"The figure extended his hand out into the sunlight. This close, it looked like a skeleton with a mere tautness of skin around it. The hand beckoned him inside. "
“There are those who see only the sun in nature. Only the beauty of crisp, blue brooks, and the mystique of the wild critters. But they forget that while nature's hand creates life, with the same hand it plants decay in the same seed. You have only to see a young child who should be at joyful play, made gray faced by plague to know the truth of this.” – Opening to The Book of the Bone Hunters
A green-cloaked, hooded figure stepped to the tower’s only window near its zenith. A pale-skinned hand stretched over protruding bone grasped the sill.
“Come, chosen,” the figure said, its voice raspy like the flipping of old pages.
Drygar laughed. “Chosen am I?” What manner of prank was he mangled in? When the messenger boy had handed him a letter, urgent in the boy’s words, he’d assumed someone had gotten good and drunk the night before and needed his help to muscle him out of whatever trouble he was in. In fact, it was probably one of his friends who had hatched this scheme.
“Tell Aldyne his mother’s skill has improved as of late,” he yelled to the motionless figure. The figure said nothing, but his hand pulled back into the folds of his heavy cloak, and he drifted away from the window into the shadow. No point keeping up the farce now that he’d been outed. Drygar shook his head, chuckling.
The wood-planked door to the old tower creaked open, nothing but heavy darkness showing inside.
“Honestly man, Chosen? That’s a bit heavy-handed, don’t you think? You should have just told me your mother was atop the tower naked and waiting for me. That I would have believed.” Nothing but silence responded to him. “Come on now.” Drygar hocked up a wad of phlegm and spat it into the grass. “I’ll buy you a drink for the effort.” Silence.
This was becoming rather annoying. “Look, I could be taking the drunkards at Marley’s for all but their coin right now in gallerby dice. Stop wasting my time, let’s go.”
Maybe this wasn’t a prank. Maybe some geezer had called him out here for some reason. Maybe he had a job for him. His skill with the blade was common knowledge in Hertry. “If you have something you want from me, just cut this nonsense and come out and talk.”
Again, nothing but silence came from the open door. Drygar found himself starting to wonder what this was all about despite himself. It made sense just to turn around and leave—he was not without enemies who would steep to ambushing him, but he wanted to know what this was all about. He took a couple steps toward the tower, and the green cloaked figure became just visible beyond the door. It surprised him, had he been standing there the whole time? “Why did you want to see me old man?”
The figure extended his hand out into the sunlight. This close, it looked like a skeleton with a mere tautness of skin around it. The hand beckoned him inside.
This old man with his corpse hand was starting to piss him off. “Forget this,’ he said, turning around and starting his way out of the glade.
“You will not take up the horned sword?”
Drygar stopped dead in this tracks, his heart beating wildly. How did this codger know about the horned-sword? He had dreamt of it for what had to be over a year, a simple blade made of iron and a leather grip—ordinary in all ways except for the small amber horn that hooked out from the hilt. In his dreams he wielded it with a skill beyond even his capability. It vanquished all his foes, won him every wild challenge he imagined. The fame it brought him led to both countless coin and adoring, beautify women. But that was all in his dreams. How did this man know of it?
“Who the hell are you?” Drygar drew his sword from its sheath and walked back towards the tower and the man in the doorway. “You will stop this damned game and tell me who you are right now.”
The man drifted backwards and was lost to the shadow.
Drygar cursed. It was folly to go in the tower, he knew that plain. But this man knew about the horned-blade. How often had he woken from his dreams, his hand squeezing his pillow tight as if it were that wondrous blade? This man knew of it—it was real.
He approached the tower, sword at the ready. When he reached the doorway, he called out. “No funny business now. I can get awful jumpy with this sword, and you don’t want it swung at you, believe me.”
He stepped inside, eyes scanning the darkness for any sign of the man, for anything to orient himself. His eyes adjusted to the blackness and he saw that the barest echo of sunlight from the window upstairs was highlighting the edge of a circular stairway. Gingerly he kicked out his foot and found the first step. Had the man gone up the stairs, or was he still down here in the darkness, watching him? He remembered the way the man had stood in the doorway, just standing there. “Don’t you try anything, damn it.” He began to climb the stairs. There was light up there at least.
He felt the trembling beads of sweat forming on his forehead as he climbed, then felt them trickle down to his brow. He wiped them away with his gloved hand. This was stupid. Stupid, stupid. He should just turn back—but he was already almost up the stairs.
When his head crested the tower’s top level he looked about quickly. The green cloaked man sat between him and the window, just the frame of his hood visible and the chair he sat upon. The edge of the chair glimmered in the sunlight—it hurt his eyes to look at it. There appeared to be nothing else in the round room.
He was about to demand of the man to explain himself again when the figure spoke.
“You are the Chosen of the Hunters,” he said flatly.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“To claim your talon, is to join with the brood. “
A torch flared to life at the edge of the room, and Drygar stepped back in shock, his head smarting as it hit the stone wall behind him. The light of the torch was unnatural, greenish and wild, but it flickered as a normal torch would. Illumined in the pale green light, he saw a sword racked to the wall. A plain iron blade with a leather grip, and a horn extending from the hilt. The ache his dreams had left him with upon waking, the hunger he had felt to possess all that the horn-blade had given him in his dreams rushed over him, and Drygar darted across the room and threw his own sword aside. He snatched up the horn-blade, its weight just the same as in his dreams. Everything about it was the same. He had it now, for real. He chuckled to himself.
“It is done.” The man—in his rush to acquire the horn-blade he had forgotten about the creepy old man. He twisted around, flourishing his new blade with a swipe. “You will tell me where you found this,” he demanded. The wariness he had felt before was gone now, and he stepped up to the chair, pointing his blade at the man’s throat. In the glow of the torch, he could see the man’s brittle, wiry beard, the deeply wrinkled folds of his face and just the trace of his motionless eyes.
“Tell me!” he roared, shoving the man with his free hand. His push met no resistance, and the man fell easily to the side, tumbling from the armless chair and into the full sunlight. He rolled over to his back, cloak flying open. A horrid musky-sweet stench like that of a dead rat trapped within a wall made him gag. The man was naked with gray desiccated flesh and patches of flaking green rot all over him. He looked as if he’d been shoveled right out of an old grave. The smell was so powerful that it made Drygar’s stomach roil, and he knew he’d be sick if he didn’t leave immediately, so he vaulted down the steps and out of the tower, into the clean air of the glade.