More than one and a half month has gone since I started this blog, and I still have not uploaded anything new! A short explanation is in order. I have been working on a book that I am hoping to get published, and therefore have not had the time to write more on “Add Insult to Injury”. Fear not though, for the story is not over, and I finally got the next chapter ready. We will see if I manage to be quicker with my updates in the future.
“Add Insult To Injury” is a series of short stories about a deeply troubled man. The goal of this particular set of stories is that each chapter will tell its own tale, and while they will all focus on the same main character the reader should be able to jump in and read whatever chapter they want. While some storylines will run through multiple stories they will be fully explained when they are relevant. Furthermore, I have the aim to tell the story from a viewpoint of a character that in no way could be described as a good person. But if you appreciate amoral characters like I do, I hope you can enjoy what comes next! You can read the prologue and Chapter 1 in the “Add Insult To Injury” to the left.
A Fiend In Need Is A Fiend Indeed
I had decided to travel through the mountain pass, which was an often times avoided place as it was both out of the way and more dangerous than the main road. Which was exactly why I had chosen to traverse it. Smugglers and bandits used these trails, and though they too were rare, I felt more at home with those who admitted their evil rather than hid it away.
My donkey and I trekked along one of the higher passes. For as long as I remember, I had preferred to walk the highest paths possible. Maybe it was my training as an arbalist shining through, for it was easier to shoot down than up. Or perhaps it could be attributed to the fact that folk seldom looked up, and so it would be easier to either ambush or avoid according obstacles in accordance to my preferences. In either case, I found the path good, wide enough so the donkey could walk comfortably behind me yet narrow enough so that the smugglers that transported their goods this way would opt to walk the more appropriate track below.
It was my second last day through the pass, and so my hopes were high that I would successfully navigate the pass without meeting a single soul, Wicked or no. But the world punishes those that take their happiness out in advance, and so it did me, for I heard voices below me. I made a face in disgust, mostly at myself, for I knew that my curiosity would drive me to look down over the edge to see if something of interest was taking place.
And so I did, once I felt sure that I was more or less above the noise. Careful not to rattle the gravel, I placed a hand on my hat and leant over the edge. What I saw below was not initially surprising. Given the incomplete and ill-looking armaments that the two men wore they could be little other than bandits, and not of the professional kind. Currently, they imposed themselves upon the path in front of a woman that had taken her horse and wagon along the path. I felt myself losing interest rapidly. After all, what did I care about the fate of some unfortunate soon-to-be victim?
I was just about to lean back, when something about her made me do a double take. My heartbeat had sped up, as it often did around bywicks and the Corrupt, yet no bells rang their warnings inside my skull, and I felt no overwhelming desire to end her life, as I would have had she been one of either. I blinked and narrowed my eyes. I could sense the Wicked in the air around both her and the wagon, yet it acted differently than I had ever seen it before.
Eyeing the woman more closely now, I saw that her olive coloured skin and dark hair marked the caliphate as her place of origin. She stood wrapped in a black and red robe, and in one of her hands she held a bowl with burning incense. She was neither old nor young, and though her face was covered in scars that formed an eldritch pattern she may well have been beautiful beneath them. I suppose that it was fortunate for her that a pretty face would have struggled to win me over, but that the patterns which played upon it instead set the last spark which kindled my interest.
That was that. I had to know what she may be, to set my instincts singing so without any indications as to why. The woman was something new, and the curiosity that beat like fire through my veins had to be satisfied.
Leaning back, I listened to the conversation below as I removed the arbalest from my back and begun to crank it.
“Listen… quite a good offer…” I stood too high above to hear every single word.
“Aye… can pass along… have a good time with us.”
I frowned. Clearly, the bandits were going to rob her, yet they were trying to make it sound like they would do her a kindness and let her pass along unmolested if she let them have their fun. It was despicable, how some would let their groins control their actions. They must not have realised that if she took their offer, she may have managed to get her hands on a weapon and end the life of at least one of the fools. There was something about women which drove some men to take the most idiotic of risks. Had I been in their position, I would have shot the woman from a hiding placed and taken what I wanted from the wagon before pushing both it and the corpse off the edge. End the possible threat as quickly as possible, take what you need, and then discard of the waste to make the life of any possible vultures as hard as possible. Distractions of the flesh, if one were to engage in such idiocy to begin with, could wait until the next brothel. Had these two been part of any band of highwaymen I that I had worked with, I would have ended their lives myself.
I smirked as I loaded a bolt into the weapon. Since I would kill them anyway, I suppose that some things never change.
I crouched down on one knee upon the edge of the path as I braced the arbalest against my shoulder and set my aim, slightly up and to the left of the leftmost bandit’s head, taking the movement of the wind into account. It struck me that the bandit that I did not kill with my shot may well attack the women, though I dismissed the thought since a woman who could not defend herself against one poorly armed assaulter would be of no interested to me anyway.
The sounds bellow seized to matter as I breathed out slowly and allowed myself to be consumed by focus. I closed one eye and…
Thwang. An explosion of gore as my bolt passed through his head and out on the other side. The newly made corpse instantly slumped back and began to roll down the mountainside. The remaining brigand jumped back in shock and began to fumble with his scabbard as he began to look around wildly, attempting to find the origin of the shot which had just killed his friend. His gaze found me soon enough, and I raised a hand in greeting. While he stood busy looking at me the woman dropped the bowl of incense and pulled forth a wavy kris from her belt.
The wisest thing the man could have done would probably have been to dive for cover, in case more bolts came flying. Another move apparently too intelligent for the poor man would have been to keep the woman in his sight, as she may have served as bait for just this kind of situation, or be quick enough on her feet to take advantage of the situation. However, considering how quickly she rushed forward and buried the dagger like weapon under his chin, pushing straight through and into his spine, I doubted that he would have stood much of a chance even had he acted perfectly.
I stood again as the woman pushed the man from her blade and sent him tumbling off the path after his companion. She gazed up at me just as I was sliding the arbalest back unto my back. I had considered reloading, but given that she had no obvious ranged weapons of her own, I thought it may have given her the wrong idea regarding my intentions. I know I only felt good about having a weapon pointed at me if I were pointing one back.
She pulled a handkerchief from inside her robe and began to clean the blood from the dagger while keeping her eyes locked upon me.
“Well met under blessed sky, traveller!” She spoke, invoking the ironic phrase of gallows humour often used between those that traversed the wrong side of righteousness. Her accent was thick, and she seemed to put emphasis upon every single vowel.
“Better met for you than I!” I called back, for I had done her a favour after all, while she had done me none.
She laughed at my words, and even from this distance I could see that she was smiling. I frowned. Had she been an agent of the Wicked, she would not have taken an insult from one similarly touched in stride.
“Do you venture on your lonesome, arbalist?” She asked.
“I do.” I answered.
“What say you we meet up ahead, where the paths align, and we will traverse in pair for a time?”
I considered for a moment, then shrugged. I was still curious, after all.
“I will see you over yonder.” Without waiting for her reply, I turned around and returned to my donkey.
She had been quick with the dagger, but nothing supernaturally so. I expected that she had simply seen an opportunity and seized upon it, whereas a bywick and most Corrupted would have acted with both speed and violence exceeding her. While there was still the possibility that she could be either of those, the simplest explanation would be that she had to be something that I hitherto had not encountered. Somehow, that felt more exciting than the possibility of battle.
The arbalest returned to my back as I grabbed the donkeys reins and begun the walk down the mountain. I had not walked along this particular way myself before, and as such I did not know for how long I would have to venture along it before my path would turn upon hers. But it was she who had wanted to meet up, so I felt confident that she would await my arrival.
The time passed from Sext to None before I spotted the woman again. We had reached a small valley hidden in the mountains, and given the scorched rock circles that I detected on the ground, this made for a popular resting point. And the perfect point for an ambush, though the caliphate woman sat by a small fire so I had to assume that she had already been here for a while and would therefore have sprung any trap had there been one. She smiled when she saw me, which twisted the scars that ran across her face, giving the smile a villainous quality.
“Took you a while.” She stated in a surprisingly kind voice.
“The donkey is slow and I am not hurried.”
She did not seem to have taken offence. Rather, she gestures to a log which lay across from her. I took the offer and sat down upon it, noticing that she had taken a seat in a traveller’s chair that I presumed she had taken from her wagon.
We watched each other for some heartbeats, not unlike two predators trying to determine if the other is an equal or prey. I felt relaxed, for I held every confidence that I could overpower her if we came to blows. But then again, she seemed as sure of herself as I, though maybe she thought me nobler than I was due to my earlier antics.
“What brings you out this a way?” Her tone was conversational.
“Mortisgaart.” I hated small talk.
“You do not strike me as the city type.” She raised an eyebrow in a questioning manner.
“Looking for someone.” I changed the subject. “What brought you out of the sand?”
“Mortisgaart’s library, so it seems we are headed in the same direction.” She smirked.
I narrowed my eyes under my hat. I thought Mortisgaart’s library had fallen into one of the many crevasses created by the Rendering.
“So it seems.”
“Shall we strike out together? You seem able to handle yourself in a fight, and I would not mind a companion on the trail.” She acted innocent enough, yet something about her had begun to touch me the wrong way.
I watched her for some time before answering her questions.
“And are you but a damsel in distress, or will you add anything useful to our duo?” I was beginning to lose patience with the conversation.
Again she brushed away my insult.
“I suppose that one of the Ghyr Nazifa can extend some forbearance to a warlock?”
I had heard about the warlocks, the infernal conjurers from the south that could bend the Wicked to their will. Some had blamed them for the end of the world, though I had personally always presumed them to be either a myth or else a coven of want-to-be witches and wizards that had read too many ghost stories.
Shooting her wagon a contemplative look, I pondered if killing her had any merit. I had no wish to drag a wagon around all the way to Mortisgaard, but mayhap it would have something of value or use that may ease my journey. However, I already carried what I and my donkey could comfortably drag along, so I dismissed the idea.
I looked back to the woman to find her watching me with an eyebrow raised.
“It would not be worth the trouble, if I may attempt to dissuade you.”
I grunted and pulled a piece of salted meat from one of my coat’s many pockets.
“I am already dissuaded.” I bit of a piece of the meat without offering her any. She did not seem starved, and I would hardly have cared even if she were.
She continued to smile at me. It seemed like she would not hold her suspicions against me. That, at least, spoke for her.
We sat in silence for many heartbeats, watching each other while we both pretended not to. Narrowing my eyes I chewed the meat slowly, tasting salt.
“You never answered my question, warlock.” For rarities sake, I was the one to break the silence.
“My knowledge of the dark arts are not enough to prove my usefulness, Ghyr Nazifa?” There was an amusement in her voice which played at odds with the weariness with which she watched me. More and more I was beginning to detect hints that she was playing up her confidence. Mayhap she possessed some powers over the dark art, but before her sat a Corrupt, or a Ghyr Nazifa in her tongue. Surely my presence would be trying even for her, for was I not a reflection of the very darkness she claimed some domain over?
I licked the salt from my lips.
“It did not seem remotely useful against the highwaymen.” I removed my hat so that the woman would more fully feel my eldritch gaze. “It seems to me like I would be doing you a favour by going on the road with you, with preciously little to gain for it.”
If I made her nervous, she did not show it with anything but a quick glance to the side. But I had spotted that glance.
“I could have handled them.” She could feel herself slipping, losing control of the conversation. “But I suppose some form of repayment may be in order…”
The warlock looked at me searching for a few moments before she continued.
“… As well as some incentive for you to accompany me to Mortisgaart.”
I nodded slowly.
“And what would such an incentive be?”
She continued to look at me as she raised her hands to the sash that held her robes together, yet let them fall again as I shook my head.
“That may have impressed the bandits, warlock, yet I am a different beast entirely.”
My words were met with a frown.
“So I can see…” She considered for a moment before continuing. “I have some trinkets in the wagon. I suppose I might be willing to part with one in return for your aid.”
“Toys with which to trick a nitwit?” I snarled.
Her temper finally sparked up in anger.
“They are no toys!” Her voice was hard. “I invoked the Dark Winds to twist them into being, to turn their mystical energies to my purpose and create according to my design! You may not understand, Ghyr Nazifa, yet I dare you to question the potency of my work again.”
As she spoke it was as if her eyes turned into pools of darkness that spilled out into her scars, twisting her beautiful appearance into something vile. I felt my heartbeat speed up, not unlike when I had faced the bywick some weeks passed. It was a more subtle thing than I, but here sat another of the Wicked’s monsters. A cousin of mine.
I will admit that in that moment the only thing which kept me from leaping upon the woman to strangle her to death was an immense effort of will. Mayhap it would have been better for me had I done just that, but I was still curious. Doubly so, now.
“Fine.” I said instead. “I will indulge you. Show me your trinkets.”
The dark scars seemed to pulse with energy as her gaze shot daggers into mine. I suspected that she was doing her best not to attack, same as I. Yet as quickly as her ire had sparked, it faded, returning her appearance to normal. My heart calmed and my instincts seized to scream into my ear, yet my mind remembered what I had seen. In that moment I accepted that I may have to end her life out of self-preservation.
Except for her rather drastic change in appearance, little else indicated a change in her mood. She still glared, though it was a woman glaring it me, rather than some dark relative of mine. That face stuck with her as she rose and begun to move towards the wagon, under the pretence of gathering my payment.
I now suspected a more nefarious purpose.
While she had her back towards me I carefully slid a bolt from my quiver, using my human hand to palm the tip while the metal shaft lay hidden beneath my arm. It may not have been as effective as as my dagger when it came to close quarters, but it would do to surprise and stun someone who did not expect it.
She returned soon after, carrying a fist sized crystal with a band of iron around its midsection, upon which runes that I could not begin to fathom the meaning of had been inscribed. From the band hung a chain, which the warlock used to carry the talisman. I had to assume that the dark red mist which swirled within the crystal posed some kind of danger, given how gingerly she handled it.
As she sat down opposite of me I continued to eye her carefully. Some may have called me paranoid, yet I had danced this waltz before and I knew the steps. I was in danger, and I would be even more damned if I let her take advantage of the situation. Besides, I cared not for the small smirk quick that had curved her lips.
“What is this then?” I asked, raising one of my eyebrow before adding; “And why would I care for it?”
“Ah, let me demonstrate.”
Now that was something I did not care for. I rose quickly, but before I had the chance to step towards the warlock she spoke again.
“Gythaz Ifranue Nauiz!” There was a darkness to her tone, like there was some evil that lived deep inside her throat and twisted her voice to an unrecognisable state. I also noticed how blackness flared up in her scars yet again.
Yet I had little time to contemplate the meaning of such things, for the crystal shone as tentacles exploded from it, wrapping themselves around my limbs. I did not wait to struggle against them, yet there were many of them and only one of me. Even though my condition rendered me stronger than most, these eldritch appendages held some unnatural power which seemed to exist outside of my perceived world. It was as if they grabbed not at my body, but at my soul, keeping me pinned.
I snarled as I struggled against the bondage, spurred into deeper rage by the dark sorceresses laughter.
“Reckon at my good fortune, Ghyr Nazifa, to not only be saved from the trouble of the highwaymen, but to be such by one so touched by the Wicked!” Her grin was maddening.
I did not tell her that I regretted not putting a bolt in her when I had the chance. I would not grant her that satisfaction. Instead I continued my struggle, trying to find a weakness in the grasp that held me.
“Ah, you need not fight so. This is a binding crystal. It ties itself to the energy of the Wicked, which surely must pump through you like the blood in your veins.” I imagined tearing the lips from her confident smile. “I had hoped to encounter a bywick to bind to my will, but to capture one of the elusive Ghyr Nazifa… Not even I could have foreseen such a thing.”
Her words gave me pause, yet I continued to struggle to keep appearances up even as my mind busied itself with her words. Knowing that the crystal had been made to bind itself to the Wicked was useful. Against a bywick that would have been effective, for indeed they were made from little but Wickedness. But a Corrupt such as I… Our moulds differed some. Bywicks had a purpose behind them, made in the image of evil to serve evil. Us Corrupted were accident, freaks among freaks, not even an afterthought. The consequence of evil, rather than evil itself.
I readily admit that I am a bad man. It is who I am. I do not mourn the humanity that I no longer possessed, rather I am glad to have been rid of it. If I did not hate the Wicked so, I would have thanked it for taking such weakness from me.
Yet though I was not a human, neither was I of the Wicked to the same extent as a bywick. I was somewhere in between. I was a fiend beholden to none but myself.
The warlock was still talking to me, yet I had stopped listening to her gloating. She was a but a step and a thrust away from me. I focused my rage at her as I grit my teeth together. I narrowed my eyes and pushed against the bonds. Then, with a howl from the depths of my guts, I took a step forward.
Oh, it felt as if my being had been rendered a second time, for the pain which washed over my was not unlike the agony inflicted upon me when the Wicked had turned me into what I am. But I was stronger now, and though I felt the tentacles trying to crush the life from my soul I slid the bolt out from beneath my fingers and thrust it forward.
Into the arm which held that cursed crystal aloof.
The woman’s cry held both surprise and pain. It was like music to my ears.
She dropped the chain and the crystal fell to the ground as she took a step backwards, grasping around the bolt with her other hand. The moment she dropped the crystal the tentacles vanished. A predatory grin spread across my lips. I had no physical injuries I could feel my spirit bleeding, but this would not be the first time that I fought on the brink of death.
Nothing focuses the mind like impending doom. Besides, I was proud of my injuries. They had not been a waste, for they had evened the battlefield.
“How did… How did you…?” Her eyes were wide as she watched me.
“Ah, do not worry yourself about that.” I began stepping towards her. “Worry about what I am going to do to you.”
Along those words I drew my dagger with my writhed left hand. Aware enough to act in self-defence, she drew her own.
Has anyone ever told you just how bloody a knife-fight is?
I delivered the first stab. The warlock pushed my arm aside with her free one, yet I still put a nasty gash along her wrist. Meanwhile she tried to deliver a stab into my armpit, hoping to end the fight early. I shifted and raised my arm enough so that her dagger stabbed into my biceps instead. My gaze went red with agony and rage, yet I had long since passed the state where such a thing was nothing but another motivator for me.
We exchanged another couple of stabs. My next thrust went for her heart, though I was only rewarded by a pained gasp as my dagger slid along her ribs. She aimed higher, going for my throat, but she must have misjudged for the dagger instead slid over my already scarred cheek.
I rammed my body into her, and although she began to stumble she still managed to bury her dagger in my tight. Unfortunately for her, she lost her grip of the weapon as she fell, and although I began to lose my balance as well, I was in a prime position to fall onto of her.
Somewhere along the fall I must have dropped my dagger, for I found myself without it. However, I had never been afraid of innovation, so while she was still gasping for breath I took her throat within my hands and began to squeeze.
Letting my withered hand touch the warlock’s skin may not have been my wisest decision.
Our souls opened up to each other. What I gazed upon was a twisted thing. Most ordinary souls were bleak mists, shifting between shadow and light, never truly gaining any substance but never fading fully. Her soul was a mockery of those things. It seemed almost a solid thing, yet it had been drawn of all that was good long ago, leaving a husk that spread out like some long limbed shade.
Her physical form attempted to throw me off, yet I held fast. I had no idea what she saw in me, yet her eyes bulged and I could see horror in them, though it was hard to tell if it was from my appearance or from the life that was escaping her.
There was a crushing sound as her throat began to give under my hands, yet even as she stopped her struggling I could see her soul reach out to me, putting its hand upon the twisted skin of my right arm.
It seemed to speak, though I could not do the horror of its language justice. I shan’t even try, but suffice to say it almost made me flinch away before the job was completed. It may have spared me some trouble if I had simply stepped away and let nature run its course with the woman’s already mangled windpipes, yet I must admit to some small joy in feeling the life escape an enemy.
Had that life not then escaped into me, it would have been much better. Just as her eyes glassed over, the shade that was her soul leapt up at me, and I felt something cold rush through me.
I got to my feet with a frown, looking down at the dead woman. As it so happened, the fire was behind me, so I also caught a glimpse of my shadow. It appear not unlike her soul had done.
“This did not turn out at expected.” Her voice sounded in my head.
I breathed out slowly as I bent down and ripped open the belt from her corpse, taking her pouch and her scabbard. Though her dagger had found itself in my leg, it had looked quite fine. As demonstrated, it also held a nice edge.
“You cannot rightly ignore me.” She sounded insulted.
Hobbling over to my donkey, I fetched water, bandages, a bone-needle and some thread. Returning to the fire, I began to lose my clothing before I began tending to my injuries
“There are spells for that, you know. I could teach them to you.”
I grunted, the only acknowledgement I would give her words. I healed easy to begin with, so tending to my injuries was not too much of a bother. I had to fetch my own dagger to burn the wound in my leg, but the scar would not bother me.
“Will you at least fetch my grimoire from the wagon? Unless you wish this state to be permanent, we may struggle getting out of this position without it.”
I took my time dressing again, since I had to sew shut the tear I had made in my trousers before I removed the dagger she had stuck in my leg.
While I had no desire to listen to the woman, I had less desire to have her stuck with me forever. Before I laid down to sleep, I fetched an old, dusty book from her wagon and strapped it within a pack my donkey carried. I also took the liberty to fill my pouch to the brim with her money.
Though her voice complained that I would not care for her body, and that I was going to leave her wagon and her valuables, her whining did not cost me any sleep.