Chapter Five: Parting Ways

The entire outpost had been celebrating the death of Gramzon for the whole night and well into late the next day. As Axe recovered with the help of the village healers, he was often visited by the survivors. They cried, bowed, and even kissed his hands and forehead for the great thing he had done for them. Axe, however, could not return the acts of kindness, as he was bed-ridden from his injuries. However, Waldon acted as crowd control and made sure no mob invaded the infirmary.

"You have done this place a great service, my young friend," he said, standing over the bed. "I do not know how you manage to survive that ordeal, but we are forever in your debt."

Axe smiled weakly. "Just give me the money you owe me; we'll call it even."

"I'm one step ahead of you, boy. It's already in the bag you traveled here with. I'm afraid we could not recover your weapon. We searched the pit, but it was far too damaged to be repaired. However, we do have a gift for you before you leave." Waldon reached behind his back and pulled out a strangely wrapped object. "A souvenir of your time here."

He peeled the wrapping away and placed it next to him on the bed. Axe looked down at the object and a small laugh escaped his throat. It was a Dragon's tooth, and from the size of it, it was probably one of the bigger ones inside Gramzon's mouth. Axe wrapped his fingers around the smaller end of the tooth and held it up, gazing at it.

"It's a fine gift, Waldon of Hystao." He nodded and brought it close to him. "Thank you."

The older man returned the nod. "My pleasure. How do you feel?"

"I hurt, but it's nothing major," he sighed. "I'll be out of your hair in the morning."

Waldon laughed. "Don't be absurd, child! Your body has been to Hell and back, the healers say it's a genuine miracle that you have survived with such wounds. They said it would be at least a month before you can leave."

"Well, then I guess we'll just have to wait and see, now won't we?"

A number of voices were suddenly heard from the outside, interrupting their conversation.

"Get that bastard out of this town!"

"He shouldn't have survived! It's unnatural!"

"He may have slain the monster, but he will bring about a new curse for us all!"

"Cast him out!"

Waldon closed his eyes and sighed. "I'm sorry, Axe, but not everyone in the village appreciates what you've done for us. Don't worry, as long as I am in charge here, my men and I will not let them harm you."

"What will your people do now?" the injured warrior asked calmly, not sounding the least bit thrown off by the screams from outside.

"First, since we no longer fear that beast, we can rebuild and only worry about the usual creatures that live around these parts. We can take care of them easily, so it shouldn't be too much trouble. Once we get everything settled and properly honor the dead, we shall send word to others and tell them what has happened here. With any luck, we'll be able to grow into an actual city within a few years time."

Axe held up his hand, reaching out to him. "I wish you the best of luck with that. I hope you and your people will be happy here."

"Thank you," Waldon took his hand and held it firmly. "I shall leave you to rest now. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"No, you won't."

"Oh, yes. I will." Waldon began to head for the door, stopped and looked back. "Before I go, there is something I must ask you."

"Hm?"

"Well, it was a miracle in and of itself for you to survive with such horrible wounds in the first place, but how on earth did you manage to survive being eaten alive by such a monster?"

"What do you mean?"

"Dear boy, you were eaten alive by that thing. Not only that, but you had strength to rip it's out heart out, then cut your way through the innards of the beast himself! To survive bad wounds is one thing, but to do such a thing like that...pray tell how did you manage to find the strength to endure such agony? Any other man would have died in the mouth, but you crawled out from the belly of the beast. Literally!"

Axe was quiet for awhile, then he turned away, closing his eyes. "Please leave, I'm feeling very tired. I'd like to rest."

Waldon opened his mouth, wanting to press on for an answer, any answer that he could use to understand what had happened, but he knew that this young hero needed as much rest as possible. So, he mumbled a "good day" and left the infirmary.

The next day came quickly, and Waldon kept true to his word. He paid a morning visit to Axe in the infirmary with a plate full of food, hoping he was at least well enough to have a real meal. The guards at the front moved aside to let him in, but quickly reformed so that the less than grateful people standing outside wouldn't find their way in. Unfortunately, Axe was true to his word as well. His bed was empty and there was no sign of him. When questioned, the healers couldn't explain where he had gone. It seemed that wherever he went, he managed to have enough strength to not only walk out, but he walked out carrying both his pack and his rewards. Not to mention he somehow managed to sneak away without any of the guards outside seeing him!

Waldon ordered his men to explore the entire settlement, fearful that the boy was laying somewhere in pain again, or even on the verge of death. However, he couldn't be found anywhere inside the ruined walls.

"Where the hell did he go?"

Wearing a hooded cloak, Axe looked down at the outpost from the top of the slope on the outskirts of the village. It was only a couple days ago that he and Taroh stopped here for a few moments before they entered the outpost. Axe turned away from the village and looked down at the freshly dug hole at his feet. The bag that he buried there was still there, completely undisturbed.

He lifted the bag from the earth and turned it over, letting it's contents spill into his hand.

There was only one object in the bag: a human skull.

"I'm sorry I'm late." He blew a few specks of dirt off the top of the bone. "It took me longer than I expected."

He stared at the skull for a moment or two, then laughed quietly.

"Yes, it happened again." He held the skull up to eye level. "Why do you have to ask me like that? It's not like this happens all the time, I-" he stopped, an annoyed look crossing his face. "Okay, you know what? You can list as many incidences as you want to, Steve, but it doesn't matter. You know why? This is why!"

He shoved the skull back into it's container and rose to his feet.

"Stupid dead head." He shook the bag a number of times. "This is what you get for bugging the crap out of me!"

Axe tied the bag to his waist and turned his attention to the large knife that was strapped at his hip. He pulled it free of the sheath and took a good, long look at it. It was quite long and could possibly pass off a short sword to some people. He could remember when Taroh came to his aid, wielding this knife to fend off the vulture that would have had a meal if he hadn't come along. Not once, but twice now, Taroh had been able to help him when he needed it.

With a silent nod, he gently wrapped the blade in simple cloth and knelt down, placing the knife into the large hole where the bag and skull was previously buried. He swept the soil over the top of the weapon, then proceeded to place a number of small stones from the area around him into a pile on top of the soil. The cairn was crude, and he couldn't write Taroh's name on stone, but it was the best he could do to honor the merchant who had saved him, even in death.

Axe rose to his feet and began to walk away, leaving Hystao Outpost behind him. This time, he was walking away with a full water-skin, it's leathery sides about to burst from the cold water inside. He just wished he had had enough time to get some food before he left. No matter, there were other towns, he would get some food then.