I watched horrified as the demon grew out of proportion to reality and flowed toward Bÿglar, a shadow of pain and fear. Rufus whimpered and started to pull away, but I clung to his tiny hand and raised my holy talisman.
“Begone, demon of pain and sorrow!” I called. Light burst from my talisman and when it struck Bÿglar, his talisman seemed to drink it in for two heartbeats. Then it too radiated a sudden and intense aurora which slammed into the shadow demon, driving it back into the depths of the wood. Bÿglar slumped down against the stump, letting the spear fall to his side.
I rushed forward, dragging poor Rufus weasel gnome with me and we knelt by the hob lad. I placed a hand upon him and called the healing power of Kithri. His wounds closed and his color returned, but he would not be roused. I knew immediately what failure was upon me and I took a second talisman from around my neck and pressed it against his cheek, calling upon the indifferent power of Semaunzilla (may she help restore this disconsolate lad).
This time a form of energy I had rarely experienced in its purest form flowed from me to surround the hob. It felt more natural; greener if you will. The glade around us began to glow and the shadow beast broke through the trees one last time and faded into mist, leaving a smudge of doubt on the ground at young Bÿglar’s feet. He rose, astounded and looked at Rufus and I, truly seeing us for the first time. We stared across the distance as truth slowly filled his head. He fell to one knee, slapping his fist across his chest in a salute.
“My captain,” he said, his head bowed. “I have failed you.”
I leaned forward and touched his shoulder. “Rise and face me,” I said, climbing to my own feet, holding out a hand.
His palm struck my wrist and he rose with the steadying force of my arm. His grip grew stronger as he settled on his footing and he looked firmly into my eyes. “How have you failed me, Bÿglar, warrior of the Black Heart legion?”
Pain crossed his face and he lowered his head, breaking from my gaze. “She who holds your heart surrendered to the enemy and I fled like a coward.”
I glanced at Rufus, another piece of the puzzle falling into place.
“Did she bid this of you?” I asked, knowing full well how bossy Liz could be.
He nodded once, the act bringing a look of disgust and bitterness to his face. “I was craven. I should have died in her protection, rather than let her be taken alive.”
“You alone could not sway Liz when her mind is made up,” I said. “But fear not, she has returned from the enemy’s dungeons. She lives, and is here waiting for you to wake,” I assured him. “You slumber yet. When you rise, you may debate the subject with her.”
His head snapped up and his eyes were wide with wonder. “I saw them beat her from my hiding place,” he said, his voice as bitter as his features had been. “How did she escape?”
“All in due time. We must leave you now. This is a dreaming place. The demon you slew was one of your own making. Wake, warrior, and we shall talk about the realities of dealing with Liz and her headstrong ways.”
He goggled at my words, but nodded. Then Rufus made a sign and the clearing vanished to be replaced by the one in the real world. We knelt over the hob warrior, our hands upon his brow. As we pulled back, Bÿglar opened his eyes.
“I dreamt of you,” he said to me, raising one hand to rub his head. “Did you hit me with your mace?”
“Perhaps,” I said, helping him sit up. “Perhaps it took two blows to knock you from your feet.”
He continued to rub the back of his head, pondering. “But I shall live?”
“From this, yes,” I assured him. “Though you wandered in dark places for a while. Forgive me for assuming the worst about you.”
As a hob warrior it was not common for him or his companions to ever be asked to forgive a superior. This took a moment for him to process. When he had the right of it, he looked at me and gave a curt nod. “Who am I to argue with the actions of my captain?”
I started to protest, but I caught the crafty look and realized I was seeing ages old response between a warrior and his leader. There was a respect there and a comfort that allowed a bit of banter.
“Indeed,” I responded. “Next time you should duck.”
Laughter broke over us and we turned to see Liz approaching. She handed Bÿglar a water skin and his grin broadened. “You live?”
Liz reached one hand down, and Bÿglar grasped it, allowing her to help him to his feet. “Of course I live. I told you I’d return for my things, did I not?” she asked, somewhat churlish, but I noticed the sly grin. I’m not sure others with less experience with lizard folk would catch the subtle shift in the colors which ran over the rills on her head. She was not angry, no. She had great affection for this lad.
“You did as I asked, and for that I thank you.”
Bÿglar stepped back, dropping her hand and saluted her. “It was my honor,” he said.
“Though it grated upon you?” she asked, laughing. “You are as stubborn as Merric here. No wonder you follow him.”
He had the good temerity to blush at her words. But then, so did I.
As we escorted the hob lad to meet the others, I leaned in and whispered. “Why did you call me Worldbreaker? His stumble nearly sent us both to the ground.
“Peace,” Liz said, righting us both. “Let us share our tale with the others.”
So we sat with the others and the tale unfolded.