When Qiroy bent to break the birds neck, he was thrown aside by the ships abrupt stop. Tightly gripping the rotten heart, he left the bird’s corpse to rot on the deck and ran to the helm.
The gnome still held the commands, but his face was blank.
Qiroy pushed him aside and gripped the helm with his free hand. He felt the elemental’s fear, but couldn’t understand why the entity was so afraid. Qiroy was not an expert in elemental control, but he knew he would never be able to get the elemental out of it’s trance singlehanded. Putting the rotten heart in his robe’s pockets, he grabbed the helm with both hands.
The telepathic link that established between Qiroy and the elemental was precarious, as if the thing was panicked. What is a fire elemental’s mind made of ? Qiroy wondered as he tried to pierce the entity’s trust with is own spirit. Nothing would do. Exhausted by his failure, Qiroy backed up and called to the powers of the Blood.
The second she heard Lastrem’s voice, Lia swung her gaze from the dying bird to the trap door. Aware that the song could affect the crew of the vessel as well as the elemental that drove it, she made sure to keep her balance. Does Lastrem thinks children spooks can freak me out ?, she wondered as she watched him stumble out of the hold. She thought about yelling to Qiroy, but the half-deaf priest wouldn’t flicker at her calls. Anyway, she could take care of the thief herself.
Under the darkening flames of the bound elemental, Lia regained her balance and sprung after Lastrem, who ran to the shady spot where an acolyte hid like a scared child. As if protecting himself from invisible foes, the acolyte brandished his weapon to nothingness. The blade shone under the dark fire. Lastrem could not have missed the flash of metal.
A few paces before he could reach the acolyte’s dagger, Lia caught Lastrem’s shoulder. She had always been a fast runner. Unsheating her short sword, she punched at Lastrem, who dodged the attack. She liked the guy, but she would not let him spoil her contract. And his darned tune was really getting on her nerves. How could he carry on singing while he ran and fought ? That Lastrem was never out of surprises.
Moving sideway, Lastrem slid around Lia, tripping her as he tried to catch the dagger. She took advantage of her fall to kick Lastrem in the ribs.
Lastrem’s singing stopped when Lia stole his breath. The bitch had pointy boots.
And the scared acolyte had a sharp dagger.
Almost in Lastrem’s reach.
If only he could stop swinging it back and forth. The scared man stared at the fighting couple as if they were abberations from Xoriat. And he fighted as if. Lastrem made the most of the man’s strikes to push Lia aside and grab her sword.
Then, the moment came when he could have killed Lia. Her throat was right beneath the tip of his sword. Instead, he stole her a kiss and pushed her against the acolyte.
“Don’t hurt her to much”, he said as he jumped on his feet and sprung out of reach. “I’d like to keep a piece of her myself.”
Where was the rotten heart ?
Lastrem walked across the deck, trying to spot the Emerald Claws commander. He must have kept the heart on himself, thought Lastrem as he ran to the helm, Qiroy would not make that mistake twice.
The putrescence of the artifact reached Lastrem’s nostrils when he came near Qiroy. How could Zerys have been fooled when the artifact was so smelly ?, wondered Lastrem. The rumors must be true, corpse collectors really get their olfactive system burned through their training.
While he pondered about Zerys’ credulity, Lastrem crept behind Qiroy, whose closed eyes were a benediction. How could Lastrem reach the rotten heart without alerting Qiroy. Even his stealth could not allow him to get his fingers inside the cleric’s robes. Anyway, it would have been disgusting to caress the torso of a man who bathed in dead bodies.
Lastrem thought too long. Qiroy backed up and began chanting macabre Blood of Vol verses. At least, the cleric hadn’t seen him. Lastrem moved beside Qiroy, and shoved his fist in the man’s face.
Zerys waited in the hold for almost a minute, covering his ears with both hands. The skeletal rat waited beside his feets, awaiting orders.
When he found Lastrem had stopped singing, Zerys uncovered his ears. After hiding the rat in his pocket, he headed for the ladder. On the deck, he looked around. The crew’s constant working sounds had stopped, as if something terrible had happened, like when all birds of a wood stop singing.
His eyes locked with Lia’s, who had freed herself from the acolyte’s delirium. Lia didn’t care looking at Zerys for long. The acolyte’s dagger in her hand, she jumped to her feet and ran to the helm. Zerys let the trap door shut behind them.
Zerys’ gaze following the changeling, he soon found Lastrem tearing the cleric’s robe appart. He then saw him rip Qiroy’s heart from his chest with his bare fingers.
Zerys stared, breathless.
Suddenly, he realised.
The rotten heart.
Lia was almost on the bard, but he kicked her before she could reach him. Zerys shouted and Lastrem threw the rotten heart.
Zerys watched the artifact fly from Lastrem’s hands. He ran to catch the it, but the rotten heart bounced on his fingers. It took Zerys all his care not to make the bloodstone fall overboard. The artifact hit the deck with a squishing sound and slid on the planks as Zerys ran to catch it.
As he reached for the rotten heart, pain erupted in his back when Lia’s dagger pierced his shoulder. Zerys’ fingers were a few inches from the artifact when he fell on the deck, his body convulsed by pain.
This darned changeling should not even be here. Zerys wanted to kill her, but he knew he didn’t stand a chance. Even Lastrem didn’t stand a chance against her. His only salute was to grab the rotten heart. Zerys extended his arm.
As soon as he touched the heart, he felt it’s power fuse through his veins. So, this rotten piece of flesh was the source of his necromantic might. Commuting with the rotten heart, he felt every corpses within the ship. He concentrated his power upon the only corpse that laid on the deck.
By that time, Lia had reached Zerys. With one hand, she tried to grab the rotten heart. With the other, she removed the dagger from Zerys’ back.
“You’ll be dead within a seconds”, said the changeling, raising the blood dripping blade.