Armand Douglas: Man from the Dark Waters

Here are a couple of sections from Armand’s many adventures:

Slowly the fear returned. Armand poised motionless, perched on his rock like a blind lizard, trying to sense changes in the air. Gradually he became aware of something else. Looking down he saw his hands: they were red. There was still no light, and neither were his hands glowing, but he could see them nonetheless. It was as though they had been stained out of the darkness. Puzzled and afraid he crouched, unwilling to move any further.

A voice spoke: “Jykee, a new comer, friends,”

Armand jumped. The raspy voice was greeted with a few indistinct grunts. The voice came again out of the nowhere ahead of Armand. “What’s your name, teb?’

“Who’s there?” Armand asked, trying to steady his voice.

“All right, have it your way,” the raspy voice replied, “I’m Tagen. Tagen Jambroula.  I figure I’ve been here for three years. You?”

Three years?! Armand shuddered, “I’m… I’m Armand Douglas,”

“What kind of a name is that? Where are you from?” said the rough voice.

“Far away,” Armand answered. “What is this place?”

“This here’s the Pit,” was the simple reply.

“Why can’t I see anything? Where are the stars?” Armand asked, hungry for answers.

“Not much light reaches into the Pit,” answered Tagen Jambroula, “Even when the day is high it never feels bright. You’ll get used to it. But I venture you can see something, or you wouldn’t be down here, would you, teb?”

Armand looked down at his red hands. “My hands are red,” he said.

“Ah,” sighed Tagen knowingly, “Baeda’s hands too. How many did you kill?”

“What?” Armand demanded. Who was this person? What did he want?

“The light doesn’t show the red on your hands from painting, Armee-teb. It means you’re a murderer.”

Armand shivered again. “No!”

“Well you had to have killed somebody—”

“It was self-defense!”

“Call it what you will, that’s why you’re down here.” Tagen grunted. Armand heard rocks clicking as the man shifted his position. “Me…?” Tagen sighed as though he had been asked a question; his long breath sounded like a knife grating on a whetstone, “I’m a thief. So my hands show gold in the light. Now Angefor Keggan is another case: took us some time to realize his eyes show green in the light; he watched the Queen a little too closely, if you catch me. The light shows all.”

“What light? What are you talking about?” Armand was irritated by the riddling dark.

“Don’t you know?” Tagen asked. Something banged in the dark—knuckles on metal. “The lantern. It shows your insides up right good.”

“What lantern? I can’t see anything,” Armand protested.

“You can see your hands,” Tagen answered simply.

Armand paused, not understanding. “Why can’t I see yours?”

“Oh you can’t see anybody else’s,” Tagen chuckled, “The lamp only shows you up. It’s not a proper lamp, see?  It shines another kind of light.”

 

***

 

Before he could think the man was within range. Armand let out a fierce yell and launched himself over the ledge at him. The pursuer dipped away quickly, and Armand landed harmlessly in the snow. He swung at the pursuer’s feet. There was a tremendous clang of metal, and Armand’s sword spun through the air to clatter against the trough’s wall. He man held a long, dark sword. His face was fierce and intense. He swung twice. Armand jumped back, barely evading the swishing blade. Desperate, Armand slipped his pack from his shoulders and chucked it at the man. The man batted it away, spinning the contents of the pack through the air. Armand turned to lunge for his sword, but as he did so the man caught him by the legs, and they tumbled through the snow. Armand scrambled to regain his footing, thrashing at the man, who twisted violently to evade his grasp. A blow stung Armand’s cheek. Armand kicked with both feet, twisting himself and scrambling for footing. The man was on top of him instantly. Armand threw his weight back and they both sprawled in the snow again. Armand wrenched himself upright as he heard the man give a tremendous shout. Armand saw the leather-booted foot flash towards him, and suddenly he was flying through the air backwards. He crashed into the trough wall and fell to the ground.

Armand was already up to his hands and knees before he realized he couldn’t breathe. Even the hint of oxygen had been pumped from his lungs by the force of the blow. Armand coughed, trying to suck air into his pulverized midsection.

“Who are you?” the man queried. Armand looked up through his watering eyes, bewildered by the curiosity in the voice. He expected a blow, not a question. The man stood a few feet away, sword in hand, “That should have crippled you,” he said, “If not worse.”

“I’m…  not sure it didn’t,” Armand hacked, struggling to straighten himself.

“No, it didn’t. You carry too fancy a token for a mere blow to harm you.” The man advanced, “but how in Taydra…” he stooped to pick up a fallen item, “did you come by this?”

Armand blinked, drawing a painful breath. The man held up the nutshell of Deep.

“It’s a long story.” Armand grimaced, “You probably wouldn’t believe me.”

“Let us leave that for me to decide.” The man was handsome, with nearly artistic features, graced by a neatly trimmed beard. At first Armand thought the man could only be slightly older than himself, then he thought, younger. But something about the man’s blue eyes hinted of a much greater age than Armand would normally attribute to such a sinewy, spry body. “And I make it my business…” the man continued, “to know why a lone Manum would wander the slopes of Mene-Tecktel with portions of the Deep in hand.”

“Is it also your business to attack them?” Armand asked standing up warily.

“Ah, but you attacked me.” He tossed the nutshell up and caught it again, “But I repeat: it is your business I wish to know.”

Armand could almost feel a threat hidden somewhere in the man’s words. The man raised his sword and slid it into a sheath along his back. He brushed snow from his clothes, watching Armand as he did so. “So again I ask: who are you?”

Armand stooped to collect his fallen goods, but kept an eye on the stranger, “My name is Armand Douglas. I’m on my way to find the man who kidnapped my beloved.”

“He came this way?” asked the tall man, incredulously.

“I’m taking a short cut,” Armand explained curtly.

“You know where this man lives…?” the tall man asked.

“He’s a Tar’eth, who lives in a place called Probatound. I’ve come all the way from Okalla—stopped at Xycon Hall—and I have a lot further to go. So hopefully I won’t run into any more problems.”

The man handed Armand his pack, but kept the nutshell.

“So who are you? And why are you following me?” Armand asked, warily.

The man stood still, and watched him carefully. Armand returned his gaze.

“Call me Vaspeter. This mountain is my… home.” He bent to help collect Armand’s fallen supplies saying, “So if you seek a Tar’eth in Probatound, then you must seek Harnon the Great?”

“You know him?”

The man looked out over the valley, and put his hands on his hips, “Yes. Many, many years ago.” Then he looked back to Armand, “And he has taken you beloved?”

“Yeah.”

“And what about this?” again he held up the nutshell.

“It was given to me.”

“By whom?”

Armand blew out a breath of frustration. How would a belligerent mountaineer understand any of Armand’s wild story? “A Taydra—one of the Gardeners. He said if I ever needed him, to call him.” If that didn’t appease the man, then no answer would.

“So you are in league with the earthen Gardeners.” The man nodded in thoughtful consent, unruffled by the legendary name. “Perhaps that explains you. But however did they take interest in such a small account as that of a man? Taydra itself must be on the brink of disaster before they raise their mossy heads to concern themselves in our affairs.”

“I don’t know,” Armand said. “Maybe I’m just lucky.”

“Luck?” laughed the man, shortly. “There is no such thing. And if you have been left alone to storm a castle of the Nephgard Huegons, held by one of the most powerful Tar’eths that remain… I would hardly count you as lucky.”

Armand was indignant. “I’ll find a way.”

“It seems you already have.” The man narrowed his eyes, “Where did you say you were from?”

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