When Roubris Chor picked up the corroded battleaxe, it didn't tell him its name. Even when he asked. In fact, it didn't speak at all. So he dropped it carelessly to the ground and walked on, his eyes resuming their scan of the field. He saw broken bits of armor and bones picked clean amid the tall grass, but he ignored them. He needed weapons. Specifically, a weapon that had taken a life or two.
The open field of green grass and wildflowers hid the fact that he stood upon the site of a furious battle from just a year earlier. Such battlefields covered the land of Lastwall like a pox, but it was a pox of which Roubris could make very good use with his unique talent.
A glint of metal caught the man's eye and he stooped low to get a better look. A short sword lay amid weeds and grass. Its blade bore a significant notch. If it were to ever be used in combat again, it would certainly snap in two. The hilt was simple, and the leather strips bound around it were frayed and rotten after likely spending a winter there on the ground. A semiprecious stone sat loosely within a rusted setting in the pommel. He though it likely jasper, but Roubris didn't care about much about it, for the weapon might hold a far greater value. The crossguard bore an inscription: "Never again."
Smiths were always putting meaningless nonsense on weapons. Roubris ignored the inscription and the pommel stone and instead whispered, "Hello?"
"Who? Who is there?" The voice was only in Roubris's mind, but it was clearly not his own. Though a profound baritone, the voice's female characteristics were unmistakable. As usual, it seemed far away at first, and confused, as though the speaker had awakened from a long and deep slumber.
"My name is Roubris Chor," Roubris said aloud. He didn't need to speak aloud for the spirit inhabiting the blade to hear him, but it was easier for him to manage the conversation if at least one of them was truly audible. An entire conversation in one's own head could quickly become confusing, he had found. This was certainly not his first time doing this. "I'm here to help you."
"Help me?" The voice seemed closer now. Clearly coming from the sword. The weapon, in fact, almost thrummed with its words. As always.
"Yes. I can help put you to rest."
A pause in the conversation suggested that the voice from the blade spent some time considering.
"You may not realize your situation," Roubris said. "Many of you don't. You're confused. It's understandable. You're the spirit of someone who died in battle. Do you remember your name?"
Again a pause. Then, "Nivua. Nivua Aranash." She said it as though Roubris should have heard of her. He hadn't. He never did.
"All right, Nivua. Pleasure to meet you. Here's the short version of the story, just so you know what's going on. You need to know that you died here wielding this sword. Probably about a year ago. I know, that's not easy to hear. It may not even make a lot of sense to you. You see, your weapon was primed to store a part of your soul because you used it to kill one or more of your foes before you yourself fell in battle. Now you're trapped in the sword. It doesn't happen a lot, of course, but maybe more often than you'd think.
"Don't worry," he added quickly. "I can get you out of there."
"I remember the battle," the voice said, tentatively. "I felled several of the savage orcs. They were monstrous and many, but unskilled. I remember."
"I'm sure you do," Roubris soothed. "It's the last thing that happened to you."
"Is my... is my body around here somewhere?"
Roubris looked around. "Doubtful. Sorry. The battle was a year ago. A lot can happen to a body in a year." Eaten by bugs and worms, devoured by wild dogs... "It's likely that you were pulled from the field after it was all over by your comrades or loved ones or something. They probably had a funeral for you. I'm... sure it was very nice. I'm sure you were well honored."
The voice sighed in Roubris's head. He wasn't sure if it was wistful, sad, or just trying to take it all in. Then she began muttering to herself, for lack of a better term, although it was all in Roubris's mind. He ran a hand through his curly brown hair and then across his unshaven jaw. It didn't pay to spend too much time consoling the dead spirit at this point. He needed to get to business.
Besides, the muttering was damned irritating.
"Nivua, if I'm going to help you, I need something."
Her voice sharpened. "What?"
"I need funds. Restoring you is a costly process."
"How can I... I can't pay you. How can I provide you with money at a time like this? Shouldn't a priest such as yourself help a... lost soul... simply to serve the will of the gods? How can you ask me for payment?"
"I'm not a cleric. But I know one. My talent is that I can talk to you, Nivua. No one else can."
"But I have no money. Not like this. I have nothing."
Roubris spoke in a full, forceful voice. He was alone on the field. There was no one else to hear. "You must remember something of value, Nivua. Some spoils of war secreted away for a rainy day."
Again she sighed, then remained silent for a time. Roubris waited. Finally she said, "No. No, nothing."
Now Roubris sighed. He looked into the late afternoon sky, at the billowing clouds overhead, and then at the mountains in the distance. "Well," he said, again in a whisper, "then we're going to have to do this another way."
"What does that mean?"
"Nivua, you probably took some kind of secrets with you to the grave. Everyone does."
She didn't reply.
"You probably know something about someone that he or she wouldn't want anyone to know. Some dark little secret. Everyone's got them. Trust me. Everyone. Tell me something like that, and how to find the person in question. I'll take care of the rest."
"What?" Nivua's voice shouted in Roubris's head. The small sword nearly shook out of his hand. "You want me to betray someone so that you can extort them for money?"
"They won't know it was you. They'd never suspect you. Obviously."
"I can't do that."
"I know it's hard, but you have to understand. The process for restoring you to your proper afterlife is costly, Nivua. I don't like this any more than you do, but don't you want your just reward? Don't you want to see your loved ones again in eternity? I can't help you if you don't do this. To me, getting you to the paradise you deserve is more important than squeezing a few coins out of someone who's likely not as deserving as you."
"Perhaps you could just go to my family. Ask them for money."
That never worked. "They wouldn't believe me. They'd think I was a con artist. They can't hear you, Nivua. Only I can. It's my gift. You have to trust me. I'm the only one that can save you. And you have to do it my way. I've helped people like you before. I know what I'm doing."
Roubris was patient through the next long silence. Eventually, he felt the sword throb. "All right," Nivua's voice said quietly. "I can tell you something. Give you something you can use. It's not someone's secret. I won't do that. It's a hidden cache of gold my family keeps for emergencies."
"Good, good," Roubris said aloud. "That will work fine. This is an emergency, after all. They'd be happy to know how it was spent if they truly understood."
"I still think that if you just went to them and explained—"
"No, Nivua. They wouldn't believe me, and they'd take the sword as a keepsake. You'd be trapped on the family mantle for who knows how long. You might spend eternity as a knick-knack. A keepsake they'd eventually forget to even dust. Worse, after a generation or so, you could be sold to a junk dealer by some great nephew who didn't remember who you were. You'd be melted down as scrap. At that point, I don't even know what becomes of you. Maybe you fade into nothingness with no weapon to hold your soul."
He poured it on thick, but Roubris knew that this kind of treatment usually worked.
And it did. "All right," Nivua said. "It's hidden in a box behind a loose stone in the well behind my old house. I'll tell you how to get there."
∗ ∗ ∗
Roubris pushed open the massive oak doors and walked into the temple of Iomedae, goddess of valor and justice. "I've got another one for you, Karatha."
The young priestess looked up from where she knelt in prayer. "Hello, Roubris," she said in a gentle voice. She wore the traditional white robes of her order, which did nothing to conceal her broad shoulders and muscular frame. Her long brown hair was straight and pulled back behind her head. She had an angular face. Her eyes were a soft but piercing blue. Karatha Obbaros stood and approached him.
Roubris held the notched short sword in both hands. His pants were still muddy from where he'd knelt to get at the box of gold coins hidden in the well. His jerkin was likewise filthy. He probably should have cleaned up. Probably should have entered the temple more humbly and quietly. Probably should have shown a little more reverence. He had been here so many times before that he didn't think of it. In truth, he hardly thought of the place as a temple. It was just a resource for his "business." Roubris wasn't a religious man, but Karatha was a friend and he respected her devotion. Besides, there were never worshipers or other clerics here at this time of day. He knew Karatha would be here alone.
His behavior didn't seem to put off Karatha. But then, it never did. He knew that she was aware of his activities—although perhaps not the full extent of them. She knew that he got payment from the spirits trapped in old weapons, but she probably didn't know that he sometimes extorted money from people based on the secrets he learned. At least, he hoped she didn't. And after all, he donated some of that money to the temple so that she could perform the needed rites to see the captive souls put to rest. Not all that he earned, of course, but didn't he deserve payment for his trouble? He had to eat like anyone else.
Karatha smiled and said, "A truly honorable thing. You do these lost, imprisoned souls a great service, Roubris."
Roubris felt the familiar twinge of guilt when she said that. He'd become quite adept at ignoring such twinges. He wondered for a moment if Karatha said that in order to make him feel guilty, or if she really meant it.
∗ ∗ ∗
Roubris took advantage of the clear skies and warm temperatures to return to the battlefield he had explored earlier. As the site of a struggle between the orcs of Belkzen and the human Lastwall defenders, it offered plenty of potential opportunities to use his talents.
He spent the better part of the afternoon without success. The broken and discarded weapons left behind by previous scroungers offered not so much as a whisper when he tried to speak to them. None contained a spirit.
He sat down on the grass amid a thick patch of wildflowers to eat the lunch he had brought. From his leather satchel he took out the end of a loaf of honey-baked bread, some blue cheese, and a few slices of dried venison. He ate them slowly, enjoying the flavors, and considered where to search next. Roubris washed down the meal with cold water and felt quite content. He stood, wiped his hands on his cloth trousers—and glimpsed something metallic not far away in the grass, framed by golden blooming flowers.
He stepped forward and saw that it was a longsword, designed to be wielded by a warrior of great size. The portion of the blade remaining was tarnished. Most had been broken off. He grasped it by the large hilt and lifted it to eye level to examine it more closely.
The sword spoke immediately. "I've been waiting for you."
Coming Next Week: Business takes a turn for the weird in Chapter Two of Monte Cook's "The Ghosts of Broken Blades."
As one of the primary architects of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons, Dark Matter, the d20 Call of Cthulhu system, and Monte Cook's World of Darkness, as well as the author of such notable supplements as Arcana Unearthed, The Book of Eldritch Might, Dead Gods, and more, Monte Cook has left an indelible mark on the history of fantasy gaming. In addition, he has published two novels, Of Aged Angels and The Glass Prison, and his short fiction has been featured in such venues as Amazing Stories and Game Trade Magazine. For more information, visit montecook.com.
Art by Carlos Villa.