By EM Malachi
The beer tasted like wet parchment, and the candles in the Marsh Hall were burning low. Dupre sat at a back table and finished off the stale pint. The barkeep hadn’t wanted to tap a new keg this late in the evening, and Dupre just wanted to calm his stomach before boarding the ship. Checking his sword for the third time, the paladin grumbled, “I’m getting too old for this.”
There came a laugh from behind him. “You said the same thing during the Ophidian war and every battle since.”
Dupre turned to face a soldier in full plate and Jhelom colors. “Geoffrey! So they recalled you from Eodon?”
Geoffrey nodded and pulled up a chair. “It seems they are trotting out all the old war horses.”
“It’s good to see you. So much has happened. Shall I get us some wine?”
Geoffrey shook his head. “I can’t. I still need to review the night watch. I’m commanding the defense of Vesper should this Jack fellow make landfall, and all these tiny islands make the city impossible to defend. Never thought I’d miss Trinsic’s walls.”
“I’m part of the force of knights and paladins supporting our ships against the Screaming Fleet. Our sailors are good, but if it comes to boarding by undead, they’ll appreciate the extra help.”
“Screaming ships… I do hate necromancers. Do you know the reason they think Jack is headed here?”
“Some merchant crews reported dark ships massing near Dagger Isle, and Jack has ties to this place. The southern fleet is coming to protect Moonglow and Nujel’m, but my gold is on Vesper. Trouble always comes home.”
Geoffrey gave a worried nod. “Then I better also see a smith about getting extra pikes for the town militia.”
Dupre paid his tab and picked up his cloak. “Good hunting, old friend.”
The spirit held on with the memory of fingers. Shamino fought to hold his human shape, as the spiritual forces of the Well of Souls buffeted against him. He could also hear a voice now. It was a command for obedience, deep and constant. Shamino tried to focus on anything else. Without a body, his senses played tricks on him, so the lost soul huddled in his memories.
Shamino remembered a long night years ago. All of Minoc had been awake, trying to finish emergency preparations for soldiers marching out in the morning. Far from home, the ranger had volunteered to help his friend finish the shields needed by the locals serving in the infantry.
Julia had already cut and glued pieces of oak into the proper shape and covered the hardwood in various layers. As Julia mounted the shield’s boss and enarmes, Shamino was responsible for the brass nails that held the top leather in place. While they worked, Shamino asked Julia why she had chosen to be responsible for the shields rather than swords or spears.
Julia considered briefly before responding. “I’ve made swords before and will make them again if needed, but I like the idea of shields. Tomorrow, my work will help protect my neighbors fighting in Cove.”
Julia continued, “And each person they protect there can turn around and help someone else. All of the individual materials in the shield are weaker than the weapon smashing into it, but they complement and reinforce each other. Alone each of us is but a fragile human being, but we can still be a shield for one another.”
The conversation then drifted to other things, but in the reliving, an ornate grandfather clock, treasured by Julia, caught his attention. Behind a pane of the clock, the constellations of the night sky, normally moving slowly over the course of the seasons, were moving rapidly through the years.
As the stars moved faster and faster, Shamino felt himself drawn in, until he was no longer in the memory of Minoc, but a starry void. A man held by dark chains motioned him closer and whispered in his ear, “Night is falling, but the darkest part is still hours off. The ranger and the tinker must guide the rest through this eventide.”
A hand tapped Shamino on the shoulder, and when he turned around, he was back in the workshop. His long lost friend smiled at him and asked, “Are we ready to begin?”
Instead of the shield nails and hides from the memory, around Julia were piles of broken stone. Julia started picking through the fragments and fitting them together into eight larger forms. Shamino asked, “What’s all this?”
Julia’s ghost gave a sad look as the tinker’s calloused hands continued to piece together a rune. “My final work.”