Into the Wild – Chapter 33
Chapter 33 – Mat
Mat pulled the trapdoor shut, climbed down the ladder, and stood there. The Dancing Hobbit was gone. Was it their fault? He shook his head, violently. He couldn’t focus on this right now—his doubt and self-loathing. With a breath, he looked down the tunnel, staring into the darkness. Fuck he should’ve had Devon cast a spell. He looked up the ladder briefly and then continued down the tunnel. He couldn’t bring himself to go back up.
For what seemed like an eternity, he stumbled in the blackness. He could feel the claustrophobia, he wouldn’t admit to, pushing against him. The panic like bile rising in his throat, threatening to crack his resolve. With each step, it grew worse. He could feel the millions of pounds of earth just waiting until he was in just the right spot to collapse and bury him forever. He stopped briefly, his breath coming in small gasps as he shivered from the layer of sweat which had broken out across his body.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed on. It would soon be over. If the cave collapsed, he’d be dead, and then this feeling would stop. He screamed as terror engulfed him when his face bounced off what he thought was the collapsed cave. In his panic, his hands went up, and some small part of his mind realized it was the ladder. Like a single voice in a room full of screaming, he felt a silent cry of relief as he raced as quickly as he could up the ladder. He bumped the opening. Wait, the pumphouse was over it. His grip on the ladder faltered as he realized there was no way to get out. He was trapped. Trapped. He could hear a whimper, where had that come from? Was it him? Then again, one of his voices reminded him, the lever.
He climbed down and felt around, remembering roughly where it was. He found it, pulled. For a long time, nothing happened. He crouched down onto the ground in a ball, ready to accept his fate; he’d die here.
Then a noise, the darkness retreated slightly, he could see outlines. Mat raced up the ladder again. When he reached the top, the pump house still covered most of the opening, but there was enough, he could escape. Mat climbed out and collapsed on the ground panting, tears running down the sides of his face as he started up gasping. He lay there in the cool breeze as he watched the striations of the nebulous heavens begin to appear in the early evening sky.
He didn’t move until he felt his muscles relax and his breathing slow. He was cold. The night breeze, which at first had been so welcoming, was now brushing across his damp body, making him shiver. Rolling over, he pulled off his bag, which he’d fashioned into a backpack, and retrieved a cloak. Securing it on his shoulders, he reveled in the warmth it provided. Standing, he headed towards the city, only madding it a few steps before stopping. He remembered the door, still back at the druid camp. He should get it first—Yea, good idea. Otherwise, Devon would be with him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted his friend to see what he’d done. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what he’d done but knew, either way, it was best his friend not be there.
He’d walked for almost an hour when he realized it would take all night to get to the druid camp. As he marched, trying to keep up his pace, he thought of Lok. As they’d returned to the city, he’d battled with the pain of his decisions and the Druid Leader’s death. He reached back and touched his pouch, he couldn’t feel the box, but he knew it was there, where he had a soul imprisoned. He thought about how he’d almost lost himself to Bugg-Shoth, but the more he thought, the more he realized it had gone exactly as he’d planned. His anger and disappointment had turned to satisfaction until they’d heard Burf’s story. Still, the sight of Lok being carried away by Darth brought a smile to his lips.
Mat stopped in his tracks. Wait, if Darth could carry Lok.
He looked up into the night sky and smiled; it was dark. Reaching out, he summoned his minion. He heard the noise before he found the void in the night where the massive bat blocked out the sky. As expected, Darth had been near.
“Hello, my friend.”
“How might I serve you tonight, my lord?” asked the minion. His speech was perfect now.
“We’re going to try something new; you’re going to fly me back to the Druids camp. Do you think that will be a problem?”
“Not at all, my Lord,” answered Darth as he settled onto the ground, pulling his wings in close. “Please just climb on, you can use the tufts of hair to stay attached. I will keep the trip as smooth as possible, my Lord.”
As Mat climbed up on his minions back, he marveled at the complexity of the last comments. Darth was learning quickly. Maybe too quickly. Mat, for the first time, felt trepidation dance around his mind as he thought about his minion’s rapid evolution. He sent out a thread, Darth wouldn’t notice. It would slow his growth. Make things just a little harder to learn.
As Darth lifted into the air, Mat discovered quickly he had yet another phobia. “Do we need to go so high?”
“Is my Lord nervous at this height?” asked the bat as he shifted upwards and started to climb higher into the air.
“What the fuck are you doing?” screamed Mat.
“I thought my Lord did not like our height. I strove to resolve that by climbing higher.”
“Higher, no not higher, lower,” growled Mat. He was sure his minion was enjoying himself. His suspicions were confirmed when Darth pointed downward at an insane angle and started to dive. “You know I can still make you explode, STOP IT,” screamed Mat.
Hanging on for dear life, Mat watched Darth dive through an opening in the trees and sail down the forest path like they were in a clearing and not dodging obstacles at every turn. But as quickly as his concern blossomed, it died away when he saw the camp fast approaching in front of them. “Circle it before we land, I want to see what’s down there.”
Darth did exactly as instructed and rose back into the sky, just below the canopy, and slowed his speed. Mat’s mouth fell open when he saw the smoking ruins of the village. The majority of buildings were little more than burned-out husks, some still smoldering while others showed no damage at all. Pointing, Mat instructed Darth to set down just the other side of the destroyed fence behind the storage building. The bat landed with almost no sound. Mat cast a cloak on himself and worked his way into the ruined village.
He heard rustling and slowly looked around the corner into the open square. His fade allowed him to be practically invisible when not moving and shadowed. In shock, he shot back into hiding and pressed himself flat against the wall. There were dozens of people in the square. Taking a slow breath to center himself, he looked again and almost jumped out of his skin. One was right there, walking by, shambling by. Mat studied the guy; something was wrong. Then he realized part of the person’s arm looked as if it had been eaten. “Fuck Zombies,” he whispered to himself. “Really, how cliché.”
“Actually, we call them undead,” a voice said behind him. Mat screamed. The corpses all turned in his direction. “You might want to control your noises.”
Mat looked back, his eyes shifting between the semi-transparent creature talking to him and the dozens of zombies now curious about the noise.
“Who are you,” growled Mat in an insistent whispered voice.
“This is your doing, is that correct?”
“I don’t make zombies.”
“You brought back the dead, didn’t you?”
“Well, maybe. WHO ARE YOU?”
Mat heard the person take a calming breath, “The stories of your stupidity seem to be true, I see. If you created them, then you control and animate them, you idiot. Kill the spell.”
Mat’s rolled his eyes. He’d been so stupid, of course, he could feel the draw on his mana. He just thought it was tiredness or lack of rest. Closing his eyes, he remembered he knew how to terminate the thread. Looking inside himself, he found that little strand of energy traveling from him to all these creatures. With a thought, he snipped it.
Opening one eye, he peaked out again. All the bodies had dropped to the ground, inanimate, and boy did he feel better. “I didn’t even notice they were drawing from me. Gawd, I feel better now.”
“Again, stupidity not underrated. They were making new ones as they went along. You must have cast a wide-ranging spell, and each new one was adding to the draw upon your power,” said the stranger as he studied Mat.
“You must be powerful if you didn’t notice you were fueling several hundred undead. Stupid and strong.”
“WHO ARE YOU,” barked Mat and look back over his should to ensure the shout had not attracted any unwanted attention. Nope, everything was still good and dead.
“I’m either your best friend or your worst nightmare, we haven’t gotten to that part yet,” answered the stranger as his body filled in and took form. He’d been using a version of fade as well.
Mat was taken aback by the creature standing before him. He was…well…wrong. His face contorted, his chin too long, his mouth too big. His ears were pointed like an elf’s, but it was the eyes, too many eyes, he had six eyes. Mat’s tracked down the body. The torso was normal if you overlooked the six arms, even slim and agile, until you got to the waist. Where there should have been legs, there was a tail, like a snake. Mat looked up again to see the creature studying him as closely.
“What are you?” asked Mat.
“A lot of questions. Let’s start with mine. You are this Matsugo I’ve was informed about, and that is your friend, what Devon, you left behind with the dwarf?”
Mat’s casually let his hands drop to his daggers.
“Don’t get feisty. If I wanted to harm you, I’d have done it when you were busy studying your handy work. Are you Matsugo?”
“You already know the answer.”
“You’re correct, but I like to have confirmation. Call it an occupational hazard.”
“Occupational, and that would be?”
“Again, with the questions.”
“Yes, I am Matsugo, now can we get past that before things start getting unpleasant.”
“And you’re a rouge and a…. necromancer if I had to guess.”
Mat just nodded.
“Duel skills, you are far more dangerous than Talvar thought.”
“Talvar, now we’re getting somewhere. You’re a rouge?”
The creature smiled. “Not just a rouge, but the rouge. The rouge you should have checked in with, well, according to city statutes when you arrived.”
“Indeed,” agreed the Creature as he brought his arm around in a broad sweep and bowed at the waist. “I am Oslcar, and you are late.”
“The Rouge guild leader. Wait, why are you here and how…”
Oslcar sighed, “Think. I knew you are here. I knew you created this little mess. I ordered the rescue of your cell neighbor. I am here when you are here. I know your friend is with the dwarf in a warehouse on the southside of the city. What do you gather from these clues?”
“You’ve had us watched.”
“Since the first night you arrived.”
“But how? Oh, wait, that little shit in the bar.”
“Got it in one.”
“Ok…” Then he remembered Burf and the inn. “Why did you fuckers burn down Burf’s inn? Barked Mat, and in the time it took him to produce two daggers, Oslcar had already moved behind him and had a dagger at his throat, and two shorter blades, one pressing against the skin above his liver and another against his kidney, while two hands held him firm.
“How you made it to your skill level with that temper intrigues me. Normally there is a longer trail of bodies by this point.” Then looking back over his shoulder, the Rouge leader added, “but then they are starting to stack up. Now I’m going to let you go, but you’ve used your warning.”
Oslar came back around as Mat watched how he moved. That snake thing was sorta cool.
“Let’s get one thing out of the way now. We did not burn down your friend’s inn. We are rouges; the first rule to being a rouge is not to attract attention.” Again, looking out into the square, “another something you should probably work on.”
“If not you, then who?”
“That is a good question. Were I to guess, the order you’re impersonating being a member of.”
“But Burf told us they were a myth.”
“Clearly, they’re not because they burned down his inn.”
“See, there is hope for you yet.”
“But why, Burf?”
“Because he is a warrior and has shit for brains.”
“How did they find out?”
“He had those patches made, ordered robes. He was about as subtle, as well, you.”
“So, they burned down his inn?”
“And murdered his loved ones. You’ve gotten in a bit deep. I mean, if you are not one of them, which I’m assuming you’re not.”
“They killed his loved ones? What the fuck.”
“They are not to be trifled with, how do you think they stay a myth? By leaving calling cards and letting people run around impersonating them. Even we rouges know who we shouldn’t mess with, and it’s our job to trifle with people. They have two speeds, hidden and chaos in the extreme.”
“Shit,” said Mat as the night’s silence overtook them. Finally, he added, “are we going to have a problem?”
“That is up to you.”
“You are leaving my town. You’re more trouble than me, and my little operation wants to get involved with, and since I’m involved in everything when it comes to Yalum, you cannot stay. Not only that, but you are going to take that pesky dwarf with you.”
“Or we are going to have a problem. Simple, really.”
“So, we just pack up and leave. No harm, no foul?”
“There has already been harm and plenty of fouls. People have died for no other reason than to make a point, and the attention of one of the most dangerous orders has now turned towards our little town. So, yes, you just leave.”
Looking back at the square and all the corpses, “But what about all of this,” he asked. But when he returned his attention to the rouge leader and found him gone. “Of course, just vanish in the night, how fitting.”
Mat collapsed back against the wall of the building and let his mind race over the mess they’d managed to stir up. “Fine, it’s probably best,” he said to himself as he opened the door to the storage room, found his door, and stowed it away in his backpack.
As he reemerged, he saw the rouge leader and a dozen men standing on the other end of the clearing. “You run along now; we will clean up this mess.” That is when Mat realized they were all holding torches. He didn’t know how to respond, so he simply bowed and vanished into the night.