“It is freezing in here!” Lilly complained.
Noma nodded from within his fur pile as he watched Alex get up and add more wood to the cabin's fireplace.
Alex rubbed his hands together, knocking the wood debris from his hands. “We are going to need to find a way to replenish our wood piles. We barely had enough wood to build things before. Now that it is cold and we have to burn our wood the problem is even more severe. We are NOT prepared for winter.”
Noma looked to James, who seemed to be the de facto leader of the group, but he didn’t respond. Whatever he was making behind the bar seemed to take up all of his attention. Instead, Noma’s buddy spoke up.
“Where can we even get wood?” Patrick asked.
Noma liked Patrick. He couldn’t explain why exactly, but he did. They bonded in a way that only complete strangers that happened to go through the same life problems could. Noma admitted to himself that they weren’t exactly the same life problems - Patrick was from an entirely different plane of existence - but their struggle was the same at the heart of it. Patrick wasn’t happy with the person he was in his home world, and neither was Noma. They both grew up proud of who they were, only to be shat on by society once they were old enough to leave their homes. Now, they both had the opportunity to set things right. To be who they wanted to be and to shape the world how they thought it should be shaped. Where Patrick struggled with his temptation to revert to his old ways of cowardice, Noma struggled with his temptation to give into his ancestral weakness to greed. At the heart of it though, they both wanted to do good.
A tingle formed in the back of Noma’s head, causing him to jump. Patrick laughed and made a light-hearted joke about how Noma was so concerned about staying warm that the thought of running out of wood literally scared him. Noma did his best to nonchalantly wave off the joke as fear crept through his body. The tingle became a voice. A voice that Noma had been waiting for.
‘There is plenty of wood in the Spirit Battleground,’ Prince Kil'Lache telepathically whispered to Noma.
The soul merchant knew this day would come. The Lich King’s son wouldn’t accept his defeat so easily. At least, not according to what Noma knew about the king and the prince’s relationship. Prince Kil'Lache was probably tortured from the moment he was defeated until just now by his father. Ogrim and the others were probably just executed, but the prince wouldn’t have been offered that luxury. The prince would stop at nothing to prove himself to his father and bring honor to their undead dynasty. Noma just had to keep that in mind and not let himself be tempted by the prince's words.
‘We do not need your resources, little Lich,’ Noma replied telepathically.
‘Now, now. No need to stoop to insults. I just want to help you.’
‘You have no desire to help anyone but yourself,’ Noma argued.
Prince Kil'Lache laughed heartily inside Noma’s head. The ethereal sound threatened to drive Noma mad. The Lich King’s son continued to laugh as Noma’s head swam for what seemed like an eternity. He looked around, afraid that someone would see him, but the party was all gathered around James’s newest creation.
Cider, Noma thought, trying to focus on anything but the eternal laughing in his head, Cider was what James was making. Everyone loves it.
The prince finally stopped laughing. ‘Well, that may be true. But what if we can help each other out? That would be in line with what you think you understand about my character, right?’
James handed Noma a stone mug with hot cider in it, and Noma did his best to return James’s smile as genuinely as he could. He was about to say yes to the Prince, but when he took a sip of the cider his mind cleared. Noma could now tell that the haunting laughs of the Lich King’s son made him feel depressed and hopeless. Somehow, the cider was combating those effects.
Noma took another sip. ‘You will not trick me like you did that poor human boy,’ he confirmed.
‘I did not trick Michael,’ Prince Kil'Lache responded, sounding genuinely offended. ‘He was our friend. I just showed him what true power was.’
‘You broke his mind!’ Noma yelled at the intruder inside his head.
Laughter filled Noma’s head again, drowning out his thoughts. This time the cider didn’t help. Noma's resolve weakened as he slowly lost his sense of self.
‘Sometimes absolute power will do that to a guy…’ the prince said in between charming chuckles.
‘What do you want?’ Noma said sadly.
‘I want you to advise James to choose a weak soul weapon when you offer him his reward. I know you haven't done it already. Even if I didn’t know you were too greedy to give up the power, I can sense it in you.’
Noma gulped. James’s reward was the ability to purchase a soul weapon from Noma with Salmaana’s remaining power. Her leftover magic would allow him to wield the weapon. It was her last gift to this world. Had Noma really delayed giving that reward to James because he wanted to keep it for himself? It wasn’t even like he could reward himself with a soul weapon. Noma wondered if even just having the ability to access the soul weapon interface brought him any comfort. It did. But was that really why he didn’t give James his reward? Because he would lose access to the soul interface afterward? No, it couldn’t be. He just hadn’t had the time, right?
Noma knew that was a lie he must have been telling himself. He had plenty of time to offer James his reward, but when the human just simply forgot about it, Noma let him. He didn’t bother to remind James. He was secretly happy to keep the power to himself. The sadness he was feeling deepened. Salmaana trusted him as one of the only Prakx that could control their greed long enough to manage soul weapons, and he failed her, without even realizing it.
The ethereal voice inside his head sensed his hesitation, ‘I know you, Noma, better than you know yourself. I can help you. Make James choose a weak soul item and tell his party to come into the Spirit Battleground for wood. I will help you get a handle on your greed again, and you will be helping out the party anyway. Without wood for fire they will most certainly die.’