Essya turned and fled, taking advantage of her slim frame to slip between the columns of the murky tomb. The monster wasn’t small enough to follow her directly, but it would eventually figure out a way around the stone blocking its way. She stood just out of reach of its clawed hand, grasping uselessly through the gap. 

“What’s your name” she asked conversationally.

The monster howled in frustration and bit at a column.

She leaned forward a tiny bit. “What was that?” She had lived in the tombs long enough to know the difference between a howl and a word. Most of the howl had been just rage, but there was a tiny curl of a name tucked onto the end.

“Arleghhhhhhhhh!” roared the monster.

“Arlegh. Super,” said Essya. “Listen, you didn’t happen to find a small blue jewel in your travels through the catacombs, did ya?” She watched carefully as the monster’s flailing hand slowed down. It was twice her height, a quadruped with sharp green thorns covering most of its body. Near as she could tell, it was a Rooter, evolved from a mix of poorly cast spells and a particularly toxic vine. A small head jutted from the front of its body and three arms sprouted from its back. It looked like a child’s drawing of a monster come to life.

“I’m asking because I lost such a jewel last week, and I’m offering a fairly reasonable reward for its return,” explained Essay.

“You deadddddddd” snarled Arlegh. “No blue forrrrrrr deadddddd.”

“Well, now that’s a bit pot calling the kettle, given I’m not sure you can be classified as alive. I’m not dead. I’ve just got a bit of a curse and it’s affected my skin slightly.” Essya knew what she looked like. Two arms, two legs, torso and a head. Deep grey skin, cracking and dusty. Yellow glowing eyes.

A year ago, she’d been a fairly attractive wood elf. White hair, fair skin, green eyes. On a visit to her aunt’s house in the big city she’d decided to explore a bit. Down near the docks, Essya had wandered into a small door inset in a wall and found herself in the city sewers. A staff was leaning against the wall to her right, a blue jewel inset into the top. She had picked up the staff and felt a glow spread through her body, a trembling excitement. Soft whispers filled her mind, and she knew the staff was her destiny.

It had taken about a month for her to turn from winsome wood elf to desiccated living corpse. She moved to the tombs when daylight became too painful to bear and hid whenever her aunt sent hired hacks to find her. Essya was happy living with the dead. Fish from the sluggish stream running through the stone galleries fed her, along with the occasional unlucky toad. It was dark and quiet, mostly, and the monsters were easy to either outrun or outsmart.

She knew now that the staff had been cursed. She had broken it into pieces early on, back when she was fighting what was happening to her. It turned out that the blue jewel was the seat of the curse, not the staff itself. She had tried shattering it with a heavy stone, but the jewel stayed intact. 

Nowadays she couldn’t imagine living without the whispers of the gem filling her mind. She had kept the jewel tucked into a pocket inside her leather jerkin but lost it a week ago during a particularly nasty battle with a slime covered rat.

Essya could feel the jewel pulsing. It was close, probably inside the monster.  A tickling feeling rose in her, an itching yearning to hold the blue glowing jewel and gaze into its depths. She breathed in deeply. 

“Cough it up,” she said in as calm a tone as she could muster. “The jewel is mine.”

“NOOOOOO,” roared Arlegh. “Mine!” Its thorns trembled on its back. 

Essya backed up a bit more, aware that the Rooter could pop its thorns out a good meter. “I’ll give you fresh fish for a week in exchange,” she said. “Just give a good hacking cough and it will come right out.”

Arlegh lowered its body and slammed against the columns. The stone held, but a few cracks appeared. “Blue is friend! Found blue alone, save blue. Blue minnnnne!” It backed up, muttering to itself. “No fish. Fish nasty.”

“No fish, of course not. But are you a bit lonely there Arlegh?” asked Essya. “I’m happy to be your friend. We can roam the catacombs, picking fights, finding treasure, being buddies. I just need the jewel. You’re not fully changed yet so you don’t need it as much as I do.”

“No change! Arlegh perfect.”

“Of course. Absolutely perfect just as you are. But are you sure you’re not changing? Just a bit? Thorns getting a bit stiff? Beautiful green starting to dull?” Essya glanced at the cracks in the columns in front of her and made her tone more forceful. “The jewel is not a good thing to carry unless you want to end up looking like me.”

“You UGLY! Missing legs! Missing arm! Puny!”

“Indeed, all those things. But I’m a very good conversationalist and a loyal friend. You’d like a friend, right? One that won’t turn you into a husk?” asked Essya. “Give me the jewel.”

“You wrong! Blue jewel good! Why listen to tiny missing legs arm! Why give you?”

“Because I said so!” yelled Essay. “Because if you don’t I’ll hunt you down and kill you and take the blue jewel from your lifeless corpse!”

Arlegh roared and reared up on its hind legs. Its forelegs slammed into the ground and a small spark of blue flew out of its mouth and rolled to Essya’s feet.

“There is blue! No change Arlegh!” The monster crouched down and stared at Essya. “Now you friend.”

Essya snatched up the jewel and closed her eyes as its power wove through her. The whispers filled her mind and she lost herself for a moment in their undefined promises. Her skin crackled as the gem inhabited her body with its essence once again.

She opened her eyes slowly, their yellow glow piercing the gloom. “Yes, Arlegh,” she purred. “Friends for life.”

May 21, 2021 19:39

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