Sellenria: The Starship and the Citadel
“Who are you?”
She appraised me evenly, as if she hadn’t just stopped a giant with an ax. “You can call me Gilwyr.”
“My name is Stenn Gremm,” I said. “I’m a scholar. I study people, and their customs and culture and history. Is there a place where people study these things or collect books and records, a library?”
“There is a university in Misthaven. It is several days of walking from here.”
“Can you give me directions to this university, and who I should ask for when I get there?”
“Do you know what you did to anger our friend Jo over there?” I admitted that I did not. “Unless you learn, you will have a very short visit. The next person you offend may not be as genial as he is. I do not believe you are even carrying weapons.”
I tried with some disquiet to picture someone less genial than the innkeeper. “I don’t see you carrying anything larger than that knife,” I countered. “How dangerous can it be?”
With an icy stare, she reached over her shoulders and withdrew two long swords and placed them on the table. They were over a meter long, with a narrow blade of a lustrous metal joined to a simple leather-covered hilt with a minimal and elegant guard. They looked sharp enough to split hairs. Curiously, they didn’t resemble any historical workmanship with which I was familiar. I captured an image with my ocular implant and sent a search daemon looking for closest matches in the compact artifact database in my backpack. If I could classify these, I might gain some clue to the ancestry of these settlers.
The great door of the inn, which I had noted on my entrance as being stoutly built from a dark, dense wood, shook to a heavy blow from outside. I nearly jumped from my seat at the thunderous sound. Gilwyr coolly picked up her swords. The innkeeper seized his ax and yelled an imprecation at the abuser of his property. The other guests arose uneasily from their seats and backed away from the door.
Another blow landed on the door, even greater than the first. The door shattered into splinters that flew across the room. A reddish-brown shape stood without, bulking taller and wider than the doorframe. It began to force its way through the opening to the sound of breaking timber. “Morghaest!” shouted the innkeeper, hurling his ax at the manlike figure. The ax embedded itself in the creature’s shoulder, pinning it to the doorframe and nearly severing its arm. The morghaest, if that was its name and not just some general curse, struggled briefly at the restraint before reaching across its body with its other hand and snapping the handle from the ax. That finished severing the arm, which fell to the floor. A new arm immediately began growing from the stump, while the creature stomped on the detached arm where it wriggled on the floor and absorbed it back into its body.
Gilwyr was across the room in a blur. Her silver blades flashed, removing the creature’s head. She kicked it out of the doorway and continued to slash, removing chunks of the beast with every motion. It was slippery progress that was set back every time a chunk rejoined the monster. What kind of creature could take such damage and reassemble itself?
“If I manage to clear the door, run!” Despite Gilwyr’s still unflappable demeanor, I could hear that she was becoming winded. There was a general movement of the others to follow her advice, though some fled up the stairs to perceived safety. I grabbed my pack and made ready to follow her sensible suggestion. As soon as I moved, however, I was the center of the morghaest’s eyeless attention.
“It wants the pack! Give it the pack!” called Gilwyr across the mayhem.
“I can’t! It has all my research in it!”
Gilwyr took advantage of the creature’s distraction and sliced at its legs. She severed one at the knee, though I wasn’t sure if it had anything like discrete joints. It toppled forward into the inn and Gilwyr danced backward in front of it. The innkeeper rushed forward, having secured a more workman-like ax from the woodpile near the hearth. He buried the head of ax deeply into the morghaest’s back. I sagged with relief that he had finished it off.
A mighty arm swept up and swatted the innkeeper across the room. I watched in disbelief as it absorbed the ax into itself and reattached its severed leg. It rose again, still headless but having regrown one arm. It had advanced into the room, leaving an opening for me to try for the door. I sidled around it, trying to hide the pack behind my body where it couldn’t see it. Sight seemed to make no difference to the creature as it rounded on me and swept me aside almost casually. I lost my grip on the pack and dropped it while staggering back across the room.
Headless, it still scooped up the pack unerringly and held it to its chest. The pack blurred at the edges. It began to crumble to sand and be absorbed into the morghaest. My notes, my analyzers, my reference library, not to mention the food and medical supplies I’d carried from the lander, and perhaps most distressingly my ansible, were lost. I wailed in despair. My link to everything I knew as civilization was gone.