards the farm he turned to face her brother.
A large fist connected with Kal’s gut knocking the wind out of him. Meaty hands lifted him by his shirt until he was nose to nose with Perra’s brother, “Git ‘er back here ya scut! I told Urul, an’ Duma here dey could have some fun if’n dey helped me find her. Git her back or dey’r gonna have their fun smashin’ yer head in.”
Kal coughed a couple of times as he got his breath back, “You really think I’m going to call her back after that? What a loving and caring brother you are,” he snarled, “whoring out your sister to whoever can help you step up in life,” behind his back he traced a rune in the air, “how’d that work out last time? Did you enjoy your time in the stocks?”
“How da fuck did ya know ‘bout dat?” said Perra’s brother, then he chuckled, “Don’ matter anyway, if’n ya won’t bring ‘er back den I guess it’s time ta bust some heads.” Setting Kal down he held the farmer by the shirt as the other hand swung back for a second punch aimed at Kal’s stomach.
As Urul and Duma moved forward to grab Kal’s arms the rune behind his back flashed and the hoods on their travel cloaks flipped up and over their eyes, Kal brought his other hand up to intercept Emrick’s swing. It didn’t stop the man’s large fist but deadened the blow significantly, the force was still enough to rip Kal’s shirt out of Emrick’s hand and send him sprawling. Having been prepared for the hit, Kal was back on his feet before the Emrick’s thugs had figured out what happened and pulled their hoods back. Kal took the opportunity to look around, everyone who had been out in the streets had conveniently found somewhere else to be, now there was only him and the trio of bullies. Kal sighed, so much for help from the townsfolk.
Perra’s brother spun around and looked at the two thugs, “Wot da ‘hell! Ya were supposed to grab ‘im!” Duma just shrugged in confusion, though his eyes kept flicking behind them as if expecting to see the person who had blinded them with their cloaks. Urul had pulled his hood forward and was inspecting it as though staring at the fabric long enough would reveal the mystery of its strange behavior. Even under such tense circumstances, Kal had to fight to keep from laughing at them.
The brother turned back around, a look of surprise on his face when he saw Kal standing a few paces away. “Ya mus’ be stupid or somethin’,” he said taking a step forward. “Ya shoulda run when ya had da chance.”
Kal mentally kicked himself for not doing just that, outwardly he just shrugged and took a step backwards to maintain the distance between them. “Unfortunately, I can’t do that. You see, I work for the lady that saved your sister and killed the bastard knight you gave her to. She put Perra in my care, so her safety is my concern. You may also want to think about the fact that she easily killed Sir Michael and may not take kindly to you beating up and whoring out her servants.”
The brother’s cronies exchanged a nervous look behind his back. “I don’ fuggin believe ya,” he said taking another step that was matched by Kal’s step backwards, “nobody works fer an ogre, dey only git fucked by ‘em or eaten by ‘em.”
“She’s an oni, not an ogre, not that I would expect morons like you to understand the difference,” Kal kocaeli escort bayan did some quick calculating. With luck, at full gallop Perra should be getting home about now. That left him far more time than he was comfortable with trying to stall. Eventually, their patience was going to run out. A thought came to him. He reached into his pocket and his hand closed around a small stone he had put there earlier as he packed to go see Ikuno.
“Da fuck did you call me?” yelled Perra’s brother who, along with Duma, was glaring at him. Urul, strangely enough, was now looking down at his leg. To make matters worse he started raising and lowering his leg while continuing to stare at it.
Kal tilted his head to the side in confusion. This time he couldn’t help but start laughing as he realized what the man was doing, which quickly reminded him that he had just gotten punched in the gut a few minutes ago. As Kal fought his battle between laughter and pain Emrick and Duma looked over at their companion.
“Da fuck’s ya doin’?”
Urul slowly put his leg down giving them a sheepish look. After a long pause, he said, “Wuz checkin’ ta see if I had one of those O-knees.”
Kal wheezed as he dropped to his knees in the mud, his arms around his belly and his laughter punctuated by, “ow… oh, that hurts… ow… ow… O-knees!… ouch that hurts…”
“Damn, you is stupid,” said Emrick with Duma nodding vigorously behind him.
Perra’s brother looked over to see Kal kneeling in the mud trying his best to stop laughing, “Shut da fuck up!” he yelled striding towards Kal, the other two hot on his heels.
Kal held up a hand, “Wait! Wait! Wait!” to his amazement, the trio stopped. Kal collected himself and slowly stood up. “Are you sure you want to take a chance on angering the woman I work for?”
“Already told ya I don’ fuggin’ believe that shit,” Emrick bellowed.
“So be it. Catch!” Kal lobbed the stone at Emrick in a high arc, the idiot actually held out his hands to catch it. As the stone came down and he could see that all three of them were watching it fall he yelled “Luma!” and started running through the mud towards his farm.
Kal knew he had miscalculated when he almost instantly heard, “Get ‘im!” and three sets of footsteps slogging through the mud after him. He had been hoping for a reaction like when he first turned on Ikuno’s magical lantern, but he had been standing in a dark room then. Out here where the sun was shining the light from the stone wasn’t even enough to make Emrick and his thugs flinch.
Just as Kal thought that he might make it to the firmer ground on the other side of the muddy street a hand on his back threw him off balance and sent him sprawling. The same hand then closed on his shirt and dragged him up onto firmer ground.
“Hold ‘im,” said Emrick and arms much stronger than his own grabbed Kal, holding him in place.
“’Nuff o’ yer shit,” a heavy fist slammed into Kal’s face and he tasted blood in his mouth.
“’Nuff o’ yer tricks,” another punch to the stomach left him gasping for breath.
“After I git done fuckin’ you up I’m gonna go find my sis and me boys are gonna fuck her like da cunt she is.” Blows continued to rain down on Kal as Emrick gloated. “Hell, I might fuck da worthless cunt meself jus’ fer good measure.”
“Drop ‘im,” Emrick told the other two. Kal was far beyond being able to hold himself up and he dropped to his knees in front of Perra’s brother. Blood ran freely from his nose and mouth, the entire left side of his face was swollen to the point he could no longer see out of his left eye, and pain racked his body every time he inhaled. The sudden jolt from hitting the ground turned Kal’s stomach and sent his breakfast out onto the ground in front of him.
With a growl, Emrick’s boot connected with Kal’s gut and the farmer fell to the side with a groan of agony. Barely conscious, he watched as Emrick and his goons congratulated each other and began to make their way in the direction Perra had fled, towards his home. In despair that he couldn’t protect Perra and his mother, he laid his head on the ground.
Hoofbeats. Full gallop.
Kal’s head popped up causing a wave of dizziness and nausea. Once it had passed he looked around with his good eye but there was no sign of Perra or Bonn. Figuring he was just hallucinating he laid his head back down.
Hoofbeats again, louder, closer.
Kal’s lifted his head and looked around again, slower this time. He put his ear to the ground once more and again heard the sound of hooves impacting dirt, but this time when he lifted his head he continued to hear the faint drumming of Bonn racing down the trail from his house.
The trio of ruffians had heard it too and stood defiantly side by side on the trail, blocking the path. Perra and Bonn rounded the last corner on the path and came barreling straight at them. For a moment they thought she was going to stop, until she was close enough for them to see the determined look on her face. Luckily for them, they were at least smart enough to throw themselves clear as she brazenly charged through.
Perra reigned in Bonn next to Kal. Looking down she gasped in horror at his condition. She knew her brother and his thugs were closing in quickly behind her and she didn’t have time to waste. Dropping Kal’s pack next to him, she spun Bonn around and tried to bolt past the trio back up the trail. The lack of space meant they lacked the speed to keep the horse from balking when the thugs were right in front of him. The three men spread out trapping Perra and Bonn up against a nearby house.
Kal rolled onto his back and drew the same small rune in the air for the third time that day. A simple cantrip that allowed him to levitate and manipulate small or light objects like the laces on his bracers or the hoods on the bully’s cloaks. His Leather vambraces floated out of the top of his pack and into his hands, slipping them over each arm he used the cantrip to tie the laces before releasing the spell.
The healing rune lit up and magic swirled around his face and abdomen, within moments Kal started to get vision back in his left eye. Standing up, he walked over to where Emrick and his goons were harassing Perra.
Perra’s panic as the three men closed in on her was affecting Bonn and he was getting more and more skittish. The horse was well trained but Perra was little better than a novice rider, if he got any jumpier he was likely to throw her off. When Perra saw Kal walking towards them Bonn calmed almost immediately, reflecting the relief of his rider.
Perra called out, “Don’t kill him Kal. He’s a piece of shit, but he’s still my brother.”
All three of the thugs turned to see the farmer they’d just beaten to a bloody pulp walking towards them, shock evident in their features.
The healing rune still glowed shimmering white on Kal’s vambrace. As Emrick and his goons watched, the last of the swelling disappeared and the surrounding area quickly went from ugly purple, to yellow, then back to Kal’s normal color. “No promises,” he said glaring at Emrick.
Perra’s brother gawked at him, “How in the bloody hell did ya do that?”
Kal’s light blue speed rune and flared to life as a circular magic shield snapped into place above his other arm.
“Fuck you, that’s how,” Kal raised his shield in front of him and ran straight at Emrick, far faster than the lumbering man could hope to dodge. The impact numbed Kal’s shoulder but sent Perra’s brother bouncing and skidding across the ground sending up large plumes of snow until he came to rest. Turning quickly Kal did the same to Duma, knocking the man into the muddy street where he nearly slid to the other side, this time pain shot up his arm and he took a moment to heal before dealing with the last one. With the pain gone he looked towards his final target and saw Urul awkwardly trying to run through the mud in the direction of the road back to Emrick’s village. Figuring that Urul had probably caused more pain from making Kal laugh than anything else, he let the man keep running.
Perra rode Bonn over next to Kal as he went over to check on Emrick.
“You don’t think he’s dead, do you?” asked Perra
“I doubt it,” replied Kal, “though I don’t know why you care, He called you a ‘worthless cunt’ and was going to give you to his friends to do as they please.”
Perra shrugged. “I don’t really get it either, it’s like I can’t help wanting to make sure he’s okay. He’s also a part of most memories I have of my parents. It’s easier to see him as the happy young boy with mom and dad than the asshole he turned into after they died.”
“Fair enough,” said Kal as the came upon Emrick’s unconscious form.
Emrick was mostly buried in snow and Kal reached in and dragged the large man out by his shirt, he was momentarily annoyed that it took all his strength to just drag the man a couple of feet on the snow-covered ground while Emrick had been able to pick Kal up like he was a small child. A groan of protest told Kal and Perra that he had indeed survived.
Kal bent down and fed magic into the healing rune making it glow then pushed the healing magic into Emrick.
“Kal, what are you doing?” Perra asked, confused by his actions.
“I can’t get him to swear to leave you alone if he isn’t awake,” Kal replied. The healing magic filled Emrick completely the same way it had with Kal’s mother earlier that day, Kal could see a lot of what appeared to be bruising that was already fading away even with the little bit of power he was using. The largest injuries were the head, right shoulder, and leg. Kal focused the magic into the leg and head, he had seen a dislocated shoulder before and decided to leave it. It would make Emrick less dangerous when he woke up.
Once the leg was done he focused purely on Emrick’s head and neck until the magic in the area suddenly became uniform everywhere telling him there was nothing left in the area that needed healing.
Kal stood back up and nudged Emrick with his foot, “Wake up asshole.”
Emrick eyes slowly opened, he saw Kal and sat up groaning loudly in pain. He winced when he went to move his dislocated arm, to Kal’s surprise, Emrick reached over with his good arm and gave his shoulder a jerk followed by an audible pop as he put his shoulder back in place. The burning hatred for Kal and Perra was evident as he turned to glare at them, “Da fuck ya want ya magic usin’ scut.”
“Your sister is no longer yours, Emrick. Swear that you will never come after her again, if you see her riding through your town you will pretend you don’t know who she is. If you…”
“Shut da fuck up, ya cunt,” Emrick sneered, “I’ll do whatever I fuggin please wit’ me sister. Not that she’s worth nuthin’ anyway after you an’ Sir Michael ‘ave wallered out ‘er pussy.
“I’m still a virgin,” said Perra, drawing confused looks from both men. Perra turned her head away in shame, “Michael was in a hurry and he… missed. Not that I think he cared.” She turned back and glared at Emrick, “And Kal is a good man, he won’t touch me until I am of age anyway.”
Kal glanced at Perra, something about how she phrased that threw him off for a moment. Perra saw the look from Kal and blushed a deep red.
Emrick guffawed, “So ‘e stuck ya in de arse did ‘e? No wonder ya was bleedin’ like a stuck pig. Couldn’ believe it when ya came ‘ome the next day, thought ya was dead fer sure.”
“But you… you izmit escort took me to the apothecary, so he could heal me. Didn’t you?” asked Perra, tears already forming in her eyes, as she guessed what his answer would be.
Emrick laughed again, “Aw fuck no, not a chance in ‘ell I’d waste me money on savin’ yer arse after ya fucked up an’ got Sir Michael killed.” He looked at Kal and grinned, “After I beat some sense inta dis dumb cunt I spent da rest o’ da night wit’ a bar wench bouncing on my cock.”
Light shone from the speed rune and Kal’s shield sprung into existence, there was a loud crack as the edge of the shield caught Emrick under the chin and sent him skidding backwards. Kal screamed, the shield vanishing as he grabbed his misshapen forearm. The healing rune lit up as he poured power into it, directing the energy toward the bones in his arm. Under the magic’s influence, they began to straighten and knit themselves back together.
He reminded himself that he needed Ikuno to add the strength rune to his bracers. Though more complicated than speed or stamina runes, it protected the user from their own enhanced strength, the speed rune was not so forgiving. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time Kal had broken something in this manner, however, the last time Ikuno had been there to heal him. Bones took a lot more time and magic to heal than softer tissues, and he was starting to run low.
Perra was looking down with concern. “What happened Kal? Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” he said through gritted teeth, “just let my temper get the best of me, but I need the crystal out of my pack, I’m almost out.”
Perra nodded and hopped off Bonn before running over to where his pack had dropped. Picking it up she dug through it as she walked back. Pulling out the crystal Ikuno had given Kal she held it up. “Found it! Kal! Look out!” she yelled looking past him.
The speed rune flickered as Kal threw himself backwards, barely avoiding taking out Bonn’s legs. Kal’s runes flickered and died as he tumbled uncontrollably from his hasty escape. Perra’s warning had been just enough for him to see her brother charging at him, Emrick’s fist missed the farmer but his charge took him straight into Bonn’s front. Startled by the impact Bonn reared up, one hoof coming down on Emrick’s collarbone with a loud crack and the other directly on top of his head. Emrick’s eyes rolled back as he fell to his knees then flopped over on his side.
Perra quickly dropped the pack and crystal in front of where Kal was getting back to his feet and ran over to Bonn. She carefully calmed the startled horse until she had the chance to grab the reigns and lead him away from her brother. Tying Bonn to a nearby hitching post, she came back to check on her brother. Kal, with crystal in hand, brushed off snow and dirt as the white healing rune went back to work on his arm.
Somehow the bastard was still breathing. Kal walked up behind her, “Your call Perra. I won’t lie, if we leave him like this he’ll most likely die here.”
Only a few minutes ago Emrick had laughed at the idea of leaving her to die, now that the choice was hers, Perra certainly didn’t feel like it was a laughing matter. Tears streamed down her cheeks she stood and turned away.
“Let’s go home, Kal.”
Kal nodded as she walked past him towards Bonn, catching a flicker of light out of the corner of her eye she turned to see Kal kneeling next to her brother, healing rune shining brightly.
“What are you doing Kal?” she said striding back.
“Ikuno told me something once awhile back,” he said quietly when she got closer, “she said that if I chose the path of a runesmith then it was very likely that at some point I would have to take another person’s life. She told me that for someone like me it would be hard on me that first time and it would be a weight on my soul until I had experienced enough that I would become just a little bit numb.” Kal looked up at Perra, “I decided that I couldn’t have your brother’s death be a weight on your soul.”
Kal looked down and the healing rune faded, “His jaw was broken from where I hit him and the collarbone from Bonn. Amazingly, Bonn didn’t crack his skull. The bones are bonded together but not fully healed, I’m not feeling that generous. He will be uncomfortable for a while, but he won’t die,” Kal said as he wrapped Emrick’s fur-lined travel cloak around him.
Kal stood up and Perra threw her arms around him, “Thank you, Kal.”
Kal put his arms around the girl and held her tight, Perra began to lightly sob as the stress from the day’s events caught up with her. After a few minutes, she began to calm down and Kal took the opportunity to see what had happened to Duma. Emrick’s thug had decided to follow Urul’s example and found somewhere else to be.
Perra let go of Kal and stepped back drying her eyes on her sleeves. Someone nearby cleared their throat, they turned and saw the innkeeper standing nearby.
“Master Ellis,” Kal said with a smile, “how can I help you?”
“A thousand pardons for disturbing you, Master Kal,” he said bowing low, “I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time.”
“Master Kal?” repeated Kal, “I doubt I’ve done anything to deserve such honor from you. After all, I’ve worked for you splitting wood in winters past.”
“Forgive me, Master Kal, but I don’t recall you using magic to split wood or help run off drunken ruffians. Which is why I wanted to speak with you,” the innkeeper waved a hand at Emrick’s unconscious form, “that particular lout and his two friends beat up my strongman, Bren, when they came into town. Since then they have terrorized me and my girls running up a huge bill and when they paid for a night with one of the girls they hurt her badly. I was going to see if I might be able to get some compensation when you defeated him, but now that I have seen that you can heal people I was hoping you may be able to help my barmaid and Bren.”
Kal knelt down and untied the small coin pouch from Emrick’s belt then tossed it to Master Ellis. “Once I’ve healed Bren have him come out here and carry Perra’s brother back to the inn, I’ve healed him enough to keep him from dying I don’t wish for my work to be undone by the cold. When he wakes he will be in no shape to fight and you can send him on his way. If he tries to cause any more trouble I doubt he will be much of a challenge for Bren by himself.” Kal remembered the inn’s strongman from when he worked there, a huge hulk of a man with a quiet demeanor and a soft spot in his heart for the barmaids. Not surprising when you realized that if they didn’t have a customer that night it wasn’t unusual to see them coming out of Bren’s room the next morning. Even with his two friends, Kal had to wonder how Emrick had managed to bring the big man down.
Perra ran back to get Bonn as Master Ellis bounced the pouch in his hand a few times. Nodding, he led the way back to the inn.
Ellis was kind enough to feed Kal and Perra as well as send some food home for his mother in exchange for the roast Perra had bought earlier. Once fed, Kal healed Bren who immediately went out and fetched the still unconscious Emrick and dumped him into one of the upstairs rooms, the loud crash as Emrick’s body hit the bed made Master Ellis look up and mumble in annoyance about having to dock Bren’s pay for repairs.
Emrick’s thugs had done a number on the poor barmaid. They found her curled up in her bed clutching her belly and her hair matted to her face with sweat from the pain. Ellis told Perra that her name was Kahrin and that they had indeed paid the girl for her services beforehand but had been so rough he was worried they had permanently damaged the girl, or worse that she could die. Kal used the last of his and the crystal’s power healing her sex, rear, and throat both inside and out, leaving only a couple bruises that were still sore and purple before the rune flickered and died. Bren scooped Kal up into a bone-cracking hug, a rumble coming from his chest that could have possibly been, “Thank you.” Kahrin, on the other hand, had much more intimate ideas of how to show her appreciation. Before he could accept, Perra grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out of the barmaid’s room.
“Me offer ‘ll be open the nex’ time ye come by Master Kal!” Kahrin yelled after them, laughing. Once they were gone she turned to Master Ellis, “I can’na believe that’s the wood splitter an’ soup stirrer from last year.” The innkeeper could only nod in agreement.
“I can’t believe that Master Ellis would let that happen to one of his girls!” Perra huffed as they rode home.
“To be fair, Master Ellis doesn’t have a say in that,” said Kal.
“Well, he sold her to those goons for the night!”
“Actually no, he didn’t.”
“I worked for him remember? The girl’s night-time activities are all up to them, Master Ellis doesn’t have anything to do with it. Well, that’s not entirely true, he does have Bren there to keep the girls safe in case one of the girl’s customers gets too rough and he holds onto their money for the night, so the girls don’t need to worry about getting robbed. Unfortunately, since Bren was out of the picture…”
“…Kahrin ended up the way she did,” Perra finished for him. “I guess I can’t be mad at Master Ellis for that.”
Perra laid her head against his back. “I’m sorry, Kal, it wasn’t really my place to stop you if you wanted to accept Kahrin’s ‘thank you’” she said.
Kal chuckled, “It’s fine, we didn’t really have time anyway. Not that I would have minded ending a day like today in such a pleasant manner. You did surprise me though, I’ve never seen you get jealous over Ikuno and I.”
“Ikuno and ‘Dell don’t bother me. Ikuno belongs to you and ‘Dell will soon, for some reason that makes it okay. But when Kahrin offered I suddenly became angry, like she was trying to steal you away or something. It’s dumb, I know,” she said laying her head against his back.
Kal reached back and flicked Perra on top of the head.
“Ouch! Dammit! What the hell, Kal!?” yelled Perra.
“You are a very intelligent young woman Perra, expect more of the same if I catch you calling yourself dumb,” Kal said sternly.
Perra grumbled as she rubbed the spot Kal had flicked her, the sting fading within a few seconds. Once she finished rubbing her head, she wrapped her arms around Kal once again, a smile playing across her features at Kal’s compliment. No one had ever called her ‘intelligent’ before.
They rode the rest of the way home in companionable silence
Ikuno lay naked upon her bed, as she often did on days she was expecting Kal to show up. Her cook stove and a little magic were keeping her cave nice and comfortable as she paged through her book on runesmithing, paying close attention to the recipes for permanent inks that would never burn. Though she had read the book before, that had been many, many years ago. Since she wasn’t a runesmith little had been of use at the time and therefore promptly forgotten.
Sniffing the air, she sighed. It was too late for Kal to make the trip to her cave. Turning the page, the oni was thinking it was about time to put out the torches and slip under the covers when the entry on salamanders, salamander girls specifically, caught her eye. Giving a small whoop she bounced out of bed and jogged over to the library. Pulling out a map of the area, she tapped a spot that was some ways further east on her mountain range and said, “See you this spring Silma.”
Edited by: Old Fart
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