The hunter acknowledged his partner’s message, stood and poured out the remaining contents of his teapot over his camp fire. The liquid proved insufficient to quench it.
His camp sat in the middle of a massive courtyard more than twenty yards of flagstone distant from the nearest combustible object, but a lifetime of good outdoor habits couldn’t leave the fire still burning. He extended his hand and summoned a flux form that would force the oxygen out of a dome-shaped region surrounding the fire. The flames guttered out, suffocating in the smoke now trapped under the bubble of watery nothing. He held it there until he judged it safe, then went on his way.
The night lacked living presences. For three prior nights of camping on this spot, he had listened to the wind in the empty windows and towers of the main keep and heard little of wildlife. But, until this night of no breeze, he had not felt the true emptiness of the place. Living monsters of nightmare, destroyers of this once vibrant world, still roamed beyond these great walls. He suspected that one of them frequented this location often enough to prevent ordinary wildlife from making its home here. Nothing larger than an insect dwelled nearby.
His people, who once knew this world as their home, called this manner of fortress a kriojjin. When he first identified the ruin as his quarry’s waystation, Rogan had consulted the Paeth Giraan and learned its name was Krio-Liocei, namesake of the expanse of forests and hills it once ruled as the seat of a landsman allied to a powerful city on the nearby sea. At the time of the Fall, after greater battlements elsewhere lay destroyed, it had doubled for a brief span as the capital of the provincial sept.
The gray granite battlements, still intact but for two massive breaches, had stood for well over a millennium against the plagues of monsters which the enemy regularly unleashed on this world. By the evidence though, at least one battle had occurred here during that final torrent of living weapons which forced his people to abandon all. He had found no record of it in the information he searched. This was no surprise. He doubted that even one in ten battles during those last few chaotic days had found a place in recorded history.
“Right,” he announced out loud despite the lack of other living ears within earshot. He turned to stride toward the central keep. As he went, he untied the safety strap on his holster and did the same for the knife hanging from a harness hung across his chest.
<Althem, my friend,> he bade the ghost who accompanied him, the only other entity present, <The armor, please.>
A bronze-shaded metal emerged like liquid from his clothing and skin as he approached the archway entrance into the main keep. Swords with forward curving hand guards materialized behind each shoulder, their scabbards crossing his back. Gauntlets, boots and helmet followed.
If it were physical, it would be almost comically anachronistic, a Gireidil combat dress over five hundred years obsolete, from an age before Earther firearms had spread throughout the worlds and changed warfare forever. But this armor was of an immaterial substance far stronger than the antiques that it resembled, and the accompanying weapons were far sharper and stronger.
His regular weapons also remained available; his phantom companion formed her armor beneath them.
His race, the Gireid, grew taller than most human species, and he was tall even by the standards of his own kind. He knew what a forbidding, even terrifying appearance he now bore. It came in handy in situations such as this.
<It has been quite some time since we used our panoply,> his companion mused.
“Aye,” he nodded to himself as he entered the keep. “But it’s time for work.”
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