Ilayeth turned to her side, letting the goblin fall from her shoulder. He landed with a thud upon the table, and she worked at lifting his legs upon the furniture as well. The injured intruder was not much bigger than her, and his lean build made it easy for her to transport him to a better lit area.
Still, when she was free of her burden, her breaths came ragged and fast, when it was a deep sigh of relief that she would have truly hoped for.
She looked over her shoulder then, toward the opened partition in the room. The newest recruit to the guild bowed his head, looking at the puddle of blood that pooled on the ground where the goblin had fallen. His mop of brown hair covered his eyes as he bent his head lower and lower. She could see as he raised his free hand, as though he was ready to chant some unknown spell into existence.
“Declan,” the half-elven maiden pressed again. “Declan, I need you over here.”
If he had managed to hear her, it wasn’t apparent. Ilayeth growled and looked back to the goblin cleric who had attacked her guild along with his allies.
“You’ll not die here,” she promised. “If you die, it will be by my hand.”
On the other side of the wall, Declan paced as the whispers in his head argued their points over one another.
“He tried to kill you. Why would you allow him another chance by saving his life?”
“He could have valuable information. You’ve already proven you can defeat him if you need to. You’ve disarmed him, so he’ll be even less prepared to contest you.”
“He doesn’t need the book in order to enact his magic. There is another way. You know now that magic is unpredictable, dangerous, but…”
Then, like a clarion call, as clear as the ringing of any bell, one of the whispers broke through, and sounded as though whoever was speaking was right beside him.
“Declan, find the goblin’s purpose.” All at once, it seemed as though all the other voices had grown silent. As if it knew it had reached him, the whisper continued. “Lend Ilayeth your hand and do what you can to keep him alive.”
He took in a deep breath as the sound of the serene, feminine voice dissipated, leaving him to hear only the maiden’s frantic struggles and the goblin’s ragged, panicked breaths. Declan nodded and looked to his new staff, intent on doing what he could to aid the situation.
As he entered the side chamber, Ilayeth looked up at him. “I know you now,” she said. “You’re the one that hears voices. The others who knew about you said that the temple was releasing you of your duties there because you were no longer a conduit to the voices.”
“That’s right,” Declan replied. “They did.”
“But it doesn’t look like the voices are quiet anymore. What are they saying now?”
Declan took another step forward and sent a confident gaze toward the maiden. “Sometimes the whispers want different things. But I am the one who decides. When I hear one that rings truest to me, that is the one I listen to.”
“Let’s make sure this goblin lives long enough to regret attacking the guild.”
The long gestating sigh of relief finally left Ilayeth’s lips as Declan drew nearer. She moved aside so her new companion could inspect the injured goblin.
“Do you know what to do here?” she asked.
“Well, luckily when I was at the temple, I wasn’t sitting about pretending to be some prophet who only spoke in riddles. While the clergy there always kept an eye on me to see when I would next give them a message from the gods, I kept an eye on them, studying them in their activities. More than once I saw several of the clerics heal those who were injured. But I’ve never seen an injury this bad—and I don’t have the magic they had.”
“We’ll have to make do with my magic then,” Ilayeth said. “Tell me what to do.”
Declan glanced down at the intruder and back to his guildmate then. “There’s not much to tell. He’s got an axe in his shoulder and he’s bleeding to death. We take the axe out and seal the wound as best we can.”
Ilayeth nodded. “When he recovers, we’ll find out why all this carnage befell our guild.” She swallowed away her apprehension and wrapped her fingers around the handle of Tornig’s axe. With a fierce tug, she pulled the crescent blade from beneath the goblin’s shoulder.
At once, blood started pouring from the wound. The goblin screamed in horror at the greater sense of pain before his eyes fluttered and he fell back upon the table, a reprieve finally found in oblivion.
“There’s too much blood,” Ilayeth said. “I can’t see where I need to use my magic.”
“We shouldn’t worry about being precise here,” Declan protested. “Who cares if we leave a scar?”
Ilayeth grumbled and swept her hand over the wound, trying to clear off the distracting blood. She cringed as she felt his wound. “This won’t just be a minor fire I have to summon, Declan. The flames need to be intense and accurate. They’ll drain me beyond my measures.” She looked to him for aid once more.
“Alright. I’ll see what I can do.”
Declan blew out an unsteady breath and looked to his staff, attempting to bring forth its power once more. He remembered the first time he felt its magic flowing through him, and he tried to recreate that sensation. When the circular headpiece began to glow, he knew that he could channel the magic of his own accord after all.
Still, when he began directing mystically-summoned wind, he could feel it wearing him thin. It was as Ilayeth suggested: the magic was draining him—and without any prior studies, Declan felt like a candle whose flame was close to extinguishing in the wind.
He gnashed his teeth together and reached out, extending his fingers as he focused on the goblin’s wound. At once, the magic cast the intruder’s blood away from the injury, and Ilayeth set to work.
Declan couldn’t ignore the warmth on his brow. Though he considered that it could have been due to the intense heat that his guildmate spoke of, the thought was dismissed at once, for he could feel his own magic siphoning his energy from him. It was almost, he thought, as though the staff was growing hungrier with every passing moment.
When Ilayeth completed the cauterization of the goblin’s wound, Declan ceased his channeling of magic as well. Without his energy siphoning out of him, it was as though a new weight was added to him, and he teetered backward.
“Declan,” the half-elf maiden gasped as she reached out to him.
He couldn’t fight back against his lightheadedness. Declan thudded to the wall and saw sparks within his vision. As he struggled with his lack of focus, a dark spot appeared before him. Shaking his head, he blinked away his stupor in time to understand he and Ilayeth were no longer alone.
The gnoll, Ignark, who he had incapacitated earlier was awake once more, and just as Declan could feel his own awareness beginning to slip. With Ilayeth likewise fatigued, he knew they were in trouble.
With a growl slipping from the gnoll’s snout, he stomped forward. Despite his fading vision, Declan saw his half-elf friend extend her hand toward Ignark, but it was too late. He swatted her away and reached toward her small frame.
Another growl resonated nearby, and Declan wondered if it was perhaps a trick of his fading mind. But when that growl turned into a gruff roar, he knew that there was something else to the noise. A diminutive figure rushed in beside him, and slammed into the gnoll, eliciting a loud, sudden cry.
Declan couldn’t see anything beyond a series of blurs by then.
As strange as it was, the sounds of the contest of strength slowly lulled him to slumber.
* * *
It was silent once more. With eyes closed, Declan wondered if everything he had experienced was a dream. Life had never been that chaotic or strange.
Perhaps, he considered, he was still in the temple.
In the back of his mind, he knew that was not the case. The bed beneath him was far more comfortable, for one. He opened his eyes and took a moment to acclimate to his surroundings. It wasn’t a stone ceiling over his head, but fine oaken slats.
He was still in the guild lodge, he assumed.
“Ye’ve got the most adorable little snores,” he heard then.
Though he was wearier than he ever remembered, he labored to sit up. There, near the door to the room, sat a likewise weary dwarf who wore a wide smile despite it all.
“Tornig?” Declan asked.
“Who else do ye think it is?” he asked. “I thought ye said ye didn’t know many other dwarves.”
“But you…you were…” his voice trailed off.
“Dead?” Tornig finished for him. “Bah, ye seen me taking a little nap is all. That goblin came in here casting spell after spell and before I knowed it, my eyes were drooping. Down I went,” he said, mimicking his fall with his hand.
Declan sat a little taller after hearing that explanation. “And the rest of the guild?”
The grin left the dwarf’s face then. “There are a few of our mates who are gonna have a hard time for a long while. Someone else was slinging bottles or canteens that were filled with nasty stuff. But one by one a handful of us rose from our sleep and started to put things back together. My guess is when ye stole me axe and popped the goblin with it, he couldn’t concentrate on keeping us asleep.”
Declan scrunched his eyes, trying to make sense of everything that happened. “The last thing I remembered, we’d saved the goblin. Ilayeth and I singed his wound shut, and that’s when—” His eyes grew wide when he remembered the gnoll’s sudden appearance. “The goblin’s ally attacked us. Is Ilayeth alright?”
“Ye don’t remember me coming to save the day?” Tornig scoffed.
Still fighting back his fatigue, Declan dug the heels of his hands into his eyebrows. “That was you that tackled the gnoll?”
“Aye it was!” Tornig assured. “Got him good with the horn on me helmet too.”
“You killed him?” Declan wondered.
Tornig folded his arms over his chest and arched his eyebrow. “Ye did see how big that fella was, didn’t ye? I had him yowling like a wolf in a trap, but that little stab wasn’t gonna put him down so easy. That’s what these were for.” The dwarf stuck out his fists and nodded.
“So where are he and the goblin now? Where is the rest of the guild?”
Rising off the chair, Tornig unclenched his fists, holding out his hands to placate the newest guild member. “Settle down there, lad. We have everything under control now. Ye’re just flustered because this happened the day ye got here, but the Adventurers of Eladia have to deal with this kind of thing all the time.”
“These kinds of attacks happen often?” Declan asked in a panic.
“No, that’s—” Tornig grumbled at the confusion brewing between he and the young man. “Listen: there’s always something incredible happening in this guild. Whether its adventures to far-off places, or a plea for help from some unfortunate soul out in the countryside. This is the first time we’ve ever been attacked like this though. We’ve made sure the fools ‘at tried to bump us off won’t be able to do anything again, and we’ve posted up a guard at each entryway to make sure we’re not caught unawares anymore.
“As for the goblin and his friend…” the dwarf went on. He moved toward the window, sweeping aside the curtain there. “No doubt Erik pointed out the stable to you when you first arrived. He probably told you the next few months of your life were going to be jumping between cleaning the larder and shoveling after the horses.”
“He didn’t,” Declan replied. “But I could see him doing so.”
“Since a handful of our leading members are off scouring the ruins of the Grey Arches, it left some room in the stable. We’ve got the bastard intruders tied up in there—on opposite sides of the building of course. We wouldn’t want them working together on a scheme or something.”
“That goblin had command over magic, Tornig,” Declan protested. “If he gets a chance to speak even a few words—”
The dwarf waved his hand at the notion. “Ilayeth is already five steps ahead of ye, lad. She’s got something stuck in place over his face, and he hasn’t been able to utter a damned word since.” He set his gaze upon the recruit then. “What I’m more interested in is the magic that came out of you.”
His deliberate, cleaner accent caught Declan off guard then. He looked at his hands as though there could be some answer there, but a moment later he merely shook his head. “That wasn’t me,” he assured. “That was the magic from the staff.”
“Ah, but there’s been plenty of people who’ve investigated that staff over the last several years, and nobody’s ever come close to making it sing the way ye did.” Tornig glanced at the furthest corner of the room from he and the recruit. When Declan followed his eyes there, he saw the staff with the ringed headpiece there. “Even our artificer, Ezra, couldn’t get that thing to speak to him, and he feels the pull of the aether more than anyone else in this place.”
Declan hummed to himself. “Well, hearing things speak to me is kind of what I’m known for.”
“That’s right. Ilayeth told me that she saw ye chattering to yerself or the like when she was trying to keep the goblin from bleeding out. I remember Mason telling us about ye a few weeks ago. So, how’s it happen? What’s your story, lad?”
Pushing out an unsettled breath, Declan ignored the question and glanced out the window until Tornig stepped in the way.
“I’m making sure yer head is on straight,” the dwarf said. “Humor me, will ye? Once yer done, I’ll take ye out to the stable and you, me and Ilayeth can find out what’s going on with our new friends.”
“I don’t know how it all started,” Declan revealed. “All I know is that for the earlier parts of my life, I moved around more than a child should. I ended up alone at an orphanage, and it didn’t take long for them to figure out why. I would talk to people who weren’t there.”
Tornig shrugged. “Lots of wee ones do that.”
“Yes, but the imaginary people who I talked to really did talk back,” Declan pressed. “And more importantly, they convinced me to do things—things that I shouldn’t have been doing.”
“What kind of trouble did ye get into, lad?”
“I was lucky that I was always found out before I could get too deep into anything. But I remember I tried to break into the headmaster’s office. I tried to break out of the orphanage. One time I brandished a knife and refused to go back to my room. All because the whispers in the back of my mind suggested I do so. Eventually, all the other children knew better than to associate with me.”
Declan sighed. “When everyone thought I was too dangerous to remain at the orphanage, they were trying to determine where to send me. For a while, I thought they were going to send me off to a prison or to work in some far off mine where no one would ever see me again. But before any decisions could be made, someone from the temple sent word of wanting to see me. Apparently one of the parents who visited the orphanage had heard of me in passing. When they adopted another boy, he told them all he knew about me, and word traveled, until it reached the temple.
“They thought there was more to the whispers than what I could sense on the surface,” Declan went on. “They thought it was proof that the gods spoke to men, and they were convinced that I was meant to come live with them, to tell them the things the gods wanted them to do.”
“But ye aren’t at the temple anymore,” Tornig said. “Isn’t that where we just picked ye up from?”
Staring out the window again, Declan considered the comment. “The whispers were gone—nearly anyway. The brothers at the temple would come to me day after day and ask me to tell them what the voices were saying, and time and again, they would try to determine what those statements meant. They treated me like some kind of soothsayer, even though I’ve never been told anything other than commands or riddles. And I suspect that when I stopped listening—really listening—to the whispers, they stopped trying to tell me whatever it was they wanted me to know.”
“But here ye are in our guild, and the voices come right back,” the dwarf said. “From what I heared, we were just happy ta get another pair of helping hands in the building, but it seems like ye came with a little bit more than what we bargained with. Only time will tell if the voices are good or bad, I suppose.” He tilted his head and hummed at that thought. “What do the voices want ye ta do now?”
Declan didn’t realize it, but he was trying his best to keep them silent during his conversation with Tornig. As soon as his question was asked though, it was as though he had opened a sluice in his mind, letting a flood of whispers through.
“They’re still a danger, no matter what he says.”
“Hurry to the stable.”
“You didn’t save his life for nothing.”
He swallowed away the tension building in his throat and rose from the bed. Shuffling off his fatigue, Declan made his way to the corner of the room, grabbing hold of the staff as though it had always belonged to him. He turned to his guildmate and nodded.
“Even if the voices didn’t tell me so, I would want to do this.” He looked out of the window, to the stables, where a handful of other Adventures of Eladia stood watch. “It’s time to see those who attacked the guild.”
* * *
Tornig walked ahead of the lad, into the open meadow behind the guild hall. If the dwarf had sustained any injuries in the attack, none of them showed. He almost looked eager to get to the building beside the forest, and when he looked over his shoulder and confirmed that the recruit was still behind him, his gait looked even more determined.
A tall, broad fellow at the entrance to the stable pointed his chin at the approaching smallfolk and stood up straighter when he drew near. “You’re bringing the new arrival.” He laid his hands upon the handle of a huge greataxe that rested upon its head on the ground.
“Aye, I am,” Tornig said. “If it wasn’t for Declan, ye probably wouldn’t be standing here now—struggling though ye are. And don’t go on pretending that ye weren’t the ‘new arrival’ not long ago.”
Declan held fast behind the dwarf, standing in the dirt that cast out from the entrance to the building. The horses had trodden over the ground enough that no grass would grow there for some time without extra care.
Turning his attention from the grass and dirt then, Declan took a better account of the man guarding the stable. Tornig’s words lingered in his air, louder than the whispers scratching at the back of his mind. The man was an imposing figure at first, but Declan found softer, younger features there as well. Long, thick hair hung down over his face, and a scruffy beard hid his cheeks, chin and mouth. He wore a cloak clasped at his shoulder, but it left his bare upper torso exposed to the elements. That naked chest was perhaps Declan’s best understanding of the fellow’s age. Only a tuft of curly chest hairs sat there, the rest of him clean and smooth. The barbarian couldn’t have been much older than he was, he reckoned.
The man jerked his head to the side, sweeping the hair out of his face. All at once then, he seemed imposing once again. For without the locks to shield his features, Declan could see the terrible scar carved out down his brow and across one of his eyes.
Doing his best not to recoil, Declan remained there, staring at the bridge of the man’s nose.
“This is Orn,” Tornig said to the recruit. “What ye see here is his attempts to rattle ye with his purdy eye. It’s also the reason they call him Orn One-Eye.”
Declan squared his jaw and nodded, not sure what to say to such a thing. When Orn chose not to react further either, the three of them stood in silence for a time.
“It’s a shame,” Declan finally said. He swept his free hand behind his back, if only to hide his shaking. “If you had two working eyes, maybe you would have seen me saving the guild hall.”
Though nothing further was said, and it grew silent once more, all three men felt as though another explosion had just gone off. Tornig’s eyes widened as he alternated glances between the two men. Declan waited there in silence, but the dwarf noticed he began leaning back, as if expecting a tremendous incoming blow.
Orn, meanwhile, narrowed his eyes—both the good one and the scarred one—as his lips scrunched into a pursed frown. Within seconds though, he couldn’t keep it from stretching into a reluctant grin, even his eyes beginning to show signs of uncontrolled satisfaction at the quick jab.
He gave a subtle bow of his head, and stepped aside, clearing the way for the Tornig and Declan.
The dwarf tapped his newest companion on the leg and urged him on. Together, the two of them disappeared into the darkened stable.
Inside, only a few lanterns helped to offer any light. Two more members of the guild, both sturdy looking fellows, stood guard, one at either end of the building, before opened stalls there.
As Tornig and Declan looked down one long stretch of the stable, they saw Ilayeth step out of the furthest stall on one end, her hand splayed across her forehead. She didn’t acknowledge the guard who waited there, but she stopped in her tracks once she realized others had entered the building beyond the sentinels she had placed.
“Tornig,” she muttered.
“Ye aren’t looking so happy, lass,” the dwarf returned. “Everything alright?”
“Everything is fine,” Ilayeth assured, but as she proceeded onward, she gestured with her finger for the two recent arrivals to follow her.
They followed along, entering the stall that stood just beyond the entrance. She waited a moment to feel a sense of the silence that far from the ends of the building, and then she drew in closer toward Tornig and Declan.
“I can’t seem to wrench any information out of either of them,” she whispered.
“The gnoll and the goblin?” Declan wondered.
Ilayeth nodded. “I want to know why they attacked the guild. But every time it seems like I’m getting somewhere from them, they hush up and lock it up tighter than a treasury vault.”
“Bah,” Tornig said. “Ye’re just being too soft on them. If I had to guess, ye’ve never tortured someone in yer life. Ye don’t have the stomach for it, lass.”
“And you do?”
The dwarf folded his arms over his chest. “If it’s needed, I know what needs doin’. And trust me, if I had yer magic flowing through me, I would have already learned what they had for supper a year ago today!”
“Keep your voice down,” Ilayeth chastised. She let a quiet grumble pass through her lips before she looked at Declan. In the soft light of the stable, she almost missed the sight of his staff. “If you want magic, look no further than to our new friend,” she said. “Declan was the one who stopped both of the intruders, did he not? Albeit, the gnoll was not halted for good. Thank you for protecting us in those last moments, Tornig.” She waved her hands then, returning to the point she was trying to make. “Perhaps just the sight of Declan will loosen their lips somewhat.”
Tornig shrugged at the thought. “Ye could be right. But there’s still two prisoners to question. And they each have means of holding onto their secrets, I’m sure. The gnoll is going to be tough as nails, and the goblin knows how to hold onto pain, I’d reckon. He knows there’s a potential to heal himself if he ever gets out of this predicament.”
“Well, I could interrogate one of them while you both question the other,” the half-elf said. “Any thoughts?”
“Why don’t we let the fella with all the answers decide?” Tornig posed. “What do you say, lad? What do your voices tell ye now?”
Declan could hear the whispers begin to chatter and rattle like messenger birds fighting to escape their cages. Knowing that one of those messages would soon break free, he waited to hear it with new clarity.
He didn’t expect to hear their commands offer up different instructions than what the dwarf and the half-elf suggested.
“It isn’t who you interrogate that’s important,” one of the whispers said.
“It’s how you do it that matters.”
“Threatening words and actions don’t often yield believable results. But if you give even one of them something that they want…”
“They’ve proven they can’t be trusted, Declan. Be firm with your interrogation. Fear of repercussions will urge them to speak truths.”
Declan passed alternating glances between the two ends of the stable, as though he could see the prisoners they had bound there. He knew that a choice was to be made, and that the result could give them the clue they had been searching for. One wrong move, though, could topple the foundation of the guild.