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fantasy novel chapter 16
questing hero novel text online

Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.


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Chapter 16

        The weather broke up; Togura Poulaan travelled through storm, wind and rain, enduring the worst which summer could bring. Once, the night caught him out in the open; he huddled in the lee of the largest rock he could find, and shivered there, sleepless, until dawn. Once he slept in a sea cave, and was washed out of it by the high tide. The next evening, harried over a hill by an electrical storm, he was close to despair when he surmounted the summit and saw, on a clifftop at the bottom of the hill, a ruinous cottage near an ancient horned cairn.
        Togura went bounding down the hill and went burrowing in through the door of the cottage. It was cold inside, with rain dripping through rotting thatch, the wind blowing in through windows now without shutters, and turbulence playing piffero in the chimney. Nevertheless, it was a vast improvement on the world outside, where thunder exploded across the sky, and forked lightning - hot as molten silver and as bright as sunrise - stabbed down through the slashing rain to the laundering sea.
        "Hello, house," said Togura.
        "Hello, Togura Poulaan," said the house - not by means of a voice, for it had none, but by embracing him with a load of rotten thatch.
        "Pleased to make your acquaintance," said Togura, brushing thatch from his hair, neck, eyes and ears; he sneezed, expelling it from his nose.
        "Gronnammadammadamyata," said the thunder, shattering the sky with a blast which shook the cottage, or what was left of it.
        "That too," said Togura, vaguely, not sure what he meant by his own words; he was exhausted, and very close to collapse.
        But, in a way, happy. For the cottage helped prove the existence of the world he remembered, which was the world he belonged to. He was approaching civilisation; soon, he would be back in the society of men - and women, too - and his disfellowship would be at an end.
        He moved to the driest spot he could find, and very shortly was asleep. And dreaming. Outside, as the thunder slowly blundered away into the distance, and the rain eased, the last of the light subsided to the sea, and was gone. Swift-moving clouds rucked across a sky of absolute darkness. At the foot of the cliff, sullen waves heaped themselves against the rocks of the Ravlish Lands, pounding home with a beat too deep, heavy and protracted for any drum to match it. Togura, accustomed to that sound, did not notice it; the surf did not figure in his dreams.
        Instead, Togura Poulaan dreamt of Day Suet. Her breasts winked at him lewdly through holes cut in the dolman which fell weeping to her feet; her eyes and her lips were smiling. She stretched out her arms to him, but he found himself floating in a meditative sea, watching the underwater world. A fish went by, hideously maimed, crabbing through the sea with blood and clear fluids scuppering out of old, old, ulcerated wounds in its flanks.
        "Kill it for pity," said Day.
        "We can negotiate," said Togura.
        Then woke, and wondered what he had meant by that. Then, alarmed, wondered who was touching his neck with such a cold, cold bony hand. He looked around, startled, tumbled head over heels like an acrobat, reached the safety of the furthest corner of the cottage, then picked up a heavy stone which he could use as a weapon. His hair, if it had not been so crabbed, knotted and dirty, would have been standing on end.
        "Who are you?" hissed Togura, menacing the glimmering skeletal figure which confronted him.
        It addressed him in a foreign tongue. Its voice was old and watery. He could see through its pearl-white armour, through the shadowy outlines of its flesh, through the harder white of its bones, and out to the walls of the cottage beyond.
        "What are you?" said Togura, attacking the phosphorescent manifestation with questions. "Where do you come from? What are you saying? How? Why?"
        The phosphorescent apparition did not flinch, diminish or withdraw. It was not an ilps. It might well be a ghost.
        "Vara vinklet venvindaanaas telyauga zon makovara," said the spirit-thing.
        "Up yours too," said Togura, recklessly.
        The spirit-thing beckoned to him. He could see, quite clearly, the bones of its hand articulating within its spectral flesh.
        "No," said Togura. "I'm not going with you. So cut it off and pickle it."
        The spirit-thing did not seem to understand his refusal, or his gratuitous obscenity. Its vocie became louder and more demanding. It took a step toward him.
        "Okay, okay," said Togura. "I'm coming."
        He discarded the stone, chose a short stabbing spear from his meagre bundle of possessions, and followed the phantom out of the cottage and into the night.
        The sky was pitchblende black, but for the light, as cold and pallid as the frigid starshine of glow-worms, which flickered around the horned cairn. That ancient burial mound, a barrow raised by forgotten peoples in the long ago - time out of mind! - seemed to be burning with cold, cold flames, which failed to consume its substance.
        A door had opened in the nearest flank of that cold-burning tumulus. Togura could see down a curving gem-bright hallway, leading down into unknown depths. He caught a whiff of roasting rotch, heard the chimes of an uncanny music, and the shouts of bright brave voices glittering with laughter.
        The phantom entered the hallway then paused and gestured with a hand now positively imperious.
        "Come!" said that gesture.
        And Togura Poulaan knew he was confronted with a challenge fit for a hero. To dare the unknown! To brave the perils of the land of death or faery! To rouse great warriors from their sleep!
        Or, perhaps - and this was experience talking - to be slaughtered without warning, and eaten.
        The phantom, growing impatient, advanced to claim Togura. He hurled his spear at it, saw it miss, then turned and fled to the night. He ran till exhaustion checked him, and then, unable to run any more, he walked. Dawn came, but he did not stop; he walked through the day to dusk, and into the night beyond.
        During the course of his flight he lost his one and only coin. He was now penniless, but that, for the moment, was the least of his worries.

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The text on this page is part of the fantasy novel The Wordsmith and the Warguild by Hugh Cook, which, when published in North America in 1988, was divided into two separate volumes, The Questing Hero and The Hero's Return. This text can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.

The Wordsmiths and the Warguild was first published in 1987. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2006 Hugh Cook.