Chapter 9: The Man Who Was a God
The company made camp under a dead tree that night. They dared not start a fire with all the brush around, though Reek insisted they wouldn't be able to ignite any of the wood even if they tried. "The trees here are not of the sort you know," he said, "They will not be so easily destroyed as by fire."
Doglyn wasn't sure if the man was trying to frighten them or if he spoke with sincerity. Perhaps there is more to this one than we first thought. Doglyn had been debating the issue of Reek for most of the afternoon before they had stopped for the day. He had thought that the man was motivated purely out of loyalty to Elias, and was only leading them to his master on the false belief that the Evil Lord would be able to defeat them. Now he wasn't so sure. He helped us in the fight, why would he do that unless he means us well? Doglyn pondered. Despite Reek's help in the battle against Jarod the Fan, Doglyn had kept the man's hands bound. He might be questioning Reek's motives, but he was still a long way from trusting the prisoner. It might be that Elias wants us alive for some darker purpose. The thought sent a shiver down Doglyn's spine, and he wrapped his blanket tighter around himself. Before long the Hand of Willdog had drifted off to sleep...
Red clouds swirled in the sky over a burning city, screams rang out from the streets as a red and black flag was torn down and a midnight blue flag with a skull white as death was raised in its place. A man clad all in black stood on the walls, watching the battle raging in the city below. Doglyn suddenly felt that he was standing there as well. The man turned towards Doglyn and spoke with a voice that seemed inhumanly deep.
"You are nothing but a pawn," the man said, thrusting a dagger into Doglyn's heart.
The dagger felt cold as ice, and darkness began to creep into the corners of Doglyn's vision. The last thing he saw was a great bolt of lightning crashing down to earth...
Doglyn's eyes snapped open. He sat up immediately and drew a dagger off his belt. He looked over to what had awoken him and saw only Technician TJ who was looking at him questioningly.
"Oh, TJ," he said. "What is it?"
"Duke Patrick took a fever sometime in the night," the Technician told him.
Doglyn was on his feet instantly. He rushed over to where Duke Patrick was lying on a bed moss twenty feet away. Sure enough, the Duke's hair was matted with sweat, and most of the color had left his face. He had been sleeping, but at Doglyn's approach he awoke with a groan.
Technician TJ came up behind Doglyn. "It looks like an infection," he said, "but my potion ought to have stopped that."
Reek piped up from where he was standing. "Your potions won't help here. It's magical healing your friend needs. The forest isn't kind to humans, there are foul forces at work here. That is why your friend worsens."
Duke Patrick groaned again and seemed to gain cognizance for a moment. He looked at Dylan and spoke in a hoarse voice that sounded not unlike a man staring death in the face. "The goddamn bastard poisoned me in the night," he said. "It's the only explanation."
Technician TJ shook his head, "I thought of that, but it's impossible. I had someone watching him all night." TJ gestured to the mechanical owl that he had used to sound the alarm when the army had been marching to Alonzo. The owl cocked its head at TJ and then resumed studying Reek.
Reek walked over to where the others were. He cleared his throat before saying, "Not to be rude, but we must be going, your friend is hardly strong enough to speak, so one of us will have to help him along." He looked at Doglyn. "Unbind my hands and I can help him."
"No!" Duke Patrick said surprisingly forcefully for a man in his condition. "This is what he wanted. You should leave me and continue on your own."
Doglyn shook his head firmly. "I'll not leave you behind my friend," he said to Patrick. He looked at Reek, "I'll be able to carry him."
"Yes, but at what cost? If we should be ambushed again we need your sword. You are the best fighter amongst us, you have to be ready at a second's notice," Reek said calmly.
Doglyn considered that. There was some wisdom in what Reek said, though he was loathe to acknowledge it. In truth, his only two other options were to have TJ help the Duke and give Reek a weapon to help fend off ambushers, or abandon Duke Patrick, both of which Doglyn refused to do. Doglyn grunted and then knelt beside Duke Patrick, he unbuckled his sword belt and passed it to Technician TJ, who strapped it around his own waist. He then turned to Reek. "Turn around," he said.
The prisoner complied, and Doglyn drew his dagger. With one swift slash he cut the rope binding Reek's hands behind his back. Reek exhaled in relief and immediately began stretching his arms.
Doglyn turned back to Duke Patrick. "Can you walk if Reek helps you?"
Duke Patrick threw Reek a look of contempt before responding. "Aye, but I still say this is a big mistake." The Duke stood with Doglyn's help. Reek then moved beside Patrick, and though it looked as if he'd rather be trusting his life to a highly-venomous snake, he slung an arm around the prisoner's shoulders. "Let's get on with it then," Duke Patrick grumbled.
Their progress slowed considerably due to Duke Patrick's weakened state, but Reek assured the Fellowship that they were less than a day's trek from their final destination. Doglyn was still mulling over his decision to allow Reek to assist Duke Patrick. He's been nothing but helpful thus far, Doglyn considered, but how do I know these sinister goings-on aren't all by his design? That last thought chilled Doglyn far more than he would ever admit. If that were true then perhaps the Fellowship was in over its head and didn't even know it.
Even more than his misgivings about Reek, Doglyn couldn't shake the dream he'd had the previous night from his thoughts. In every shadow he seemed to glimpse the Man in Black. With every whisper of the leaves he heard the man's voice. You're nothing but a pawn they said to him over and over. "Shut up," Doglyn muttered. Pawn they whispered back. "Shut up!" Doglyn said loudly.
Technician TJ looked over at his companion. "What's troubling you?" he asked frankly.
Doglyn looked at the Technician. He knew his friend had as good an understanding of the arcane as anyone he knew. Perhaps TJ would be able to put his mind at ease. "I had a... dream last night."
"Ah, you had a bad dream?" TJ said with a slight smile.
"Yes, actually," Doglyn said, sounding foolish. "It was like no dream I've ever had before though. It seemed incredibly vivid. It was more like I was living it rather than dreaming it.
TJ's eyes lit up. "In some of the ancient documents of Willdog he recounts his experiences with prophetic visions. He describes them as being like incredibly vivid dreams. Perhaps when Willdog bestowed some of his power on you, you inherited that ability as well.
Doglyn looked at the Technician in alarm. "You mean to tell me that what I saw in my dream is what will happen in the future?"
TJ caught the distress in Doglyn's voice. "It's possible... why? What did you dream exactly?"
Doglyn relayed the dream as best he could. TJ listened intently throughout. When Doglyn was done his friend spoke reassuringly. "What you've described does sound like a vision," TJ said, "but that does not necessarily mean it will happen. Willdog describes his visions as possible futures. Sometimes they come to pass, but sometimes they are altered by actions he took to prevent them. After all, glimpses of the future would be pretty useless if the future was set in stone."
That helped set Doglyn's mind at ease somewhat, and he was about to thank his friend when a sudden CRASH erupted in front of him. He immediately unsheathed his sword as he spun towards the source of the noise. When his eyes reached the spot the sound had come from, they were met by a round man with brown skin and a childish face.
"Bow down, mortals!" the man said.
Here we go again, Doglyn thought with annoyance.
Seeing that none of the mortals had bowed at his command, the man's face became puzzled. "I said bow down!" he shouted. "Do you dare defy me?"
"Who exactly are you?" Doglyn asked.
The man gave Doglyn a quizzical look. "You know nothing Dog Snow," he said. "I am the man who was once a god! Behold! Shoaib! Demi-god and former companion to Willdog himself!" Shoaib declared. "And now that you have challenged my honor, you must answer with you life! Prepare yourself!" Shoaib said, before drawing a curved blade and abruptly launching himself at Doglyn.
Doglyn barely had time to get his sword up before Shoaib's blade struck his own, producing the loud shriek of metal on metal. Before Doglyn could even think of counterattacking Shoaib was on him again, slashing left, right, and every other direction possible. It was all Doglyn could do to block the flurry of blows, even with his enhanced speed. By the gods, he's fast, Doglyn thought has Shoaib continued to drive him back. Finally Shoaib slowed slightly and Doglyn was able to push the round man back with an attack of his own.
Technician TJ drew a slingshot from his pouch and hit Shoiab square in the face, but the man just shrugged it off as though it were nothing more than an insect. Next the Technician tried his boomerang, but Shoaib knocked it out of the air with his blade. He parried Doglyn's next blow and then jumped over to TJ and sent him flying backwards with a mighty kick. Doglyn followed and continued the assault.
If Shoaib had been a ferocious attacker then he was an even more tenacious defender. No matter how hard he tried, Doglyn could not land a blow anywhere he swung. We are evenly matched, he realized, perhaps he has some godly power after all. Doglyn felt himself begin to slow, and backed off the attack. Shoaib came at him again, immediately pushing him back. Doglyn took a step backward and immediately knew he'd made a mistake. His back foot slipped on the tree root he'd just stepped on and he went down hard. Shoaib jumped forward to finish the job – then screamed as a the tip of a sword came bursting out of his stomach.
The round demi-god fell to one knee, and Doglyn saw Reek pull Duke Patrick's sword out of Shoaib's back. Amazingly, the man-who-was-a-god stood back up. He looked between Doglyn and Reek and just as quickly as he had appeared, he dashed off into the woods.
Reek dropped Duke Patrick's sword and offered Doglyn his hand. Doglyn considered for a moment, and then took the hand. Reek pulled him to his feet before speaking. "We should be going, Shoaib is well known to those who reside in the woods. He will return with his followers in tow."
Reek began to turn away when Doglyn caught his arm. "Wait," Doglyn said. He picked up Duke Patrick's sword and handed it to the other man. "You're going to need this."
Reek looked at the weapon for a moment and then nodded. "Let's go," he said.