Lighter Than Bird Bones
After I strung Lord Vergun to the aspen tree, the Spriggans led me south.
The aspen forest thinned and then faded—white trunks giving way to a warm grassland filled with blue-flowering bushes and little pools filled with finger-sized fish. The Spriggans did not talk much, and I was glad for the quiet. Lord Vergun had proved a bastard of a foe, and I was glad that he was dead.
At night, we made a fireless camp. The Spriggans gathered roots and berries to eat. There were plenty of elk and rabbit and deer around to hunt, but something told me the tree-people liked to keep their traveling fellowships vegetarian.
On the fifth day, we stopped.
“There is where it ends,” the one with Red Fungus on his face said. It dropped the massive sword—Murasame—on the ground as if the weapon was a bunch of firewood it no longer needed. For some reason, carrying the blade didn’t bother the Spriggan like it did me.
Maybe magical swords can’t talk to wooden skulls.
I looked around. We were standing in the middle of an open space, and there were dozens and dozens of old tree trunks that had been planted in concentric circles, then cut down. A raven flying overhead would have seen a massive target grown into the landscape.
“What is this?” I asked.
“A place where the Great Mother can hear us,” Red Fungus said.
The Spriggans formed a circle and clasped hands. Threw their head backwards. If I’m being honest, the whole thing looked a little cliché to me—communing with nature and all that. But a warm wind picked up from the south and about a hundred black-winged birds swarmed in from somewhere and flew in circles for a few minutes.
So I guess the spot worked.
After a while, the birds departed and the Spriggans dropped hands. Red Fungus looked at me with his glowing green eyes.
“I have a message for you, if you’d like to hear it.”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
“The Great Mother says that you can purify your bones, if you wish. The dark power that you have enjoyed will be taken from you, but the trees will no longer shudder at your approach. The nightmares waiting in the darkness will trouble you no more.”
I cracked my neck and thought about that. “What about the tattoos?” I asked.
“They would be stilled, but the story on your body would remain. In time, a more…natural kind of power may begin to flow through them. The power of life, not death. The strength of your ancestors. The wildness of your blood.”
In my experience, there isn’t a single fucking thing on this planet with a beating heart that will give you something for free, so I didn’t see a reason to think the planet herself was particularly noble. Otherwise she’d have created better company.
“What’s the catch?”
The Spriggan cocked his head in question.
“You heard me. What’s the Great Mother want in return?”
Red Fungus blinked and nodded. “She would like for you to return to your birthplace. Vallenwood. Beneath the ruins of your old home, you will find what you need to cleanse yourself.”
I laughed. “Back home? My home is six-months away and surrounded by countries where I have a bounty the size of a Mammoth’s cock.”
The Spriggan said nothing.
“What about the sword?”
“That is up to you. And to the sword. It is no longer our affair—this is as far as we go.”
“How does it work?” I asked. “The ground falls away and the Great Mother swallows you up?”
“No,” Red Fungus said. “Now you kill us.”
That froze me up.
I didn’t particularly like tree-people I’d somehow gotten banded up with, but I have to admit the whole “poison every pool in the forest and wait for Vergun to start hallucinating his fucking face off” plan was pretty damn inspiring.
My life is paved with corpses and horrors of my own creation, but I don’t like killing people or creatures that inspire me.
“That’s not what I want,” is all I said.
“This part of the story is not about you, Silent Girl with the Owl Skin.” The Spriggan took a step closer and held out a dagger in its wooden claw of a hand. “It is about us.”
The blade was darker than my hair, and the grip was made from gnarled teakwood, but polished down to a sheen.
On instinct, I took it.
The wood was perfectly carved to my grip—there was even a ridge to fit a deep scar some Argonian had dug through my palm.
“How did you…?”
“When you are in the Great Mother’s favor, there is a great many things she can do for you,” Red Fungus said. “Whisper secrets on the wind. Tell you the shape of an elf girl’s hand. These things are possible, and many more.” He paused for a moment. “It is not my affair, but I would be glad if you went back to your homeland. A life of darkness does not suit you.”
The Spriggan lifted its chin—revealing a gnarled throat.
“Finish it quickly,” he said.
I flipped the dagger into a reverse grip. Somehow, that angle was molded to my hand as well.
Then I pulled back and cut the Spriggan’s throat.
The oaky flesh separated and a greenish sap started streaming out. The light drained from its eyes and Red Fungus slumped over in a heap. The other two were waiting behind him, chins raised and throat exposed.
I made it quick.
Afterwards, it was just me the sword. I did a circle around Murasame, which Red Fungus had wrapped in a crude barkskin scabbard. Then I knelt in front of the place and tapped one finger against the bark.
I placed two fingers on it, then my entire hand.
If you think I can’t get you through a slit of tree, you’re an idiot.
The voice filled my head, but the worst part of the grinding sounds were gone—making the voice tolerable, at least.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t leave you here in the middle of nowhere.”
Ha. I could give you a hundred. But one is all I need: you saw what Lord Vergun could do with me, and you want a piece of the action. I know a sadistic killer when I see one.
The sword kind of had a point there.
“You’re too heavy for me.”
I am only heavy if I choose to be. For you, I could be lighter than blade made from bird bones.
“I seem to recall some vastly different sentiments coming from you the last time we touched.”
I didn’t realize you were so fucking delicate. Perhaps I would be better off lording over this field for the next seven or eight thousand years. Nothing is more annoying than a sensitive woman.
“Sensitive and cautious are not the same.”
I didn’t say anything for a while.
“Why did you serve Lord Vergun?” I asked.
His path was…interesting to me. But there are many paths in this world. Many lives. Where does yours go next, Narova Black Hair? Or should I call you the Silent Girls with Owl Skin?
“Narova,” I said. “Call me Narova.”
I thought about the sword’s real question. There was always the Brotherhood, but something told me I needed to deal with that corpse-fucker Akavarin sooner rather than later. Can’t have an evil bastard who conquered half a Skyrim in a day wanting something from you.
“It goes to a nice view of Akavarin’s corpse,” I said. “That something you’d like to see?”
There was a silence.
I yanked off the bark scabbard and picked up Murasame by the grip, which was made from perfectly maintained sharkskin leather.
The blade had told it true. Lighter than bird bones.