Dragon Stone part 1
Dragon Stone     Rollo stared at the spear sticking out of his chest.

     Pain racked his body in waves. He gulped for air that didn’t reach his lungs. The orc, green with a white scar across his chin, smiled wide, teeth gleaming. It was the last thing Rollo saw as his vision faded to black. 

     Time passed, but Rollo couldn’t guess how long it’d been since he died. Blackness spit him out near a large reddish stone shaped like a dragon. The first bit of consciousness was dominated with pain. It pierced through every nerve, every muscle. It screamed in every movement, every breath. Pain. Nothing else.

     “Hush now,” a woman said. “Don’t try and open your eyes. You won’t be able to see.”

     Rollo opened his mouth to speak, and the pain attacked viciously. It won the battle, and he lost consciousness. He dreamed of writhing in agony.

     More time passed and the pain never left. He moaned.

     “Not yet, barbarian of the strong covenant, Dragon’s Breath.” The woman’s voice soothed the rough edges of the pain. “You’re barely formed. Sleep.”

     Something cool touched his skin. It should have felt good, but the pain ate everything. It seeped deep into his soul, and the nothingness came.

     Time trickled by slowly on the river of magic. He floated in it, and it passed through him.

     “You’re ready,” the woman said. “Open your eyes.”

     Rollo blinked. Colors blurred, sending shards of searing torment into his head. He screamed.

     “Hush,” the woman said, sternly. “You’ll disturb the others. It’s your first time, isn’t it? Well, get used to the anguish. It will live with you, hot as fire, for at least a month before it starts to fade.”

     Coolness touched his body. It hurt.

     “No,” he whispered. He started to shake his head, but stopped. The pain thrummed.

     “It’s just water. I’m told it’s like a lover’s caress compared to walking. They need you out there, so you must get hold of the pain.”

     He sighed and his throat burned. He couldn’t sleep. The pain held him conscious. A tear fell from his eye, but it hurt too much; he stopped the cry. The first wakeful day was the worst. He despaired in the anguish. If he could kill himself and end the pain, he would. But he’d only regenerate again, with more pain. In the moment of death he forgot about Dragon Stone. He was bonded to the lifestone, and it wouldn’t release its hold on his life until old age found him.

     Rollo didn’t realize he’d been sleeping until he woke as screams rang in his ears. At first he thought they were his, until he heard another woman talking. Murmurs sounded around the room. Pain clouded his mind, and although it distracted his thoughts, two came through. The first was that he had died. The second, that he’d been reborn from the magic of Dragon Stone. He’d been told about the pain, but words couldn’t convey the constant torture of the harrowing regeneration. It was his first time, shocking and relentless.

     “Can you see?” His caregiver asked in a soothing voice.

     He opened his eyes. It took a moment to focus, then he saw her. Long blonde hair loosely tied behind her neck, draped over her shoulders. Her gleaming green eyes reminded him of spring. She was young.

     “You were killed, and the lifestone has regenerated you. Do you remember?”

     He nodded with care not to sharpen the pain.

     “I am Mariel, your caregiver for the next few days. As soon as you’re able to walk, you must rejoin the covenant warriors.”

     His death flashed bright in his mind. The orcs attacked his band of barbarians patrolling the edges of their shrinking territory. He remembered the desperate need to hold them off while the refugees crossed over to the islands. The spear struck his chest. Blood poured out, wet and sticky, soaking into his clothing. The last thing he recalled, that hideous grin. Then, nothing. “The refugees?”

     “They made it. Rest, Rollo. Tomorrow we’ll try sitting.”

     Water flowed over his body and he slept.

     Light seared his eyelids, incense burned his nose. He opened his eyes, and pain hit him like a war hammer.

     “Drink this.” Mariel held a waterskin to his lips.

     The liquid burned his tongue, scorched his dry throat. He coughed, then screamed at the agony in his chest.

     “Not much point in screaming when it hurts as much as anything else. Pray to Din. He won’t take the pain, it’s the price of the stone, but he’ll give you the strength to endure it.” The room filled with Mariel’s song of praise.

     Rollo cringed, anticipating pain in his ears, but none came. The music washed over him, calming him in the midst of the inner fire that was existence with the stone. Praise gave the gods their power, and in return the gods cared for their people. Rollo closed his eyes and gave thanks to Din.

     Mariel’s song finished, and she instructed Rollo to sit up. She took hold of his shoulders and pulled.

     Rollo grunted with the effort. His arms shook while his stomach turned. The ordeal threatened to take him into unconsciousness.

     “Hold yourself here,” the caregiver said. “Look at me, Rollo. You must focus. Fight the delirium.”

     Rollo bit his tongue hard. Blood met the edge of pain, matching it, coating it. Rollo sat, unassisted. When had she let go?

     “Not bad.” Mariel handed him a piece of bread. “Eat this. All of it.”

     He took a bite, but didn’t chew. His mouth was on fire.

     “You have to eat to get better. Connect to the pain. It is an extension of yourself. You must learn to use it. You don’t have the luxury of laying here for a month, unless you want the orcs to sweep the city, kill you and the lifestone.”

     He glared at her, and chewed once. Then twice. His teeth throbbed, his tongue sizzled. The pain ate him as he ate the bread.

     Mariel nodded and left.

     Rollo set aside the bread. He’d eat it, but slowly. He needed time to adjust, more time than he had. Turning his head to examine the room, he surrendered. Pain became the rapids of a great river, tossing him about the rocks. He accepted it, drifted in the froth.

     Five covenant mates lay on the floor, heads facing Dragon Stone. That left only nine from his covenant active to join the others, holding back the enemy from taking the last bit of earth from them, from their neighbors pouring in for shelter and protection. Barbarian ships carried the refugees and barbarian women and children across Drafty Sea to the closest island, Firespear Shelf.

     He finished the bread, focusing his energy on accepting the pain. It was exhausting. He lay down he slept.

     “Rollo, wake up.”

     He opened his eyes.

     “Your week is up. You must stand and walk. The rest of Dragon’s Breath is waiting. The Jarl has called a meeting at Center House. Something big’s coming; they need you.”

     He grunted.

     “You don’t want to miss it, do you?”

     He didn’t know. Sitting up, he imagined the orc that slew him bound in front of an attack squad, helpless and wounded. He pictured thrusting his sword into the monster’s heart. Rollo smiled.

     “I knew it.” She nodded. “Come on, I’ll help.”

     He pushed her away, pain coursing through his arm. He fought it, and choked on the aftershock. “It’s alright,” he mumbled. Submit, let it in. Let it make its home within. Drown in it, sink to the bottom of the river.

     Rollo knelt too fast, and laid down again, staving off the darkness that threatened to take his vision. He looked at Mariel, frowning. Trying again, this time he gripped at the searing storm in his stomach, holding back the urge to retch.

     He rolled to his knees. They felt broken under a bundle of angry nerves. His muscles quivered, sweat dripped from his face. “Din give me strength.”

     Mariel sang, and the sound smoothed the jangle of nerves and eased the tension in his muscles.

     He sat back on his heels, looking up at the space he needed to stretch into. It seemed very high. “Only as high as a barbarian.” Rollo started to rise and fell over.

     Mariel didn’t approach. She sang.

     He crawled to the edge of the wooden wall. Leaning on the beams, he lifted himself off the ground, pushing with his legs, balancing with his hands. The pain roared in his ears like the mighty ocean during a fierce storm. He let the wave rock over him, bending to the current.

     “You’ve done it,” Mariel said. “My job is done.” She kneeled before one of the other men, rinsing him with water from a washbowl. She glanced back briefly. “Still here? Get going.”

     Rollo stepped toward the staircase, leaning on the wall. He concentrated on one step at a time. Every footfall felt like walking on fire. He cursed the burning, then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The pain flowed through him, and he took another step. Rollo made it up the staircase to the room above.

Continued in part 2

References: Barbarian, Orc

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