~ Chapter V ~

Grägok hurried through the streets, his eyes scanning the crowd for a particular face. It wouldn’t be hard to spot the shaman; he was one of few who bore colouration similar to Grägok’s own. The warrior’s dark rust, and the shaman’s bright orange were rare among the people, who seemed to have been gifted with every colour under nature. And some that seemed distinctly unnatural, as well. They had already made jokes of deciding to name themselves family, and be done with it, before people started asking.

When the general realised he was scanning for more than just Arglug’s face, he cursed to himself, and picked up his pace. Whatever was happening to him was interfering with his work, and he couldn’t have that. He forced himself to continue towards the building that the shaman had picked for himself.

The trolls were not entirely without skill. The city they had built was crude, but serviceable. And if the doors were too large, and the windows oddly set, that was survivable. There was more than enough room for the conquerors to move in.

Add to that the fact that close friendships had sprung up, and pairs and groups of friends chose to remain together, sharing the large-for-them houses, and there was a surfeit of living space available. One could live nearly where one chose, although some of the more popular areas were filling quickly.

Arglug, for whatever reason, had picked a spot on the edge of the city, nearly to the river. It seemed the shaman liked his solitude. A few others – mostly wizards – had joined him there, away from the bustle of people.

The shaman was home, and answered his door when the warrior pounded on it.

“I thought you would be coming around, sooner or later,” he said mildly, and stepped aside to let the other in. “Come and sit down.”

“What is happening to me?” the warrior demanded, as he was led to the main room. Several large cushions sat on the floor, and Grägok collapsed onto one. “I have this strange feeling, all the time… like I’m vibrating inside. Like…” He waved his hands in the air.

“Like something is missing?” Arglug sat down facing the general, and smiled slightly. “Do you know where she is?”

Grägok blinked, then thought about it. As he did, he felt a pull, and turned his head. Arglug chuckled.

“Well. That would be a ‘yes’. We knew about this, although it has never happened to one of our people before, that we know of.” Arglug shook his head. “And you seem to be one of those who can sense through it, too. That’s rare, from what our teachings say.”

“What is ‘It’, and how do I make it stop? I can’t work like this, Arglug. It’s driving me insane!” Grägok thumped his knee with his fist. “Make it go away.”

The shaman shook his head, sympathy in his eyes. “It won’t go away. You have to accept it. You can keep as you are, and banish it to the back of your mind. The teachings say that you can do this, it just takes practice. Or… you can embrace it.”

“Embrace it! What the Hate does that mean? Embrace it. What nonsense.” Grägok sniffed. “And you still haven’t explained what it is!”

“I don’t know, precisely. I told you, you’re the first. I don’t think that we, as we were, were capable of that kind of bond. It’s a sharing of souls, of sorts. Yours, and hers. You’re joined.” Arglug rubbed his chin. “We’ve been changed, and I think the change has done much more to us than alter our bodies.” He nodded as the warrior stared at him. “It’s as if our souls were shaped as well. Tell me, have you ever felt anything as deeply, as strongly as you feel now?”

Grägok shook his head slowly. He had worried that he was growing weak-willed, as these unfamiliar emotions raged within him. It never occurred to him that the others were in the same position.

“We have been talking, we shamans, with the new priests. They are learning their paths, and shaping things that will be traditions someday. But we have our own long-held traditions, and have touched the souls of our people for many long years. And what is happening to us is new.” Arglug got up, and paced back and forth. “It’s as if… we were empty boxes, suddenly flung open, and filled. It will be a great deal of learning, from all of us, to find out what we truly are now.” He smiled suddenly at the gaping warrior. “And you will be teaching us, Grägok. You and the strange bond you have made, that we have heard of only in tales.”

The shaman crossed his arms. “So you will, again, have some decisions to make.”

He watched the warrior’s gaze grow distant as he pondered, and smiled to himself.

Five days. It had been only five days since they had driven the trolls from Grobb. Five days since he had touched her, since he had held her close… He shook his head. He was doing it again.

He had been in council all day. The new council was shaping rules, laws… and he was exhausted. Faltip had so much on his plate that he’d asked Grägok to sit on council, and ensure that the military concerns were addressed properly. A task he was well suited for, truth be told. The administration seemed to come naturally to him. Faltip had even given him a title. Gaz Administrator Grägok. He rolled the words on his tongue. A fitting tribute to an old soldier.

Not that he felt old, anymore. He sniffed. He wasn’t old anymore. According to Arglug, he was just over middle aged again. How the shamans had determined what had happened, he didn’t know. Truthfully, he didn’t want to know, either. Their rituals often left him feeling uneasy.

But what had happened was simple. Their lifespans had changed. He could look forward to many more years of vigour before age took him again.

He grimaced. Well. He may not be old, but he certainly was tired. In council all day. Hunting down Arglug in the evening… It had been a long day.

He sighed and looked up at the stars overhead before setting out homeward. Homeward… He still hadn’t picked a home of his own. He wasn’t sure why, but none of the ones he had investigated had been right. For now, he was staying in what was being used as a barracks.

While much – most – of the army was reshaping itself to civilian life, some had remained, led by the Gaz. They were organising themselves further than the simple structure that had formed to the task of sacking Grobb. The Dar, too, were reshaping themselves into the defenders and guards that the city would need. He was pleased and proud that they were consulting him for help in the set up. Griblok had come to him, to ask him his advice. That one would be a good leader for them, but he was young, and didn’t have the depth of experience yet. He had the drive though, and was already shaping the Dar into a force to be reckoned with.

Shaping the Dar. He felt a twinge of envy, then laughed it away. Hadn’t he said it to himself before? Better for a younger warrior to do that. In his own way, he was shaping all of Gukta, sitting on the council for the Gaz.

He looked up suddenly, as he found himself slowing and stopping, then frowned as he recognised the place. He sighed, and his shoulders slumped. No matter how hard he tried to fight it…

He turned to walk away. He was haunting her door, as if he were a young tad about to join his first mating, waiting to catch some female in amplexus. He shook his head, and made to leave. One step, then another.

He stopped, as he felt the strange resonance within him again. It was as if he felt an echo of his own longing…

Hadn’t Arglug said he could sense through it? Was it her he felt? Her longing? He turned back, slowly. There was light in the window.

Direct action was often the best course, and in more things than just war. At least he could talk to her. Apologise for acting like a fool.

He stepped up to the door, and raised his hand to knock. He was startled when the door opened before he touched it, and she was there. She stared at him for a moment in surprise, then nodded slowly.

“Come in. Please.” She opened the door wide, and stepped back. What could he do but bow, and step inside? He looked around at the home she had chosen. It still bore the scars of the trolls’ occupancy, but much of the rude furniture had been removed. One of their benches had been transformed into a table, and a long, low chest of some sort had been covered with fabric. The addition of several cushions made it into a seat. Beside it sat a wooden tub liberated from somewhere, filled with water. He took a step closer, and looked down at the floating eggs.

“Five?” he asked in surprise.

“One withered.” Her voice held sorrow, and she went to sit, to look down into the water. “Arglug – Master Arglug – said he thinks that it had been damaged by the sword.” She fell silent again for a moment, before she closed her eyes. “We set it with the fallen, on the pyre.”

He lowered his head. She, and several other of the more powerful wizards had taken it upon themselves to see that the dead were honoured, and that there would be no replay of Guk. Each who had been lost had been blessed by one of the priests, then cremated by wizard fire. No troll seeking to reprise the Curse would find fodder for their magicks. No ghouls would arise here. The ashes had been scattered in the swamp.

When he looked up, she still sat in silence, her own head bowed. The wave of love he had felt before rose in him again, and he reached out and touched her cheek. Her skin was smooth beneath his rough fingers, and she lifted her head slowly, and looked into his eyes.

“M’jou,” he began, but as her pale eyes met his, whatever words he had meant to say were forgotten. Once again, there was a feeling that he was being pulled – and this time he went willingly. One instant, he stood before her, and the next, he was on his knees, with her in his arms. She lay her head upon his shoulder, her own arms encircling him.

“Don’t leave me,” she whispered, in an unconscious echo of his own words to her, what seemed a lifetime ago. “I love you.”

“Never,” he promised, resting his cheek against hers. “Never again. Not so long as I have will.”

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