by Tom Dillon
“I guarantee you won’t find the same quality for a cheaper price,” the merchant insisted. He held the short spear out, cradling it in his open palms like a sacred scroll.
“Do you take me for a fool?” Eamon asked. “There’s a guy on the other side of the market selling a spear twice as powerful for the same price. And that one talks.”
The merchant shrugged and replaced the spear behind the counter. “Think what you will.”
Eamon walked away, shaking his head. He made his way back to the vendor he had mentioned, and purchased the spear. The haft was made of a fine grained red wood and a little longer than his arm. The wide, leaf-shaped blade was covered in swirling runes of power.
“Ah, finally, a warrior worthy of me,” the spear said.
Eamon knew that the voice hadn’t actually spoken aloud, but existed only inside of his head, audible to him alone. He held the spear out, turned it in his hands, admired it.
“The feeling is mutual,” he said.
“I am called Zhubin,” the spear said.
Eamon repeated the word. It felt unfamiliar, but it also felt right.
“It means spear, where I come from,” Zhubin said.
“And where is that?” Eamon asked.
“I cannot remember. I am meant to look forward, not back.”
The troll was huge, standing easily twice as tall as Berach, the tallest of the group. Its skin was the green of deep-forest moss, and what Eamon had at first taken for boils on its skin were in fact patches of rock. Along the troll’s forearms and shins there were so many rock-boils that it was impossible to see even the smallest patch of skin.
“To kill this beast, you must get close. Stab it in the armpit,” Zhubin said.
“I would think the eyes an easier target,” Eamon said to the spear alone. It had not taken long to learn the trick of thinking loud enough for Zhubin to hear.
“A troll is not a creature of mind, but rather one of heart and stomach,” Zhubin said. In his mind, Eamon knew that Zhubin was right. The deep certainty was disturbing, how much of him was still him and how much was Zhubin?
“Gorik, Berach, Cillian; you know what to do,” Eamon said, cutting off his line of thought. The four of them had fought separately long before the promise of wealth had joined their causes. Gorik and Berach went left and Cillian went right, moving along the edge of an invisible circle in an attempt to outflank the monster.
It worked. Surrounded by the four of them, the troll did not move to attack.
“Now,” the spear said.
“Now!” Eamon yelled, echoing it. Gorik, Berach, and Cillian sprang forward as one. Eamon moved as well, but the spear told him to wait for a moment, and he hung back. None of the others noticed, all of their attention focused on the troll in front of them. Even fighting the three men, the troll didn’t appear to be in any real danger, when they did land a blow it ricocheted harmlessly off of its stony skin.
The troll swung its battered sword and Berach was too slow. The attack caught him in the ribs and caved his chest in before sending him flying. At the same time, while the monster was still recovering from its swing, Cillian managed to stab his sword into the back of its calf. The troll roared and turned from Berach’s limp body.
There were no words, but Eamon knew that it was time for him to attack, could feel the spear’s readiness like a sharp prod to his back. He sprinted forward, the spear lending him speed. The troll was still focused on Cillian when Eamon stabbed it under the arm. The spear had been right, there was no armor or bone there, and it went in so deep and eagerly that Eamon almost lost hold of it. The troll died instantly.
The three of them worked in silence after that. They buried Berach before taking their trophies and gathering the loot that was piled in the cave. It wasn’t until they were sitting around a fire that evening that the silence was broken.
“I saw what you did,” Gorik said.
“What?” Eamon asked.
“You waited for the troll to make a mistake before attacking,” he said.
There was no point in denying it. “Yes. But if I had just rushed in with you we would probably all be dead.”
“If you’re going to use me as a pawn, then you should at least tell me ahead of time,” Cillian said.
“You’re right,” Eamon said. “I apologize.”
“If you had told him, he wouldn’t have gone along with it,” Zhubin said.
“We don’t know that,” Eamon said, realizing only after he spoke that he had done so aloud.
“What is your spear telling you?” Gorik asked.
“That if I had told you of the plan, you wouldn’t have gone along with it,” Eamon said. He tried not to think about what that meant about the spear not telling him beforehand, either.
“It’s right on that account,” Gorik said.
Whatever their problems, they weren’t going to be solved that night. Eamon said as much, then went to sleep.
He woke up with a start. The morning sun was trying to burn its way through his eyelids, which meant that Cillian hadn’t woken him up for second watch. He sat up and looked around, half expecting to see his companions dead in their sleep, but they were nowhere to be seen. Their things were missing, too.
“To be expected, I suppose,” he said.
When Zhubin didn’t answer, he panicked and started to tear through his things. Although his clothes and share of the loot were still there, the spear was missing. He searched through his things again, even though he knew it was pointless. Finally he sat down next to the black circle that had been the campfire.
“I could go to the Adventurer’s Guild and complain, but they would be as likely to side against me as with me,” he said, falling into the habit of thinking aloud that had developed over the past few weeks.
“If I went after Gorik and Cillian unarmed, they would surely kill me.”
There was, of course, no answer. Zhubin was gone. But even with that piece of himself missing, Eamon knew that he needed to move on. It wouldn’t be long before something else moved in to fill in the void left by the death of the troll.
“I guarantee you won’t find the same quality for a cheaper price,” the merchant insisted. If he recognized Eamon, he gave no sign of it.
“I don’t doubt it,” Eamon said. “I’ll take it.” He pulled a piece of the troll’s gold out of his pouch and handed it to the merchant, who flipped it over in his hands before setting it on the scale. Satisfied, he handed the spear to Eamon. The spear had similar runes and workmanship to Zhubin, but when he held it, it did not speak. He thanked the merchant and started back towards the Adventurer’s Hall to seek his fortune.