Lifeblood

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Give generously of your blood. Carve the force of life from your own flesh, bequeath it willingly to those in need... and you shall be rewarded tenfold for your kindness.
- The Book of Necromancy

Cray plucked the sword from the body of the first man, and the dagger from that of the second. He handed the first to Dazi and the second to Setka.

"What's this?" Setka said.

"Weapons more suited to battle than those daggers of yours. You were lucky these men weren't armored - anything more than boiled leather and it would be your blades that broke instead of their skin."

Dazi took the weapon with bad grace. "You would make brigands of us?"

"I would make living men out of you. These weapons are ugly enough, but they're iron, and that makes them your best choice, for the time."

"My word," Setka said, showing the dagger to his masked eyes. "Such strange times these are."

"Apt to get stranger, no doubt."

Cray paused as he passed by the body of his third man. The discarded morning star winked at him in the red sunlight.

For the enemies of God...?

But no. The mace was good steel, but it was heavy and unwieldy, and Cray had not used one for many years. Between the axe and the sword, he had the tools he needed to deal death to any man or fiend who crossed their path.

He kicked the mace from the road and walked on.

The sun grew hellishly hot as the day neared noon, as if to compensate for its absence over the past days. Cray's breastplate was soon burning to the touch, and the Fees sweated and stumbled in their black cloaks. Dazi grumbled, but never too loudly when Cray walked close.

They came upon the trade road as the setting sun was shooting blinding light into their watering eyes. The vastness of the shield became apparent to their left; to their right, a crumbling section of the great sluice. And ahead, the trade road, wide enough for a hundred horses to walk abreast - and empty enough for the same.

The earth crunched beneath Cray's boots as he stepped to the middle of the road, hands on his hips. He turned into the sun, looking west, then put it at his back and looked east. His shadow was cast fully a hundred yards before him.

"Well?" Dazi said.

Cray shrugged. His face registered nothing - not sadness or anger, relief or puzzlement - though he felt all of these and more.

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing and no-one. We'd found a ghost town - and now we've found a ghost road."

"I should be happier, if I were you," Dazi said. "Any soul we are apt to meet on this road will wish us nothing but ill."

"Perhaps. In any case, we carry on."

Dazi glanced at the brilliant sun. "Night will fall within the hour."

Cray scoffed. "And? We sought the road in darkness; we can follow it in the same. You said yourself that walking this road is madness - well, then, let us spend as little time upon it as possible."

The sun fell, and the kind moon revealed herself. The air grew cool, then cold; Setka shivered as his lungs filled with frost. He pointed his beak at the sky, mesmerized by the moon's light, wishing for nothing else but to recline in the crook of her arm.

Soon the world was too cold, and the travelers too weary, for them to carry on. They found a gap in the hills that lined the trade road and made camp. Cray wouldn't allow a fire, so they gathered their cloaks about them and shivered, pressing morsels of hard biscuit and cold cured meat into their mouths.

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