Amates 21, 1277. On a platform, in an unknown ruin, under the middle of nowhere in the plains. This was getting to be a really long day.
I’ve been in fights before, but this was different. From the outside, it looked like a rolling mess of kobolds clawing at each other. It wasn’t. This was every bit a skirmish between two small armies.
Each side had their own leader, who directed the overall battle strategy. There was also the kobold who controlled the tactics for their part of the mob. Most had daggers, long knives, or hammers. Some even brandished improvised weapons like pots, pans, or whatever they could find.
It may sound haphazard, but in the hands of someone with a bit of fighting skill, even an iron skillet can hurt as bad as any war hammer.
Despite all of that, and having no armor, I waded into the middle of that battlefield anyway. It turned out that my Sun Orb was tougher than I thought.
My first swing caught the nearest kobold by surprise. The orb slammed under his jaw with a solid whack. He stood up straight on his toes before tipping over backwards onto the courtyard tiles.
The newcomer kobolds, which I dubbed ‘Bluescales’ for their blue tattoos, must have decided right at that moment I was on their side. So their ‘Master-at-arms’ running orders from their leader shouted a few of those my way. My Belari-scal is pretty weak, so I missed most of what he said, but I understood the intent.
I was suddenly adopted as their new ‘basher’.
They directed me to come in from the left. Their only other basher came around on the enemy’s right with a pair of iron skillets. The rest of the Bluescales would harass the enemy in the courtyard, or the few running down the stairs from the roof.
It was a pincher tactic that put the enemy’s back to the stairs with no cover.
The whole thing lasted a fierce, bloody twenty minutes, if I had to guess. In the end, the enemy kobolds were killed, caught, or chased away. I was cut and bruised within an inch of my life, but I still met up with my fellow basher on the battlefield.
We grinned like lunatics at each other, hugged, and cheered our victory with the rest of the Bluescales.
After that? I passed out.
I had a lot of strange dreams that involved caverns, chanting, and twisted memories of the previous battle. Several involved fighting Baron Marius over a dark pit.
Eventually, I jerked awake. I was lying on a grass bed in a room I didn’t recognize. More working Sun Orbs hung from the walls and cast the room in a bright late afternoon glow. My wounds had been bandaged and treated, but I had a thin headache. There was also a dry, cotton sensation in my mouth. A kobold wearing a blue and yellow trimmed tabard, belted at the waist, sat beside me.
He was chanting something under his breath while he lit a thin, brown-black stick. Once it smoldered, he stuck it in a ceramic holder near my head. It smelled sharp, like burnt cinnamon or scalded mint.
I slowly sat up. The surrounding room was more of the same ancient brick walls, only cleaner and less cracked. This place contained woven grass mattresses, short tables, and even a workbench. I saw jars, mortar, pestle, and other herbalist tools there.
The room was half the size of the workshop I had visited before. Even though it was small, the kobolds had put this place to good use.
“Healer?” I asked and winced. My voice sounded hoarse and felt a little raw.
The kobold nodded slowly.
That time he, at least I thought it was a ‘he’, shook his head.
“No,” he replied in a soft tone. “I’ve already done that.” He gestured to the smoldering incense stick. “This is for soothing the nerves. You were yelling in your dreams.”
I dredged up the scattered nightmares, then shuddered.
“I’ve had a rough time of it.”
The kobold grinned.
“I could tell. You needed healing, so I have cast a few spells. Mostly, you needed water and ointment.” He touched a hand to his chest and nodded. “I am Odro, the Healer for the Tirak.”
“Tela. Tela Kioni,” I replied, then reached up to rub the side of my head when my headache threatened to get worse.
The bandages on my hand made me hesitate. I sighed, then rubbed my temples.
Odro chuckled, which for a kobold sounded like a cross between a snicker and a hiss.
“Thank you for helping my people, Tela.”
“Honestly? It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“We do appreciate it.” Odro tilted his head a little to the right and frowned. “But, and I am just curious, why are you here?”
I glanced at him but didn’t reply right away. What do I dare tell him? Anything? Then again, what would it hurt? I was in a kobold warren out in the prairie and didn’t know where Ki, Evi, Tyre, or anyone was.
That feeling of being lost and alone pressed down on me. It was like being wrapped in a wet blanket of wool that pinned me to the ground.
When I didn’t reply, Odro pursed his lips while his frown deepened. Despite his reptilian features, down to those yellow eyes, it was the same ‘physician frown’ that Ki always gave me.
“You had a small fever after the fight,” Odro explained. “You had been poisoned. The fever made you rant on about many things. People. Places. Mostly people. You sounded very worried about them. Oh, and always there was a crystal. You mentioned that more than once.”
I took a deep breath, then sighed.
“Good to know I can’t keep my mouth shut.”
Odro chuckled again.
“You had a fever,” he stressed. “You were badly cut and were exhausted. On top of that, the magic-sickness was quickly breaking you apart.”
It was my turn to frown. I looked at my arms, then what I could see of my legs through cuts in my trousers. In between the occasional bandage, pale white scars from healed cuts criss-crossed parts of my skin. Some looked like they may have been pretty deep. Scars from magic healing weren’t new to me. I took it as proof of Odro’s claim about having cast a few healing spells.
But healing magic and ointments only cure the physical wound. It doesn’t take care of the ‘phantom pain’. The mind wants what it wants, and right now, mine wanted to remind me in no uncertain terms that I put myself through some serious danger. So every move I made came with a mild ache.
“All right,” I relented. “My crew and I, my friends, we’re looking for a crystal. Something from the Ancient Order called the Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse.” Odro’s comment on my condition sank into my head. “Wait. What do you mean ‘magic-sick’?”
He shrugged, then gestured to the scale ridges along my forearms, then to my surprise, my face. I felt icy needles of panic race along my spine and I sat very still.
“Magic-sick,” he repeated.
“What’s wrong with my face?”
I almost couldn’t get the words out. Deep down, I knew what he meant about ‘magic-sick’. There was only one thing it could be: the magic storm that Baron Marius hit me with while using that piece of the Automatic Crystal.
The healer didn’t reply right away. Instead, he studied me in silence for a moment.
“It’s what can happen when anyone is magic-sick, like from too much altering magic, or being caught in a magic storm.” He tapped his own cheekbone. “Kobold eyes. You had human eyes before? Now you have kobold eyes. It’s something that can happen.”
I clasped my hands together to keep them from shuddering.
“So the ‘magic-sickness’ is turning me into a kobold?”
Odro shook his head.
“No. It’s trying to kill you by transforming you into,” he paused, thinking, “… something else.”
Words like ‘magic-sick’, ‘poison’, and the rest shattered my thoughts into tiny pieces. Before I could ask anything else, Odro turned around to pick up a small box just big enough to hold a pair of shoes. He fished around inside, then withdrew an all too familiar piece of a clear crystal with one smooth, charcoal-black side.
A piece of an Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse.
Odro chanted a short phrase, and the thing glowed sharp yellow.
I nearly shrieked.