And the real question is why did I have the lovelace in the first place. Knowledge. I wasn’t trying it out just to try it. Mien was the only one who understood my reasoning. A neth’s reaction to it is intense. I was no exception and because of it I wanted to know what it was, how it smelled, how it tasted, and what it did. Sure, I was told. But you don’t know when something is wet, until you feel it. I didn’t know what it even looked like until I brought that packet. It was something I needed to know. Like studying an opponent. Everyone else on the other hand, took it as some sign that I wasn’t coming to terms about myself. I mean, sure I wasn’t in the greatest place in learning to accept that part of me. However, I wasn’t trying to change that about myself. As broken as I felt for awhile, I didn’t want to change it.
A husk was the most dangerous drass beasts there was. In fact, one might not even call it a drass beast. It was something else entirely. That all Mien knew about husks in the broad sense. He heard all the stories, but only a single one he was incline to believe. That husks were the corrupted dead bodies of the kanu people. If you were held by a husk for too long, it would turn you into a husk by sucking the life out of you.
Thankfully, you didn’t have to worry about husks like other drass beasts. They were lived mostly behind the drass wall and rarely ventured over it. However, if there was one, a single husk could wipe out an entire town corrupting them. They only way to stop it, was to burn it and kill whoever it managed to touch as well as burn their bodies. And to do that one had to trap the thing. And the only way to do that was not take your eyes of it.
“Why don’t we get on our horses and run,” suggested Tyrus.
“We can’t,” said Soletus, becoming a statue with only his mouth moving. “We turn our backs to it; it’ll follow us.”
“But it’s a mile away.”
“Husks travel very fast,” said Soletus. “As long as you stare it, they travel at a crawl towards you.”
“Then we’ll kill it. We’ve tao stone weapons,” he said pointing to his spear head.
“We can’t. You should know that.”
Tyrus scratched his jaw. “Well uh, let’s say you need to refresh my memory on why that is.”
“Tao stone doesn’t affect them. Black steel corrodes when it hits whatever aura is around them. So I can’t do anything with my lunge daggers and you can’t touch them with your spear.”
“What’s about using my three stars to trip it up to give us time or use my lasso to tie it.”
“Can’t trip what doesn’t walk,” returned Soletus, rubbing the bracer covering his left forearm.
“Then how is it going to follow us.”
“The damn thing levitates off the ground and appears out of thin air. The most we got for that is our eyes, your lasso, and Mien.”
Mien’s attention fixed on his friend and pointed to himself. “I’m included in this because…?
“Weapons have no use here. The only way to get rid of a husk is to burn it.”
“I’m not a full strength,” he said.
“You can make an orb of light hot enough to burn it, yes?”
“There are no buts about this,” said Soletus sharply. “We have to kill it. We can’t leave and we can’t let it get anyone.”
Mien stomach twisted. “How do you suppose we make that happen?”
“We lure it here,” said Soletus. “Tyrus I need you to lasso the thing to hold it in place. I mean once it’s here, it can’t move fast because we will by all looking at it, but I’ve been told looking at one gets more difficult the closer it gets and the longer you do it. Can you do that?”
“Yes,” he said with his voice an octave higher. “No pressure. Just do what I trained to do perfectly. No do overs, no Pace here to help. Just lasso some undead thing.”
Soletus started sweating. “Doran, I need you to hide somewhere out of that things sight close by. If it touches me, I want you to shoot me.”
Doran’s jaw sagged He went between shock and confusion. He ended with appalled and shook his head exclaiming, “I’m not killing you.”
“Then pray that Tyrus doesn’t miss and Mien is quick to hit that thing.”
“Why are you being so quick to die,” Doran demanded.
“I’m not,” he let out a nervous chuckled. “I’m doing the most logical thing here as a grappler. I can’t kill it on my own so I need you fellows.”
Tyrus cursed under his breath, but got his rope.
Mien didn’t like this. He didn’t like the figure that edged ever so closer to them. The compulsion to burn a drass beast started to grow inside him. They were profane creation born out of the folly of a race wanting the power of a god. The drass beasts killed people, animals, caused destruction, and could corrupt the land itself. And a husk was probably the most noxious of them all. He couldn’t say no to this and back down. He then felt his magical heart flaring up.
“I can do this,” he said more to himself and then heard the phrase of protection in his mind’s ear. This had to be a part of his edict.
Tyrus looked at him. “The lights are really burning now.”
“You can,” asked Soletus still with his gaze fixed ahead.
Soletus smiled a bit. “Okay. We need to set-up. We are between buildings correct?
Doran nodded. “Yes.”
“I need you and Tyrus on opposite side and protected by something. I want you two hidden.”
“There isn’t anything on Tyrus’s side,” said Doran. “However, there’s a wall I can crouch down at and shoot from Granted, my arm isn’t fully healed yet.”
“Mien can tend to it after this,” said Soletus. “Tyrus reposition your horse so you can hide behind it. Don’t stop looking at it. Same with you Doran. However, before it gets here, I need the two of you to not look at it. Mien, you should go where Doran is at.”
Mien looked to where the young man had indicated. The spot was a good twenty feet from where Soletus was standing. It was close enough.
“I don’t think I need to tell you to look at it as you’re going to be the one attacking it. Get in position the sooner we have this done, the sooner we can kill it dead.”
The three of them listen to Soletus and getting in position and Tyrus then asked. “So how are we going to get this thing close to us?”
“I’m going to close my eyes,” answered the young monk gulping. “I’m just shut them for one second and see how close it gets in just that time. But be ready.”
Mien didn’t like that plan but stood beside the Doran. The young man had his bow in hand and arrow notched and raised it.
“I’m ready,” he said with his voice wobbling. His right arms tremble.
“I’m ready,” said Tyrus.
“Go ahead,” said Mien and the young chanter saw him shut his eyes and say, “One,” aloud and opened them. He clinched his fists.
“It’s closer. Not close enough. I’m going to try two,” he said. His eyelids went down and in the count of two, Mien felt a tendril of cold touched his mind. There was a timbre off of the husk. It didn’t sing, ring, buzz, or chime with warmth. Instead, there was something scathing about it. It crackled and hissed all at the same time. It was unlike anything he heard in the natural world. Whatever it was, he didn’t like it. He watched Soletus take a step back.
“Have faith in Dias, hear his voice and he’ll show you his love and offer his protection. Do these things and evil won’t harm you,” muttered Soletus and the blood drained from his face.
“Is it closer,” asked Tyrus.
Soletus nodded holding his left arm and stepped back again. “A lot closer.”
Mien then a scraping sound like someone was dragging their feet.
“Going to close your eyes again,” asked Tyrus.
Soletus swayed his head and continued to step backwards. It looked as if some wintery chill wrapped itself around his body and rattled him. “I’m drawing it to you. It’ll be in you field of view soon.”
Tyrus caught sight of it first and colored drained from his face. When Mien caught sight of it, he was stunned. It was nothing more than some tattered dried husk of a being. Its eyes weren’t white but black empty voids of a skull. What looked like dried flesh clung to its bones as it reached out a boney hand to touch Soletus. Its feet didn’t touch the ground save only it’s toes. It could’ve looked like someone’s morbid trick of getting a mummified body and suspending it in the air if there wasn’t what appeared to be a dusky purple aura of smoke surrounding its body. Tendrils of it lashed out towards Soletus as if trying to grab him.
The husk stopped suddenly and in a blink of an eye, it turned its entire body towards Tyrus instead. Soletus stubble backwards and fell on his back. Horror grew on the half-elf’s face and the rope he help slipped from his fingers. He backed away from it shaking his head saying, “No, no, no.”
He balled up at the same time the phrase of protection spilled out of Mien’s mouth. The young man had fallen to the ground in a ball and a golden filmed surrounded him like a soap bubble that fallen to the floor. The husk reached for him, but the tip of its fingers touch the shield’s surface and burned them. Smoke rose in the air and the husk managed to let out a hollow hiss. Doran raised his bow and released an arrow hitting it the right eye socket. It was unfazed.
Mien stepped in front of him, chanted a globe of light and tossed it in the husks chests. He didn’t cause it to explode, as he would do with another drass beast, instead he held out his hand and pushed the globe into the chest of the husk. It started to float backwards.
“Oh no you don’t,” snarled Mien pushing it right against where Tyrus had fallen and was still curled under the shield.
The husk hit the shield and the back of its legs started to smolder. The globe at its chest started to smoke and Mien willed his light hotter until heat combusted into flames. The light sunk into the husk’s chest cavity where all at once the corrupted monstrosity flashed and collapsed down into a heap of soot and ash. The last thing that burned was the skull and even that was consumed disintegrated into ash.
Mien felt its presence no more and went straight to Tyrus who jumped up and shook himself as if he willies and danced around with his eyes wide to the remains of the husk.
Soletus walked towards him and reassured him. “It’s dead now,” he said. He looked like he was going to be sick. “I want to get moving.”
Doran and Tyrus scrambled to their horses. Mien reached for the one that he was riding and offered it to Soletus. He took it, got on the saddle and scooted forward. He held his hand for him to get on as well. The four of them drove into the forest traveling north. The entire time, Mien could see his friend shudder every-of-often and his posture became more and more slump. He was only using his right hand to hold the reins of his horse.
“Are you okay,” Mien whispered.
“No,” he growled and left it at that.
The young chanter knew better than to stop him. His left arm was bothering him and likely, the pain would ease up after a while. However, they had gone no more than two miles from where the village and he let out a whimper. He stopped abruptly.
“Get off,” he told Mien. Mien slid off and asked him what was wrong. Soletus jumped off the horse and rushed toward a small tree. He started heaving. There was nothing in his stomach to come up so he slid down on his knees coughing.
Tyrus and Doran had gotten off their horses and rushed towards him but, hung back with Mien. Tyrus of course nudged him forward with his elbow.
“Give him a minute,” mouthed Mien. He had seen this before when he was doing his training with Ealdred. He was still intolerant of drass beast venom. Normally an elf who was, wouldn’t dare get near one. There was a fear instilled in them. A memory that the mind stored and it affected their bodies as well. However, Soletus fought it. But the husk didn’t have venom. Just so corruption that it was visible. He never given thought to how it would affect the young monk. He was told that the husk would have a different effect on different people. He needed to check with his other bandmates. However, Soletus really worried him.
“Sol,” he asked taking a step forward.
The young monk rose to his feet with the aid of the tree. He turned around and wiped the sweat off his brow before he crumpled to the ground.
“Sol,” cried Mien and slid to the ground beside him. “Soletus.” He called again this time slapping his cheeks. “Damnit Sol, wake up,” he said forcing his voice at him. The young monk head rolled limply to the side.
Mien felt his neck and felt his artery pulsing under his fingers. His pulse was fast. He pulled one of his eyelids up and was met with white.
“We need to get him up,” he said and wiped his palm on his trousers. “We need to move out and find someplace safer than this preferable near a water supply.
Doran run for his horse. Tyrus lifted Soletus up grunting the entire time until he position him across his shoulders.
“Titfire, this lad’s…” he said between his teeth. With Mien’s help, they slung him to the back of the horse he had been on. Mien made sure he wasn’t going to fall and then combed his hand through his hair causing the front part to stick up.
Of all the things that could happen, he though. He had no desire to be leader. It was enough being second, which he didn’t want in the first place. He didn’t know anything other than making sure they had a safe place to camp.
They pushed on until they found a shallow stream that was moving enough to provide fresh water. Soletus hadn’t regained consciousness when they settled down, instead he gained a fever. Mien had to unwind his sash from his waist so he could take off his jerkin but left his shirt on. While he did that, Doran and Tyrus pulled up the tarp and started a large fire so they could see all around them when night fell.
“I thought he was cured of this,” said Doran feeding their fire.
“The corruption off the husk, is something new. It causes people to have different reaction to them because they are just that disturbing.”
Tyrus cursed under his breath. “So it made me witless and caused this?”
Mien nodded. “If it’s causing him to lapse like this, we’re in for a long night.”
“So what about you,” Doran said abruptly. “What does a husk do to you?”
“It’s the same with every beastie. I’m disgusted by them then sacred of them. I’m compelled to destroy them. No matter what,” he said.
“So you were like that when you saved Soletus?”
Mien nodded as Soletus let out a whimper and then his eyes cracked open. The young chanter slapped his cheek gently.
“Come on, you. Fight this, wake up.”
Soletus raised a hand up and pushed his hand down. His eyelids fully opened revealing two dark glassy orbs.
“Sol,” said Mien and picked up a tin cup of water mixed with an herbal powder that Kiao gave him just in case they young monk was bitten by another venomous drass beast. “I don’t know if this will work but, I need you to drink this.”
The young monk shook his head and struggled to sit in an upright position. Mien wasn’t certain is Soletus was all there. He was looking around them with his brow pulled together confused. He then turned his head up towards the tarp.
“Come on, you’re sick.
“No, I don’t want to take it,” he said softly.
Mien handed it to him. “You need to drink this.”
Soletus tore his gaze from their shelter and stared darkly at the mug. “I won’t be able to hold it down.”
“You don’t know if you don’t try,” said Tyrus shuffling from his spot and rested close to Soletus’s side. “Look sorry for failing at what I was supposed to do back there.”
“You were terrified of it is all. So was I. Husks are like that,” he said.
“All of that could’ve been worse, but Mien here, he’s the hero for the day,” said Tyrus and he motioned for the mug.
Mien swayed his head. “No hero, just doing what I was trained to do.”
“Indeed,” said Soletus. “We need to stop letting things like that happen again. Mien can’t save our hides again and again. We need to do what we were trained to do.”
“I tried,” cried Doran. “I didn’t fall flat on my back like you or hide like Tyrus.”
Soletus regarded him. “That you did. Granted it wasn’t what you were supposed to do. You just reacted but as I said, husks can’t be slain with weapons. It was a wasted shot.”
“No need to be harsh,” said Tyrus. “He did better than me.”
“I’m not,” said Soletus softly. “I’m stating a fact. Fact is the three of us are the weakest members of this band. A band and only as strong as its weakest member.”
Mien then shook his head. “Oh, nonono, I’m not the strongest member here.”
Tyrus then complained. “But our strongest member set the bar in the top of a century old burning ash.”
“So reacting to a situation makes me weak,” Doran erupted. “That’s more than you have done since you bowed to follow Kellas in the gorge!”
“Would you shut-up,” snapped Mien.
“It’s okay Mien,” said Soletus and then to Doran. “This isn’t about me. It’s about you not wanting to be seen as a failure. If what Cole say’s is true, then what happens here may lead to you being dismissed from the order.”
Doran face turned red. “Why are you making this about me?”
“You called yourself to attention with your protests. Getting mad at me isn’t going to change anything. The best thing you can do Doran, is do what you do best. And that’s be my scout.”
Doran opened his mouth wide and then clamped is shut.
“A clean shot in the eye with an injured arm. It wasn’t what you were told do, but that’s what you did. Maybe you can actually listen this time when I say, I need you to scout ahead tomorrow and find me a road. Any road.”
“Okay,” Doran with a blink.
“Roads lead to people. And people mean supplies. And places to rest safely. I need it,” he said sinking back down again. “Once you find something, we can make towards that direction.”
Tyrus put the mug in front of him. “And we can use the supplies we to have and make it easier for you for tonight if you drink this.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Yeah, I know, afraid it won’t stay down but, your acting like my younger sister refusing stuff that’ll make you feel better.”
Soletus took the mug and grimaced as he gulped it down.
“See not so bad,” said Tyrus.
“It’s bitter and isn’t going to help much,” he said.
“It’ll help make this go away faster,” said Mien.
“It won’t help that this has slowed us down completely. We aren’t going to make it back before Kellas now.”