Chapter 23 - Book of Fates



The Fates decided the knight will steal the town's artifact in exchange for a new arm. See the results here.


You seem to have developed a liking for dungeon adventures, my divine Fates. This hardly seems like the easy way out, but I suppose the more convoluted plans tend to have more potential for entertaining outcomes.



***

“The artifact it is then,” Ren says. “The faster this town learns to adapt the better. They can’t rely on magic and slaves forever.”


“I couldn’t agree more!” Compie nods.


The box’s agreement displeases the knight, but he is sure the choice was the lesser of the evils. “Tell me more about the replacement arm you promised me.”


“Well, about the arm... it is better if we get some privacy. My magic may shock the onlookers and Nitanna specifically forbade me from causing a riot. Come, come, follow me! I have everything we need in my laboratory. No time to lose!”


Ren follows Compie into a narrow alley. He has to tilt his body sideways to pass between the tightly squeezed houses and duck his head under damp laundry lines that crisscrossed between windows like worn out and faded party flags. Whatever apartment Nitanna had given Compie, it wasn’t in the good part of town.


The box stops in front of a door and kicks it open. The hinges screech and the door clatters and bangs against the wall. Inside, Ren sees a laboratory. Compie, being Turcifa’s assistant, had recreated his master’s underground lair to a piece.


On a closer look, the knight sees that most of the bottles and jars were empty and many of the alchemy tools are assembled out of kitchen utensils such as wine pitchers, bowls, and cutlery. Instead of a dungeon, the house looks long since abandoned, although the knight recognizes signs of long lost prosperity in the molding wallpaper and the porcelain decor shoved into a corner, out of the way of Compie’s instruments.


In the middle of the laboratory is a large circle painted with red paint, a rune drawn in its center. Ren remembers a similar one around his mother’s sacrificial altar. Compie must have prepared beforehand, confident it could convince the Eternal Knight to help.


This reeks of a bad plan, Ren thinks but cannot step back. Something keeps him rooted to the spot, staring at the setup before him dumbly. Is it his conviction that he simply had no other choice that keeps him here? Or is it his sense of responsibility towards the town and his promise to Dawn to save the villagers, no matter what the cost? I made a decision and I will carry it through, he thinks. I alone can determine my future. That thought cheers him up. He takes a step forward and the rigidity of his armored body eases up.


“Trust me, you won’t regret this,” Compie giggles.


“I already do.”


“You’ll be thanking me after I’m done.”


“Where are your blacksmithing tools?”


“Blacksmithing? Is that an insult? I am a wizard’s companion box, not some common craftsman. I will summon you a new hand from the depths of the abyss. No earthly thing will defeat it in battle and it will be stronger than anything that imbecile of a dwarf could’ve made. Just you watch. Now, stop bleating like a nervous sheep and step in the middle of the summoning ring.”


The only way forward is to carry on, Ren tells himself and steps into the ring. He knows he needs a new arm to survive Ferax and to beat the Handmaiden in their duel. The one Compie has promised him will give him all the advantages to come out on top. Whatever the consequences.


“Bend over a bit,” Compie orders and out from under its lid extends a thin, long arm. It picks up a pen from a table and looks at Ren, irritated. “More, you giant oaf! That’s right. Now, let me poke around your arm hole to find a good placement to draw the binding rune.”


“What is it for?” Ren asks, while Compie examines his beaten up armor.


“A binding rune,” Compie answers, its voice ringing inside Ren. “You must already have one drawn somewhere inside the armor to keep your soul attached. My guess is your helmet. This one will attach the arm I will call out of the Abyss. It’s important you don’t break it or you will lose it. Painfully, I might add.”


Ren feels a scratching near the inside of his shoulder. Compie comes out. “Done,” it says. “Now, for the chant…” It clears its throat, closes its eyes, and sings. It is a similar ghostly tune to the one Compie sang in the dragon’s lair. It’s disturbing and ugly, but effective.


Immediately, light bursts out of the rune, filling the house. Glowing smoky wisps of turquoise matter seep up from the circle, slow, like ink droplets coiling in clear water, travelling up, finding the spaces between his armor plates and entering him. Suddenly, the armor is tight on him, stuffed full or couple sizes too small. The… thing fills his armor and forms around his broken left shoulder, growing into an ethereal, demonic arm. Like a wild beast it shakes, pushing against its form, restrained by the binding rune. It thrashes this way and that and the knight, terrified, almost steps out of the circle.


“Stay put,” Compie says. “It’ll calm down.”


Soon enough, the otherworldly limb stops moving and Ren sees it fully for the first time. Translucent, it had grown out of the armor, distorting the iron around the edges. On top of his shoulder pad a demonic skull bares its teeth, while the forearm and hand were made of muscle and sinew, horns growing out of it, giving it a grotesque and mangled look.


Compie bows. “Your new arm, m’lord! Freshly summoned.”


“What have you done to me?” The knight groans with disgust.


“What else did you expect would come out of the Abyss? Don’t mind the spasms and screaming,” it adds as the skull opens its jaws and screeches furiously. “They’ll disappear with time as long as you feed the demon regularly.”


“This thing eats?”


“Like an absolute beast. I recommend you housebreak it quickly to make sure it distinguishes between your friends and foes. These things are effective, but prone to unfortunate accidents. Give it a spin. Tell me, how does it feel? Does it fit? Does it follow your commands?”


Surprisingly, the arm responds to the knight and moves around naturally. He touches it with his right hand. It’s solid. The spikes cling against his gauntleted fingers. The energy bound to him feels enormous, dangerous. Together with his oar, they could wreak havoc to the world.


“I see you approve of my handiwork,” Compie titters. “Now that I have fulfilled my part of the deal, it’s time for you to get that artifact for me. The more time you waste idling, the more likely it is that the mutant horde will turn us all into mold.”


“Tell me more about the artifact. Since our goals align, it is to your advantage to give me all the information. Where is it? How many people guard it?”


“I know little about the orb. Only that another wizard of Turcifa’s caliber must have created it, because it grows food as it were the sun itself. The gatekeepers keep most of their slaves underground where they work the land day and night, producing enough food for this settlement to survive. As you might’ve guessed, it is heavily guarded. Nothing your new hand can’t handle, though.”


“If it’s like the sun itself, how will I bring it out unnoticed?”


“The orb needs to be in contact with flesh to be turned on. As you are anything but that, it will turn off in your hands. The darkness that follows and the ensuing chaos should be enough for you to escape. Even an amateur should manage at least that. Shoo! Leave me to prepare!”


The knight leaves the house, adjusting his balance to the new hand. It is getting dark outside, and the knight considers his next steps.


The gatekeepers are unlikely to volunteer their artifact to him even under Dawn’s command. Moreover, what will Dawn think of this new development? He must tell her soon, but the girl would certainly not approve of the plan to steal from the town or of his new accomplice. The arm purred, as if in reply. Maybe it’s better to keep her out of it.


Still, some help and an extra sword wouldn’t hurt. He considers asking the Handmaiden to assist him. She has no love for this place and is eager to continue their journey. Coming with him would be in her interest. Then again, her ruthlessness might mean more dead villagers than is strictly needed.


Of course he could get the artifact alone. His new arm fills him with hunger. Will he be able to control it for long enough to sneak inside? The unpredictability of his own body makes him uneasy.


“I’m in control of my own actions,” he says out loud as if to convince himself. “I’m in control.”


It seems like we have another outside influence pulling our beloved Eternal Knight into unknown directions. A demonic one at that. What do you say, dear Fates? Should we test drive it with witnesses present, or go it alone?


Option 1: The Eternal Knight asks Dawn to help in the heist. Better to get the awkward explanations out of the way sooner rather than later.


Option 2: The Eternal Knight asks the Handmaiden for help. She might prove useful in a pinch.


Option 3: The Eternal Knight goes to retrieve the orb alone. He’s not ready to face his companions’ judgement. It will be easier to explain after the town is saved.


***

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Author's note:

Have a great weekend, all!


See you next week!

Love,

Kaya & Silver





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