Hey. So. In (apparently) keeping with my putting things up late, here’s a Goyle Country update from last week. Well, and a little bit from tonight, because I could. It’s about 2k words, and weird things are happening because apparently the story has a mind of its own now. I’m… not really sure where this is going. Such is the joy of a first draft. At least I got almost to the end before things decided to go off the rails and wandering about.
“No need to worry about that,” Clem assured him. “They… oh. Arbiter, Spirits tell me we’ve got company coming.”
“What sort of company?”
“The goyles you wanted to talk to, if the Spirits did like I told ‘em.”
“Let’s hope they did, for all our sakes. Would it be possible for you to spell Lonesome there? No offense, but I’d rather he talk for me than you.”
“No offense taken,” Clem sighed. “I’ll see where he’s at. If I can, I’ll send him over.”
“Everyone get ready,” Katherine spoke loudly enough for all the others to hear, “There’s goyles coming, and I don’t want to get caught flat footed if they’re not the friendly sort.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Minutes after Clem had given her warning the first Goyle appeared from behind a rock formation, spear held almost lazily over one shoulder. If it wasn’t Gravik, Katherine would eat her hat. She holstered her pistol and walked forward with a friendly smile. Gravik swung the spear down and and planted the tip in the dirt, leaving the weapon behind. The goyle’s face split into a terrifying grimace. Katherine took it for a smile.
“Gravik,” she put her hands on her hips and, knowing full well the goyle couldn’t understand her, said, “We’re in a heap of shit here, friend.”
Lonesome translated the greeting from behind her, which was a bit of a surprise, but at least it wasn’t Clem. The Spirit Talker stood beside her, listening intently as Gravik spoke.
“They know something’s come back,” Lonesome interpreted. “The Spirits are all having a fit about it. Seems to have kicked off some sort of internal fighting. Some of their elders want to go to war and destroy it, some want to protect it, and others want to stay neutral. Gravik’s band want it stopped. Sounds like Hevak thought we were dead.”
“We just about were,” Katherine nodded. “Fill him in, Lonesome. Let him know we still want to help, but we can’t do it alone.”
He did, taking Gravik through the entire encounter with Dorean and the results of the meeting. Katherine could almost following along, marking when Lonesome got the part about Clayton losing his arm by the way the Goyle looked over at the former bandit.
“Our friend here says he can help,” Lonesome translated as Gravik began to speak again. “Hevak the Speaker has a plan.”
“Good,” Katherine was glad to hear it. “I like plans. Until they fall apart, anyway. So what is it?”
“We’ll have to meet with Hevak. He won’t say more than that.”
“Fair enough,” Katherine allowed. “But the more time we waste the less optimistic I am about us all living through this. Can Clayton get moved?”
“Not until the Spirits are finished.”
“How much longer?”
“Should be ready to go by tomorrow morning. I know it’s a while to wait, but…”
“We’ll risk it,” Katherine decided. “Is Gravik willing to stick around?”
“They’ll guard the perimeter,” Lonesome relayed after a quick exchange. “Make sure none of their wrong headed friends get too close.”
Clayton woke in the middle of the night feeling parched and achy. The stars burned bright above him, undimmed by campfire or lanterns. A cool breeze swept through the Bandlands, and it carried soft whispers to Clayton’s ears. The rest of the posse lay around him, curled under blankets and lost in the embrace of sleep while they could.
The tree he was sitting against was incredibly uncomfortable. The bark bit into the skin of his back through his shirt, but that was nothing compared to the insanity inducing itchy fire that consumed his arm. Oh… his arm. He remembered seeing the flesh seemingly melt away from the bone, leaving the appendage stripped almost bare.
He raised his arm in front of his face in the dark, examining it closely. Everything seemed to be there, fleshy fingers and all. When he poked the palm with another finger he found the skin was as tender as if he’d scrubbed at it with lye and a bristle brush. But hey, it was there, and that was the important part.
He was halfway to standing before he realized that’s what the whispers were telling him to do. Stand up. Walk away. Go into the Badlands. Leave the others behind.
Only, that was a bad idea wasn’t it? The last time he’d heard those whispers they made him touch the bones in the box. He’d lost an arm… only, now it was back?
Others whispers joined in, asking him where he was going, why was he leaving, he should go back. Go back? Clayton stopped walking. He didn’t remember having started. He blinked and looked around. He was far from the tree, headed away from camp and out into the Badlands.
“Where are you going?” A solid voice, not a whispers, asked from the night.
“I don’t… I’m not sure. They told me to go?”
“Who told you?”
Clayton squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed at the sides of his head. “The, uh. The whispers. Can you hear them?”
“I can. Don’t listen to them.”
“Erg. I don’t… I can’t…”
“Look at me.”
Clayton turned, trying to see who was speaking to him. He saw nothing, until a shape moved in the night. A large, hulking shape. It took another step closer, and Clayton could clearly make out a Gargoyle.
“Look at me,” it told him. “You should go back. If they tell you to leave, do not listen. It is dangerous.”
“How?” Clayton asked, aghast. “Why can I understand you?”
“That,” Clementine spoke from behind him, “Is a very good question.” Clayton turned, and Clem’s fist put him back into quiet unconsciousness.
Katherine looked down at Clayton in the light of the morning sun. “He was what?”
“Talking to a goyle out there,” she repeated, gesturing to the open expanse of the Badlands. “One of yours, thankfully. Speaking perfect First Words.”
“First of all,” Katherine corrected her, “They’re not mine. They just happen to be on our side right now. Either of you ever hear of somebody just up and learning how to speak to Spirits like that?”
Lonesome raised his eyebrows. “Overnight? No, never.”
“It’s not like Spirit Talking is something you just know how to do,” Clem added. “It takes time to learn, and the Spirits are the ones doing the teaching.”
“Which makes this a might worrisome,” Katherine mused. “The goyle he was talking to said it was the Spirits calling Clayton out into the Badlands. What if, when they were fixing his arm, they did something else to him? Made it so he could hear and understand them?”
“Not saying it isn’t possible,” Lonesome told her, “But I just don’t see why they would. They’ve got two Talkers right here who can understand them.”
Hawkins ambled over to where the three of them stood in a small circle. “Arbiter? He’s awake. He tried to say something, but I don’t understand a bit of it.”
They were keeping Clayton under close watch now. Deputy Walsh sat across from him, rifle on his knees. The moment Clayton saw them he started babbling. Katherine had been around Lonesome long enough to recognize First Words when she heard them.
“Merciful Mother,” Lonesome breathed.
“He’s talking like he was born to it,” Clem added. “Sounds just like… aw hell.”
“What?” Katherine asked, frowning.
“Sounds just like a Spirit,” Lonesome provided.
“Worse than that,” Clem told him. “He sounds just like the thing that killed Dorean. When we talked to it in it’s prison it spoke First Words, but with an accent. One just like he’s got.”
“Yeah,” Lonesome nodded. “I hear it now.”
“Are you telling me,” Katherine asked, “That the thing we need to kill is talking through him?”
Lonesome and Clem shared a thoughtful look. “No,” Clem said at last. “I mean, I don’t think that’s what this is.”
“But who knows what sort of side effects there are for getting chewed on by some ascended evil God Spirit.”
Katherine looked to Clayton, who had stopped trying to talk to them while they had their discussion. “Is he dangerous?” she asked.
“In that he can ask the Spirits to do things, like we can,” Lonesome answered. “But there’s a difference between knowing the words and knowing how to use them. Just cause he can speak the language doesn’t mean he’s all that persuasive, and the Spirits can be particular about how they’re spoken to.”
“So we don’t need to gag him,” Katherine followed up.
“Wouldn’t call it necessary,” Lonesome decided. “Still two of us and one of him, after all.”
“All right then,” Katherine said. “So what’s he saying?”
“For starters it sounds like knows exactly know much trouble he’s in here,” Clem said. “And it sounds like he can still understand us just fine. Ain’t that right, Clayton?”
Clayton took his cue and rattled off some more words Katherine couldn’t understand.
“Yup,” Clem confirmed. “He just can’t talk in anything other than First Words.”
Katherine considered the situation. “All right, we’ve wasted too much time here as it is. If he’s no danger then let’s get moving. Lonesome, keep an eye on him. Don’t take any chances.”
Gravik took them to the cave filled butte where Hevak and so many other goyles lived. If the place had reminded Katherine of an insect hive before, it was more so now. Goyles were everywhere, many of them armed with spears and clubs. Word must have reached ahead of the group, though, since none of them looked twice at the group of humans in their midst.
Hevak met them at the entrance to the caves. The Speaker greeted them in goyle speak, this time forgoing whatever trick it had used to allow Katherine to understand last time. Lonesome handled all the speaking while Clem hung back and stayed next to Clayton.
“Don’t you worry,” she told him. “Whatever’s got into you, we can set it right. The goyles know what they’re about.” He just nodded morosely, having decided not to speak unless he needed to.
After introductions and an explanation of the situation Hevak led them all into the butte. They were split into groups and bidden to stay in separate spaces. Clem and Clayton were put into one. Hawkins, Walsh, and Carter were put into another. Lonesome and Katherine were taken together with Hevak. Like before the tunnels twisted and turned so much that Katherine was completely lost, and the only illumination was the soft glow of the strange mineral deposits in the walls.
The air got heavier the further they went, becoming dense and musty. They saw fewer and fewer goyles in the tunnels. Between that and the feel of the air Katherine got the feeling they were going somewhere deep inside the butte, a place even those living here had mostly forgotten about.
When they came to it the first thing Katherine noticed was the door. An actual square door, on hinges, moulded into the rock.The carvings on it reminded her of the door to Dorean’s great hall, and for the first time she wondered if the goyles weren’t the original inhabitants of the space. Hevak opened it for them by placing its formidable claws between the door and the frame and pulling. It was a feat Katherine was certain she could never manage on her own. Given a long enough crowbar, maybe, but definitely not with her bare hands.
She hadn’t thought it possible, but the air beyond the door was even more musty than that of the hallway outside. Air aside, the chamber beyond was simply amazing. The veins of glowing mineral that ran in traces across the walls converged at a single point on the ceiling above, and from that point hung an immense crystalline structure that served as a natural chandelier. Between it and the walls the room was brightly lit, with not a shadow cast.
“It looks like a temple of some kind,” Lonesome observed. Katherine agreed. But if it was a shrine, to what gods? Not any she knew of. Statues rose from floor to ceiling, depicting alien beings with strange proportions eerily similar to the thing she’d seen absorbing Dorean. Between statues the walls were inscribed with murals depicting what must have been what the goyles described as the people who came before. They were shown commanding spirits, using them to build their great city, destroying their enemies, and more. In one she could swear there was a scene that looked like they were creating large, blocky people that slowly became more refined until, at last, they looked like Gargoyles. And as she followed the murals around the room they culminated in what had to have been the ascension – an entire people attempting a jump to godhood. In the mural they succeeded. In reality she knew it had gone somewhat differently.