The path eventually revealed itself as a troll path, leading up to a troll settlement along a mountain river. The trolls weren’t terribly happy to see Seryth, but they were little match for his magic.
He cut into them, barely knowing why he was attacking them except that they had attacked him first. Hadn’t they? It was like moving in a dream; he was somehow aware of himself as a third person, observing the fight from the outside…or was it from the inside? Deep inside…
So in a haze he saw one of the trolls rear up before him, brandishing a knife with a curved blade, like one might use to slit the throats of sacrifices. The knife was wrong somehow, chipped and jagged as if it had come off of a much larger blade. The troll pointed it at him, and began to chant.
The dissonance intensified, and Seryth felt his feet leave the ground — or had he simply lost their sense of touch? The troll grinned, calling to the others in its own language. It waved the knife back and forth, and Seryth felt it like it had already stabbed his heart, shoving it back and forth, and the rest of his chest could only follow it.
Maybe it was the trollish magic, or maybe it was the voidwalker answering his plea for help, but the demon oozed out of him. The troll’s eyes widened and it dropped the dagger. Seryth landed back on his feet. The other trolls howled and capered about, pointing at the demon and at him.
Enough was enough, and Seryth wasn’t intending on being so vulnerable again. He drew on the voidwalker and the insides of its cell inside of him, weaving the magic. He blacked out at some point, but when he came to, the trolls were dead or fled.
The ritual dagger was still at his feet. Seryth picked it up. It seemed to hum up through his arm and through his ribcage. It probably held great magic. Intrigued, Seryth sheathed it on his belt. It felt right there, like part of a greater whole.
Seryth flicked the edge of it, where it looked jagged enough to have snapped off of some other blade. Maybe it was part of a greater whole…he’d have to study it later, once he had left the danger of the troll village.
Since the path had ended at the troll encampment, Seryth followed the river. He eventually came upon a dwarven bunker. They were abuzz with news about a troll attack, which seemed to be quite common in these parts, Seryth noticed.
The dwarves bragged about having fought the trolls for centuries and how this time would be little different. Thinking they might know something about the curved knife, Seryth brought it out for them to see.
“I dinnae think that is trollish craftsmanship,” said one of the dwarves, Brannik Ironbelly. “If ye look at it, its got clear signs of being forged of an alloy. The troll here are all carryin’ bone or rocks or other primitive things.”
“Is that wot I think it is?” said another, a dwarven woman named Kerr Ironsight. “I think it is! Blastbrew, is that what I think it is?”
“If it’s not for drinkin’, I ain’t fer carin’,” said the supposed Blastbrew from the bottom of his cup.
“Argh, but yer a stubborn one,” said Kerr, before turning back to Seryth. “I’ve seen one of them things before, and head stories about it. It’s said all the trollish shamans of the area carry one just like it. Tis said they once came from the same blade.”
“Lots of daggers, that once went to–what? An axe? A sword?”
Kerr shrugged. “Blimey if I know. One of them legend things. Hey, if you want to help out around here, and learn more about your dagger thing, I bet the Gan’dranda feller who’s been attacking us might have another. Wot about it, then? Ye go out and give that bugger a beatin’, and if he really does have one of them knife things, I’ll have Blastbrew ‘ere give them both a good look.”
Blastbrew belched in acknowledgement.
Seryth decided it was worth a try, and gathered supplies for an attack on the trolls.
The voidwalker hummed excitedly inside of him as he neared the battlefield, but that was normal for it. The battle itself was short and pitched, with Seryth’s mastering of fire giving the dwarves an edge in breaking through the troll defenses and reaching their leader. Seryth eagerly led the charge after spying a peculiarly jagged knife in its hand.
Gan’dranda barely had time to scream. Seryth claimed the knife as his prize. Picking it up, it and the dagger at his side vibrated, humming like accompanying parts to the same melody. He had to stuff Gan’dranda’s blade into a sack, fearing it might crescendo and shake him apart.
It was late when Seryth returned to the bunker. Blastbrew had apparently passed out over his drink, and apologetically, Kerr offered Seryth rumors of where one of the other pieces of the mystery blade might be.
Down the river was a cave called Skulk Rock, which had once been a Horde outpost. It had been the site of one of the greatest battles of the Second War, which had spanned the entirety of the Hinterlands and had only ended one night when an assassin snuck deep into the compound and had somehow set off an explosion. Fire and the stars themselves had rained down on the land, and all that was left of Skulk Rock was the cave and some sort of primordial intelligent ooze that now roamed the place, making it dangerous for treasure seekers.
If Seryth dared, Kerr said, maybe he could brave the oozes and search the cave for more knives. The forest trolls had once been a part of the Horde, after all, and if every leader of them had been granted such a blade, well, several leaders had been at Skulk Rock during the explosion.
It would be appreciated, of course, if he could bring back any other treasure he found there. According to Kerr, the dwarves, of course, would give him a good price on any such treasure found. Rolling his eyes, Seryth agreed.
Seryth wasn’t sure what to expect as he passed into the shadow of Skulk Rock. How could ooze be dangerous? Kerr had said fire and the stars themselves had rained from the sky during the old explosion. Seryth couldn’t believe that, instead figuring it was just metaphor for the debris of what was a massive combustion, maybe of dwarven firepowder. So dangerous oozes might just be a metaphor for something like quicksand, or mud, or…
He pulled his ram up short as a green THING trickled across the path, like a tendril of water, growing into a brook, growing into a stream, with old bones and arrows and hammer hafts caught in its undulating green mass.
One of the bones, a skull, oriented Seryth’s way as the thing passed, and Seryth had the sudden eerie feeling the skull could still see. Indeed, the ooze stopped, and reformed itself around that one skull, which then raised itself up as if peering into his face.
Green ooze. Bones and skulls. Something told Seryth the explosion here was more of a magical disaster than a mere explosion, maybe even having the power to turn the forest trolls into monsters like these…
Screaming, he attacked it.
There were more oozes inside the cave, along with scattered remnants of the Horde outpost. Each of the oozes had bones inside of them, which would reform and act like the corresponding limb of some poor hapless orc or troll whenever Seryth came near. Wondering grimly if the creatures still retained the sentience of their former selves, Seryth put each one he could find out of its misery, burning it thoroughly.
Finally he came across the biggest of them all, capped with a massive tusked skull that wouldn’t be out of place for a hulking forest troll. Sure enough, as Seryth got closer, he could see a long jagged blade caught inside its center.
Thus far, Seryth had relied on copious amounts of fire to combat the oozes. This didn’t work so well when the ooze was as big as the room.
He wanted that blade, though. The shards he had already acquired had continued to sing to him, vibrating on his belt and in his pack at every hour. Would he be able to make out the full song if he gathered more of them? Curiosity drove him, and something deeper…
He attacked the giant ooze, but it only seemed to grow larger, more of it oozing out of the walls and dripping from the ceiling. With one sudden lunge, it was upon him, then top of him, surrounding him from every angle…
Seryth sucked in a breath and focused his fire on the thinnest part of the ooze, but it was soon all around him, enveloping and suffocating him. It was like swimming in pudding. He didn’t dare try to take a breath, but his lungs began to spasm as he ran out of air.
Then, just as he thought he would either pass out or involuntarily take a breath, he heard a voice in his head.
“…part of us…part of us…”
“Not if I can help it,” Seryth thought to himself.
It was a language he didn’t know, and he couldn’t be sure he wasn’t just mishearing it as his mind went fuzzy from the lack of air.
The ooze crushed him tighter, and Seryth idly wondered if this is what it felt like to be swallowed. His hand brushed something sharp, and he instinctively seized it.
Sharp…what could it be, but the blade… Its ill-carved hilt leapt into his hand as if it was meant to be there. The humming and buzzing from the shards at his waist and in his pack intensified, until the three blades seemed to spring together. Seryth’s chest was on fire now, and he screamed for breath and then choked as his inhale was nothing but ooze.
But the magic latent in the blade seemed to answer his thoughts. It grew hot in his hands, and he smelled and tasted burning material. The ooze weakened around him and he was able to push through it, though he couldn’t tell in what direction to strike out in order to escape it fastest. The heat extended up his arm and into his heart, searingly painful. He blacked out, but he couldn’t say if it was due to the pain or if he had pushed himself as far as he could without air.
Seryth slowly came awake to the sensation of something rough running across his face. His chest ached, and when he opened his eyes, he found a calico cat sitting on top of it.
“Get off!” he cried, shooing the cat away.
Obediently, the cat leapt down. “Sorry, boss, but I thought maybe I had lost you.”
It was just the imp. Seryth slowly sat up, looking around.. The room was covered in the stinking remains of the giant ooze he had managed to burn up. His pack was in shreds on the floor, and he eyed the cat suspiciously, but amazingly, the rest of his gear was intact.
Including a new blade.
It was actually only half a blade, snapped off several inches past the hilt. The hilt wasn’t a real hilt, either, but instead looked like some troll or orc had bound more of the blade in rope and leather strips to protect one’s hand from the edge. There were faint cracks running through it, and Seryth could just pick out where he thought two knives, and one larger shard, had fused to become one.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” said the cat. Seryth scowled at it.
“Why? It’s what I came for. What I almost died for!”
“Almost, yes.” The cat started delicately licking its paws. “I barely got you stitched up the last time, and as much as I like you, I don’t like you enough to do THAT again.”
“Stitched me up?” Seryth looked down. The front of his robes were covered in blood. He parted them, suddenly feeling dizzy. It was as if something had torn through his chest.
He looked up to see the cat regarding him with fel-green, unblinking eyes. Its paws were covered in his blood.