Fifthmonth, 9995 DK
Our feet tread dark paths in the gloomy forests of The Wild Lands. We had been walking south for a week, each of those ten days had been spent bringing us closer to the time when we must separate again into master and servant. When we had first started south from Kusseth's borders we had spent twelve or more hours a day walking, but as we drew closer to our camp we found ourselves spending more and more time at rest.
We clasped our hands together between us as we walked, I held my bronze blade in my left hand and Callifay bore his in his right. We went armored as well as armed in this land, it was as dangerous as The Beast Lands to the west, albeit for different reasons.
"Should we move the camp west, back into The Beast Lands?"
He half turned his face to me and asked, "Why?"
"If Cenn is to die, the band will fall into anarchy until you are able to restore control. Better to have them away from the villages found here in these forests if that is to happen."
"I suppose that is true," he said, "why such foresight, brother?"
"If Cenn's Reavers suddenly turn on the civilized tribes of Uncout and Abraxens here in these lands, or some of them are seen to, we lose our perceived reliability and opportunities for employment that rely upon our reputation."
He snorted, "Who has our employer been since Meroteth fell? Do they care for a few tribes of Uncout? Do they care for any color of Abraxen other than the greys?"
"Kusseth's standing contract with the reavers would need to be reviewed by whoever takes control of the band when Cenn dies."
"Why have you not done so already?" There was a small smile on his face when he asked that.
"The butcher," I said.
"Ah, it is as I guessed then. Kusseth does their best to keep Smiling Jack chained, at your request."
"His hunger for vengeance is well earned and reasonable, but while I live these dogs are my men and I'll not allow some meat merchant to put them down."
He squeezed my hand before saying, "You must admit he has come far since the conquest of Hell."
"Yes, and if he would stay in the north he could remain free and enjoy his position as master bard of Kusseth's colleges."
"Do you have no remorse in your heart for his pain, for the crimes against him that have filled him with the hunger for vengeance you claim to respect?"
I shook my head and tugged my hand from his as he spoke once more, I felt him egging me on, for what purpose I did not know.
"Was he not a victim? You well know the pain of a lost lover and family."
"I did not spit contempt down from a high tower at an army that had taken every city whose gate they had camped before. I told the rulers of Meroteth what would happen if they did not unbar their gates and allow me to take their city in peace. They put pride before their obligations to their people and Jack suffered the price of their hubris, just as thousands of others did that day."
I could hear the screams and feel the blood and sweat. My skin was flushed with the heat of a burning metropolis. Conquering Meroteth had been glorious and I could feel my eyes grow warm and luminescent as my mind relived those times and those feats of glory. A strong pulse beat beneath my scarred brow and a smile touched my lips.
Callifay grabbed my hand and dragged me close, our lips met and there was a deep hunger there. He had been on the front lines of Meroteth as well. Every drop of spilled blood and smoke shrouded memory of that battle was a shared moment between us. Our blades thudded to the earth as our arms wrapped around each other. We slumped against a tree , shedding clothes and armor as our bodies entwined.
**(Vaguely Awkward Interlude, At Least For The Author)**
We lay there mostly naked and smoking our pipes, our backs against a tree and our bodies touching.
"Why bring thoughts of Hell and Jack to my mind as lure to bring me into your arms? You know you are more than enough, Callifay."
He turned to me, a smirk across his lips and his eyes barely open.
"In battle," he said, "you burn with passionate intensity. Your skin is afire and your eyes aglow with radiance, and sometimes that is the Nel I desire."
"I shall endeavor to keep that more firmly in mind then."
"Whatever you are, or however you choose to act, as long as you know yourself to be Keroen Skathos, that is enough."
You should not speak that name here," I said.
"And why not? Will your enemies come for you? There is an ocean between this land and our own. How would they even find this place with no knowledge of astronomy or navigation?"
"You grow too bold on this trip Callifay, and you forget what brought you to this land in the first place. "
"This Wytchstave," he whispered, "it would act as a beacon then?"
"Could they really find you by the mere utterance of your name?"
"Maybe, it would take luck yes, but maybe."
He turned fully to me, his eyes wide and glowing, "Then let them come I say. Let them come to this land of firearms and cluttered cities and disease. Let them come and find that they are not nearly as mighty as they believe."
"What has come over you, man? Are you an arms dealer that you hunger for such war? Has such a short time spent alone in my arms driven you mad with passion of your own?"
"No," he said still smirking, "but it was a close run thing. You must admit it would be intriguing to face the Nel in this land though."
I nodded and puffed placidly on my pipe and said, "I will admit that yes."
"If they were to come against Cenn's Reavers led by an ancient and legendary warrior from their past?"
"I imagine that would be unsurprising if my name was what brought them to this land."
He waved a hand to silence me.
"I mean, what if they found me in your stead and no sign of Keroen Skathos?"
"I imagine they would be surprised, and perhaps some would be dismayed."
He nodded, "What excites you more, Cenn? Waging war against Volung and his children or the massed might of the Nel?"
"The Nel, I would have thought that obvious. You may recall though that I have done so before, recently in fact."
I chuckled quietly as I finished speaking. His pipe had long since gone out while he spoke and he absently tapped out the ash and paid no attention to my laugh.
"If the Nel were drawn to this land by something, would they be inclined to conquer it?"
"I suppose they might, but I do not know if they could. They have no concept of firearms nor do they understand disease and sickness."
"Let us say that they could, would that be worth fighting against? If Cenn dies and I take control of his reavers and spend their lives against the Nel invaders, leaving just you and I as the last remnant, would that be a war worth fighting?"
"You and I fighting to free this land from the Nel?"
"That would tax us in ways fighting Volung would not, and would likely offer me more freedom than being your aid would. We would fight this war as equals, as brothers in arms."
He nodded again and said, "Just the two of us, back to back once more with a horde arrayed against us."
I could taste the blood in my mouth and feel my skin slick with sweat, I could see the silver blades of the Nel. I could feel them bite hard into my skin. I could feel Callifay and I pressed back to back our bodies moving in time with one another in the fashion only a true battle brother's could.
I suddenly felt very warm, my brow itched and my tongue felt too large for my mouth.
"Light a fire," I whispered.
His eyes widened, "You would contact him directly, and so soon?"
I shook my head and half-dazedly whispered, "No. He barely remembers the old ways of our people, those that are tied to the seasons and the elements. His Gifts will though, and if we can first draw their attention that may be enough to draw him here to this place."
I felt Callifay call on his twisted Gifts to light a bonfire, when he had finished I wrapped my arms around him to hold as he began shivering and grew cold to the touch. He possessed all the might of our people, the Gifts I had bestowed on them, his were rather potent as well. Something was wrong within him though. Something within his Gifts was broken and sapped his vitality when he drew on them. It was this strange mechanism of his Gifts that made Nel and other creatures uneasy or belligerent in his presence.
When he recovered we dressed and tidied our camp, when we finished we sat next to the fiery orb that had appeared near us. Mosses and ferns had begun to burn and the air was filled with the stench of burning weeds.
"Fire and light," I whispered as my eyes unfocused and a trickle of blood seeped down from my brow.
"Fire and light, hear me."
I could feel something stir within me and felt something stir within the flames.
"Fire and light, her my words and carry them back to your master."
The fire had lost its circular shape and had become something natural and mundane and wholly of this world. Shapes whirled within it.
"Keroen Skathos, Bloody Head, waits upon an eastern shore with The Blade of Old Night in hand. I wait for you, you I once called son and later called grandson when you fled from the dark. I wait for you."
The fire was a blur of shapes and presences now, but his true face never appeared. Maybe the power I had taken from him crippled his most ancient senses, or perhaps he was merely not paying attention. His Gifts had felt the call though, they would hear my words and so he must eventually as well. He come, of that I was certain.