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The Pass: Part 5

Screaming in agony and frustration I call again to every power that will answer. The power answers, and I can focus again as an act of sheer will. I need more, but I am running out of time. I have to move. Every step a battle, I limp around the corner leaving a trail of blood in the dirt. The thing crouches, bleeding. It bares its fangs and hisses, but still I shamble toward it, no thought in my head but its death. The hiss rises into a snarling wail of pain and hatred, and it bites at me, but I turn, catching the bite with one side of the armor that still hangs open. With a scream of agony and fury, I stab it over and over. I stab it until the black thing is a ruined mass and the creature collapses. I straddle it then, heedless of the spines that jab bluntly at my legs, slamming my dagger over and over into the great cat’s rib cage until I am exhausted. Then I push the thing’s body over the edge. After a pause that seems impossibly long, I hear it thud wetly against the rocks far below.

The blood of the beast and the inky ichor of the parasite mingle on my hands and with my own blood as I fall to the stones of the trail between the ancient dragon bones. I lie in the dirt, blood streaming from the great gashes in my belly and face. I can feel myself growing cold. Shutting down. With a sudden moment of clarity, I know that this was what dying feels like. I’m not afraid, but I know I am not done. I have to keep going. I reach out to those ancient bones with bloodied hands, feeling the power. With an act of will, I force my breathing back under control, though every breath is agony with my belly torn. I call forth my power in the healing meditation. The power of the bones answers my power, joining it. Even with that power, I am sure the healing meditation isn’t enough, and I roll to my knees, reaching into my belt pouches for poultices. It will take several to bandage my wounds. I hope there isn’t too much internal damage or filth from the fangs. Even with my healing poultices, I might well die from internal bleeding or infection from such wounds.

I have been fortunate enough to never needed it before, but I have a small jar of alchemical healing ointment in my satchel that could help remedy deeper wounds than the healing poultices alone. Somewhere. I try desperately to find it and am about to give up and unpack the whole thing, hoping I won’t bleed to death in the process. Then I feel my fingers close on the smooth stoneware jar. I pull it out and open it, then wash my hands and belly as best I can with the waterskin. Blood still flows freely, but has slowed with the healing meditation. I dip into the ointment and dab it into the deep puncture wounds, feeling fire explode in my flesh. I fall back to the dirt and nearly pass out, but rally my will to rise again. Criss-crossing the bandages of my poultices so I can place two of the pads next to each other over each set of wounds, I wrap my torso with the bandages. Blood soaks into the pads activating them, and the herbs help mute the pain as they stimulate healing.

The wound in my face has torn nearly through my cheek in one place, but is mostly superficial. I will live, though now unmistakably maimed. I smear ointment into that wound too. Wrapping one of the poultices around my face is frustrating, seeming to add insult to injury. I finally work out that wrapping up and down under my chin, and then from across the bridge of my nose to the back of my head seems to keep it in place. At least it will only need to be in place for a few hours before the skin closes too much for the herbs to be effective. Bandages applied, I kneel there in the bloody dirt, hands in the bloody handprints on the stones. I raise my power, also calling now to the power I felt in this place, in these bones, begging for healing. My blood and the blood of my enemy call out to ancient blood, and the power of that blood rushes into me. I enter a deep trance, losing all track of time. The sky is darkening when I come to my senses again.

I have no idea how far it might be to the nearest appropriate camping place with space for the warding braziers to be properly employed, and I have no strength to search. There is barely enough room for my sleep sack here, but the overhang will protect me from the worst of any weather. I eat several sausages, suddenly ravenous, and drink deeply from the waterskins. Then I retrieve the braziers and bedroll from my satchel, and start small warding fires in the braziers, placing them around me as best I can. Pulling the wool cloak around my body, I cover myself with the poncho in case wind-borne rain gets under the overhang. Then, thoroughly spent, I fell fast asleep.

The next morning dawns clear and cold, sharp wind biting my nostrils and throat as I breathe. I take off the poultices to find my wounds remarkably healed. I can see scars on my belly, and feel the scars on my face, but the healing has been much more complete than the older, and less severe puncture wounds on my thigh where a hellhound bit me. Though the scar on my face has been deeper than the recent scratches on my arm, the scars on my face are thin and don’t feel deep, except for the place where the claw had nearly ripped all the way through my flesh. The scaring there feels more substantial, but still less severe than I would have expected. The ointment shouldn’t have made that much difference on the surface wounds, so the difference has to be the remarkable power of this place. It is strange that I’ve never heard mention of any place of power on this trail.

I wonder at the power in this place, and what that shard was that I touched while stealing it. Why didn't the person who contracted the job warn me? I have no answer to my questions though, so I pack up, then move down the trail.

The tunnel contains the remains of the creature's victims. There is a mass of bones in which I can count at least a dozen skulls. I search for loot and come away with three bags of coins, but mostly the haul is coppers and silvers with only a few pieces of gold. There is a steel nasal helm, with a hardened leather shield for the sides and back of the neck that has been partially torn away. It is just a skull-cap with a projection to protect the nose and the shield is riveted on, but the leather was punctured by the creature’s claws and the holes for the rivets tore open. The chin-strap is also torn, and all of the leather is stained by the former owner’s blood. The rest of the contents of the tunnel are shattered shields and broken spears that don’t look like promising loot, but the helm can be repaired easily enough, and possibly sold. I stuff it in my satchel.

Beyond the tunnel, the path reaches a ledge with a spectacular view, then starts to descend. I stand on the ledge and feel myself open to the world around me, but also inside of myself. I feel that a change has happened. That in defeating the creature a shift has occurred within me. I am ready to initiate, to bring my new understandings into focus and anchor them into my being. I'll need to find a priest when I got to the town, to initiate. My armor was damaged by the creature, so I need a smithy to repair it too.

But it is more than that. I want to hunt. It is stupid. I almost died. But something is awakening within me. I remember the hellhound I saw in Caer Bollan. I've been changing for some time. I'm no longer satisfied with avoiding the darklings and preying on people. I want to track the darklings. I want to slay them. But I'm a thief, not a warrior. I shake my head to clear it. No matter. What will come, will come. Right now, I'm wasting daylight.

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