Living Story Excerpts
This was a continuation of the scene started in Part 2, so I just had to complete the thought.
One thing I will have to watch in the future is how I describe rukh-shami. These ones at first act like moving boulders, but then Sirith notes they feel smooth and malleable like mud. Earlier in Chapter 1 he noted they bled sand. So which is it? Are these different sub-races? Or does it have to do with how these ones were burned to death instead of stuck with swords? Does normal fire even work on them? My world-building has a lot of unanswered questions…
It was nearing sundown when Sirith approached the hills where the rukh-shami were supposedly encamped. He expected to see smoke rising in the air from campfires, but it was dark and silent all around. He pulled his ram to a stop and hesitantly dismounted, leading the riding goat into a brake of shrubs that he hoped would conceal it from sight.
Though the ympe clung impatiently to his shoulder, Sirith chose to approach the camps quietly, in a roundabout route up the shoulder of the hill rather than straight-on. He had an eerie feeling as he climbed, as he passed more shrubs and boulders but no tents or other signs of habitation. It was as if he were in the wrong place, like he had stepped into another country or through a portal to another world. The boulders around him stood out like fingers of rock, their red-striated sides not matching the gray and brown of Tarith’s soil. With a sudden start, Sirith realized what he was looking at, and he jumped away just in time to avoid the swing of an earthen limb as the boulder next to him came alive.
He had fled halfway down the slope, when the ympe bit his ear. “Don’t run!” it squeaked at him. “Don’t run! Cast your spells! C’mon!”
“I, uh, I think I found a flaw in our plan! What good can fire do against rock-monsters?” Sirith exclaimed, but he turned to face the rukh-sham stomping down the slope toward him. The creature was slow, as if shaking off sleep or pushing through unseen cobwebs that fouled its limbs. Sirith reckoned he had a good few seconds before it reached him.
To run, or to fight?
“Come on, come on!” the ympe urged.
Sirith fell into spellcasting, stumbling his way through the chant of a flame spell despite his misgivings. His fingertips grew warm and felt fuzzy moments before the fire graced them, but the dancing flames were small and white, crackling like a little hearthfire, and not at all threatening to a rukh-sham. Sirith shook his hand to dispell them quickly so he could try again; panic thudded in his chest.
The approaching rukh-sham rumbled deep in its throat — if it had a throat — as it came on. Some of the other boulders began to stir, layers of sediment widening into eyes or cracking apart to reveal the shape of limbs as the creatures awoke. It seemed as if the hillside were coming alive to attack him. Sirith desperately began chanting again, snapping his fingers as if that would encourage the fire to come quicker.
Just as he neared the end of the new spell, the ympe lashed him with its twiggy tail. The snap across his face and chest, sharp enough he wondered that it hadn’t drawn blood, lost him precious seconds as he faltered in his chanting.
That betrayal woke a sudden and deep anger in Sirith. Heat curled through his torso, and, acting on some unearthed instinct, he closed his fists and punched out, one-two-ing like a boxer. He jumped as golden fire roared down his arms and caught the surprised rukh-sham in its featureless face. It took a step back, waving vaguely at him like it was trying to ward away smoke.
Sirith felt the power like a channel opening inside of him, a window shutter pulling away to let sunlight come streaming through. He pivoted in place, directing that power up and down the slope. Fire belched out of him, catching some of the grass and shrubs, its brilliant gold fading to a more normal orange and red as it set in. Another of the rukh-shami stomped through these fires, unharmed, as Sirith might have expected from a beast of rocks, but the first one, that had caught the blaze full-on, began to wail with an unearthly shrill, its voice like wind blasting through a tight canyon.
Sirith felt a peculiar fatigue come on, the emptiness of lungs when one’s breath had expired, as the last of the fire left his hands. He stumbled back, gasping and tripping over a tussock. More of the rukh-shami were responding to the threat, and he watched in a daze as more boulders uncurled and shuffled their way towards him.
The ympe was nowhere to be found, and he felt another rush of anger. This he used, channeling the emotion into another roar of flame. He barely had to complete the chant this time, as the magic stole his breath away, quite literally, igniting on some internal fuel he hadn’t known he had possessed. Two other rukh-sham he burned to screaming, and the draw of the magical power felt like an undertow deep in his chest.
He couldn’t stay in one spot, Sirith saw, for if the rukh-shami reached him, he was sure their heavy limbs would break his bones in short order. Yet these ones moved no quicker than a walk, either muzzy from their dormancy or else hesitant to approach this little ‘mar-ling with the fire that could burn stones. Sirith dashed away, working more spells into his rhythm of retreat-and-turn, blast, gasp, retreat-and-turn. He drew the rukh-shami down off the hills, onto the plains and past their concealing shrubs, but from there, they wouldn’t come further.
The light was beginning to die, the hillside only lit with the remnants of his fire. The rukh-shami were black shapes moving up front of the blazes, quenching them with their heavy feet and plunging their forms into shadows. The wailers among them had stopped– dead or simply rallied, Sirith couldn’t tell. He paused long enough in his spellcasting to make a magical light for himself and held this white globe aloft. It threw the grasses nearest him in sharp relief, thin shadows whipping across the ground as he moved. At the edges of his ring of illumination, he could pick out the hulking shadows of the rukh-shami. They were moving as well, but they were shrinking away: retreating. Sirith paused, his motivation for the fight dying like a doused candle.
Nothing approached him, and the darkness outside his little light deepened. It became hard to tell the looming shape of a shrub apart from that of a rukh-sham, as the moons hadn’t risen yet and the sun slipped far below the horizon, only leaving a few evening stars behind. Sirith doused his light so as to let his natural akor’mar vision take over, and slowly, over a few minutes, the deep shadows began to rearrange themselves into branch and leaf or motionless heaps of rocks.
Sirith carefully approached one of the latter, touching a hand to what he thought was a thick shoulder or arm, ready at any moment to jump back if it proved to be still alive.
The flesh — if you could call it that — felt warm, and Sirith couldn’t tell if that was the rukh-sham’s natural body heat or a leftover aura from his fire. The creature wasn’t as hard as he expected either, and it felt more like touching the the smooth surface of slightly moist mud than a stone. He gave the creature a kick, and the thing yielded slightly. Conjuring another globe of light, he shoved the corpse over and began pulling out the teeth. Even as he worked over it, the human-like form of the rukh-sham was beginning to sink into something shapeless, like uncooked dough, waiting for another baker to pound it into something new.
Sirith suppressed a shudder and brought the pebble-like molars close to his face. “I earned you this time,” he whispered to them. He squeezed the teeth hard, grinning despite himself. “What kind of bed will you earn me? I could buy out that whole inn. I could buy off half the town!” So gloating, he finished collecting his bounty and turned back for Svenby.