The Three Keys

by

ShellBlu

Chapter 22: When Fools Are Dead, Is Wisdom All that Is Left?

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  The thing in front of me laughed, as much as its false shape could allow it. Its toy, a beautiful facade of skin and muscle, was failing it and it didn’t care. I saw the strangers I met fall as well and I sighed. More death on my hands. Just the sort of thing a grieving man needs. Self-pity felt like a comforting friend, but I shelved it for a more honest one. A dozen ghosts coalesced into a mocking reflection of me, spear and all. More mimicked this pathetic guise until I stared at a score of dead lookalikes. The specters laughed until they realized that my spear had already pierced them. Then they fade away, cursing my name as they disappeared for good.
  “My, my, you are a force of nature.” The despicable thing that looked like a man clapped its hands. “I am impressed and awed. The stories do you no justice, Mathis Moreau. I wonder why you retired?” I ignored him, choosing instead to check on the unfortunate group that was with me. They were on the ground, limbs splayed like the dead, but something tells me that they still live. Some of the ghosts noticed it as well but pulled back with a confused look whenever they got too close. A spell? A talisman? Whatever it is, they don’t need my protection. I relaxed despite the situation and whistled in relief.
  “Nice whistling.” The man-thing said as it turned some ghosts into a chair to sit on. “Do you practice a lot?”
  “It’s a gift,” I said while piercing several ghosts that tried to sneak up on me from the ground. “What’s your thing?”
  “Oh, nothing much.” The white mass I sparred with whimpered as it became a battered mink, curling at its master’s lap. “I see dead people.”
  “That’s unfortunate,” I said while attempting a simple strike at the monster. It reached but struck nothing. The pet didn’t even react this time around. “Why attack me if you knew about me? I had no quarrel with you.”
  “It’s the only reason why I did it. I wanted to run some tests with a legend. Have some fun doing it too.” A typical meaningless answer came from the man-thing’s mouth. “When life throws you a chance, you don’t question it. You take it and see where it leads you.”
  “That’s a careless way to live a life.” I decided to try and finish the job with the man-thing’s pet. But layers upon layer of ghosts were suddenly upon the abominations. Together, they formed a spectral shield, both impenetrable and untouchable. Crap, my spear’s not suited for that right now. I thought as I halted my advance. I need time and the right materials, and I’ve got neither right now. Or … is there? I looked at the diminished, but still sizable ghost swarm around me. I then looked at the group that had fallen, at what they wore and their weapons. All had enchantments in some way, and most of their items were intact.

  They will have to do. I told myself as I made my way to that group. A barrier halted me, made by one of them before losing consciousness. That it remained reaffirmed my belief that they were all still alive. But it recognized me soon enough as one of the living and let me through. I uttered a short apology before plunging my spear into each person’s items. With each touch, their power was consumed into my own, leaving broken relics in its wake.

  I winced as Sky-piercer hungered for more, for the feasts of days past where once it gorged on a hoard of treasure. This was the cost of power granted in the form of a weapon. When you give appetite to an edge that drinks blood. The corners of my mouth twitched up as I felt my madness return. If that’s how you want to play it, then let’s dance with our partner. I grinned as I looked straight at Riil. I spun my spear once to catch as many ghosts as I could, feeling their grudges and hatred fuse with my own.

  “Hey! Stop taking my stuff! It took me ages to collect this many!” The man-thing called me out. His wretched voice invoked a new fear in me, but I suppressed it. I took a leap closer to Riil and his pet greeted me, transforming once more into its hideous form. It tried its best to disarm me. with every failed attempt, the mindless thing became more and more agitated. It attacked me with greater ferocity, and after one harrowing rain of tentacles, I saw an opening. I pierced its core in a single strike, and it gave one last cry before disintegrating into ashes.

  “Sorry, your toy’s broken.” I gave Riil a smirk.

  “Tch. It was about time anyway.” It tried to look unnerved, but for the first time since we met, he’s started keeping his guard up. It made things easier since all it did was tell me where his weak spots were. There was also the fact that the ghosts had all but disappeared, leaving me free to leave at any time. No desire to do so came though, as Sky-piercer still hungered for more. I gave a few more testing strikes against Riil, who now made an attempt at dodging them. The odd feeling from before returned when my strikes hit, but reduced.

  “What are you made of?” I called out the man-thing as my strike grazed it on the side of the head. “It’s like hitting mist.”

  “My secret will go to my grave.” Riil gave a small smile. “And I must say, you’re almost living up to the standards of your legends. But I guess time catches up to everyone in the end. Well, almost everyone.” The man-thing stretched out his arms and began collecting something in each palm. I naturally tried to put a stop to it, but with a cackling laugh, it slammed both hands into its chest and exploded.

  "FUCK!” I shouted as I leaped away by reflex. Even with how fast I was, I couldn’t have outrun the foul wave of energies pouring out. So I landed near the strangers and cast the strongest barrier I could muster. The blast struck just as I finished my task, the force of it all concentrating on the grip I had on Sky-piercer. Letting go would mean death to the strangers and unpleasant times for me.

  “As if … a fucking explosion … is going to kill me!” I roared through the ongoing inferno outside, giving me the strength to hang on. But all trials end and their consequences must be borne by someone. This one left me drained of all sweat and left only with a cold shiver that my armor couldn’t stave. I … have to go back home. Even though I already said goodbye, they’re … not going to let this one go any time soon. Ah, villages and gossips.

  “But words seem to be the only currency worth its weight nowadays.” I weighed the pros and cons of bringing my new acquaintances back with me. “I need more information. More than what fighting blindly will give me anyway. Not like they’re in a position to refuse.” I nodded as I began tallying up how much rope I was going to need.

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About the author

ShellBlu

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Bio: Currently writing a story one word at a time.

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