“With an appetite like that I wonder how you make any headway in your travels, young man!” The woman said wide eyed to Mikel as she wiped down one of the other tables.
“That’s just Mikel, thankfully.” Mara said as she sat back in her chair. “If we all ate like him we’d have no doubt run your shop bare.”
“Well, with the coming of winter business gets scarce, so you’re a welcome sight, regardless. Have you any trading to do today or will midmeal be all?” replied the shopkeeper.
“We are actually looking for some furs and a tent if there are any to be had.” I said from my spot by the wall.
“The furs I know we have in stock. We just had a trader in the other week who brought a cart load of them. The tent, however, might be a harder find.”
Just then a voice from the kitchen door caught my ear and I turned to see a girl of about sixteen summers peeking about the room.
“Mother, there’s a tent in the attic, maybe they–” she started and was nearly immediately interrupted by the shopkeep, “Rebekah, you’ve got dishes to clean and that’s plenty to keep your head to for the moment.”
“But the man said–” Rebekah started.
“That’s enough! Get in the kitchen.” Her mother replied sharply.
I spoke up trying to change the subject back to our business, “No offense, ma’am, but we could really use that tent. I’ll even pay half again its worth for it.”
“That would be nearly seven gold!” The woman opened her eyes wide. “You must really need one!”
I nodded. “Yes, we have but one tent for the four of us, and…”
Mara scowled a little as I paused, “And I won’t share it with a man… certainly not him.” She gestured toward Mikel.
The Shopkeeper nodded understandingly. “Well, the problem isn’t that I don’t want you to have it, but that the attic is haunted; has been since before we moved in.” She paused before continuing. “That ghost killed my husband just after Rebekah here was born, and her sneaking up there when I’m unaware is why she knows what’s up there.”
I looked at Mara, Rat and Mikel… who refused to return my gaze. “I guess I’ll be alone in this. I’ll go up and look for it… If you don’t mind, ma’am. Maybe I can ‘shoo’ it away for you.”
“Well, I suppose if anything can scare away a ghost it oughtta be a half-troll.” She said to herself before realizing she’d spoken aloud, ”Um… I mean–”
I smiled, ”Maybe so. If nothing else maybe I can reduce the number of half-trolls in the world, eh?”
She smiled weakly, nodded, and led me outside and to a stairwell in the back. I slid through the small door and she closed it.
The smell of dust and rotting wood found my nostrils as I took my first few steps into the dark room. Despite the smell, the floorboards seemed sturdy enough to bear my weight, though they groaned a bit with each step. The walls were stacked high with odds and ends of seemingly random goods, most worthless due to age and the damp, but on the far side of the room I saw a small couch recently dusted off. It was too small for me, but I could imagine the small frame of the shopkeeper’s daughter reclining in it, reading one of the many books that were strewn about the room. As I looked around this side of the room, I felt a familiar voice creep into my head. We are not alone, Rickter.
I looked around and saw movement in the corner of the room.
“Hello?” I called toward the movement. “Is anyone there?”
The air seemed to grow a few degrees cooler.
I heard the familiar voice again a moment later. Come out here, spirit.
The air seemed to freeze as a small ball of light floated slowly from behind a tall stack of boxes and books. Unlike the feelings of horror I figured I would experience, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness emanating from the small presence.
This spirit is that of a human infant, Rickter!
What is it doing here?
It doesn’t know how to move on.
“Is there anything we can do?” I asked as the air grew still colder.
The small orb of light started to bounce from side to side
It seems scared of something.
I cringed, thinking about what the shopkeeper had said about scaring the ghost off. “I’m not going to hurt you! Please don’t be afraid.”
I felt myself forced from my feet as a burst of intense cold struck at me from behind. I turned over and saw as the small orb of light was joined by another larger light, and it was from the larger of the two that the feeling of cold seemed to be pouring off of.
My breath froze as I stood to my feet, watching the two orbs bounce off from each other once and then twice. The third time the smaller orb seemed to dim as it floated back toward the boxes it had hid in. I pulled my short sword from its sheath, and noted an abnormal glow to the blade as I swung it at the larger of the orbs. The orb easily dodged out of the way of my clumsy swing and flew at my face. Upon touching it I felt like my heart was being squeezed.
The phantom girl’s voice shocked me from my pain and I threw up my blade in a weak defense against my formless attacker. I felt my sword connect with something that felt like water and the blade grew brighter. The large orb then tried to dart away, but seemed somehow stuck to the blade and then a moment later it disappeared into it altogether. Afterwards the room grew warm again, and I looked towards the boxes. The small orb of light grew dimmer and then for a moment I saw a small baby boy looking up at me from the floor. He grinned for a moment and then disappeared altogether.
I stood there for a short eternity in the silence of the room, wondering if it would reappear, and then I was rejoined by the phantom girl’s voice. It’s moved on now, Rickter. The evil ghost that had been here is no more, either.
I’d only been expecting one ghost.
Yes, it would seem that the woman’s husband was haunting this place also.
Why’d he attack me?
I think his initial attack was aimed for the infant. I find it strange to think that an infant would have been the entity that originally slew the man. I think there is more to this than what can be easily guessed.
Hm. Well, while you’re here. I have a question for you. What is your name?
The name whispered to my egg as I lay in my mother’s nest is my soul name, to give it to you would place me in a position of subservience to you. Instead of that I will tell you what name I like, and you may refer to me by it.
T’chak is the name you might call me by. Whisper it in your mind and I will hear you.
I returned to the task of locating the tent that was supposedly up here. I found it wrapped in a thick leather hide and tied with a small bit of hemp rope.
When I got out of the attic and made my way into the building I found Mikel pacing the floor of the shop. When he saw me, he ran over and smiled. ”I knew you were okay. I just knew it.”
“Yeah that’s why you’ve been pacing for the last half hour.” Mara said from her spot at the table.
The shopkeeper popped her head in and saw me standing there. “So… what happened?”
“Well, I don’t think your attic is haunted anymore,” I said with a smile. “And I found the tent.”
“Take it. I’ll not charge you for it. You’ve done me a favor for clearing that ghost out.”
“You monster!” cried Rebekah as she ran in from the kitchen. “That little baby wouldn’t have hurt anyone!”
“Rebekah!” yelled the shopkeeper. “Watch your tone!”
“I am! That ghost was easier to get along with than anyone else I know!” Rebekah ran out of the room, tears falling from her face.
The shopkeeper curtsied and apologized for her daughter’s behavior.
“I know what having few friends is like. If it eases her mind you might tell her that I didn’t kill the baby ghost. It just moved on.”
“I will tell her.
The rest of our visit went quickly as we purchased some furs for each of us and headed out the door. The walk to the main road was quiet, as Mikel was warm enough now that his teeth weren’t constantly chattering. Rat sat on my shoulder as we rounded the corner back on the main road
“Rickter… I think I see some smoke over there!” Rat said as he looked through the trees.”
Mara looked over in response to Rat. “That’s the direction of the trading post!”
Without a word we turned back and ran toward the post in hopes of helping where we might. When we arrived the stable had nearly burnt to the ground and the windmill was burning. Mikel, Mara and Rat began drawing buckets of water from the well to put out the fire as I ran in the front door. The shopkeeper’s body was run through and huge bloody footprints led out through a back door. I ran out in pursuit and saw a large shape moving away through the trees behind the house.
“Halt!” I yelled. The shape turned around and looked me in the eye and I recognized it. Course, black hair fell over boulder-like shoulders as it regarded me. It stood nearly five hands taller than me, and its width was ponderous, even to my way of looking at things. I refused to respond to the terror I felt in my stomach and I pulled the short sword and charged at it.
As I was nearly upon it I saw the prone form of Rebekah over its shoulder. Rebekah looked at me and reached out a hand and I heard Henny’s voice from Rebekah’s mouth as she cried for help.
My blood boiled and I roared as I raised my blade. Time slowed as the troll brandished a blade of its own and deflected my blow. With a well-placed foot to my chest, it kicked me and I flew backwards toward the burning building. I moved to stand and saw the troll drop Rebekah and walk over to me. Two arrows buried deep into its chest and one into its eye as I gained my feet. I swung the blade again and cut deep into his arm. My sword glowed brightly and the cruel giant gasped as if the blade had burned it. It cleaved into my side with its sword, knocking me sideways with the might of the blow. It pulled the arrow from its eye and I watched as it almost instantly healed without even a scar. Then it grabbed my head and began to squeeze. I heard my jaw pop loose even before I felt it. The white-hot pain replaced the overwhelming pressure of his grip.
Unable to speak, it was all I could do to muster the will to think the word, T’chak.
“Go!” cried a voice so inhuman as to be nightmarish in quality.
The troll’s grip on my head lessened and then failed. I fell to my side and looked up to see my tormentor standing, arms clenched in the grip of an even larger entity. Covered in silver scales that shimmered with a supernatural glare was a dragon. Its twin horns arched back gracefully over a tautly muscled frame.
The troll twisted his arm in a practiced fashion, causing the dragon to lose its hold, and then grabbed the dragon by the throat. The dragon grabbed at the troll’s hands trying to pry them from its neck so it could breathe, but it was slowly growing weaker as the troll slowly choked the life from it.
I grabbed the great sword from my back and stood, bringing it down with all my might on the troll’s damaged wrist. The blade struck true and the troll’s hand fell from his arm. With a cry of pain, the troll let go of the dragon’s neck to hold his wrist.
The dragon breathed in a gasp and as the troll turned to run, it exhaled, releasing a palpable force from its gaping maw. As the troll ran, flesh fell from his bones, dried up and turned to dust before it hit the ground. Its bones fell to the earth a few steps later, bleached and dry, before they also disintegrated into nothing.
I watched for a few minutes before my legs gave way and I tumbled into darkness.