The Mystery of the Black Nail Part Two
By: Walter G. Esselman

The Mystery of the Black Nail Part Two by Walter G. Esselman

Painfully boring. That was the only way to describe guard duty. Painfully boring. He listened to the storm outside and stared at the top of the stairs. The stairs did not move. Nothing moved. Despite the walls of corridor, the cold wind seemed to cut right through.

Gideon cupped his hands in front of him and blew a small flame into them. It cut through some of the cold, but not all of it. There were noises outside too. Noises that sounded like the dead trying to claw their way into the fortress. Gideon immediately wished he had not had that thought.

Suddenly he stiffened. He turned back towards the fortress. It wasn't that he had heard something, it was more that he had not heard something. He swung his staff—the Pigsticker—in front of him and moved slowly into the fortress. Around the burning fire pit, Regent, Pavataro and the rest slept on the ground.

No Romo, Gideon thought. He scanned the inside of the fortress, but didn't see him. Gideon moved over to a big pillar to give himself some cover. He stopped for a moment. Barely breathing, he waited.

Something moved. On the far side of the room something darted in the shadows. Gideon did not move, but just waited, patiently. This had been part of his training with Regent. Sometimes, Regent had him beat up the straw dummies in the courtyard, but other times he taught the boy the value of stalking his prey.

Picking up a rock, Gideon flicked it into a far corner. It clattered against the wall, and there was an odd hissing noise followed by a skittering. The noise moved quickly behind the fountain and out of sight. Gideon waited. Slowly, the creature moved around the fountain. It was out of the fire's light, but it looked almost like a monkee from the land of Cor'avadrincmate.

It slithered onto the table above Regent. Suddenly, it leapt off the table to pounce on Regent. Gideon jumped out.

"Regent!" cried the boy, but his mentor was already moving himself. He rolled aside drawing his sword. Bracing the pommel of the sword on the ground it stuck straight up in the air. The creature dropped right onto it.

Gideon got two steps towards Regent before something dropped on his back from the pillar above. It screeched in his ear.

But Gideon remembered his training.

"Grab me from behind around the neck," said Regent in a lesson, not too long ago. Gideon had done so, though Regent had to bend down because the boy was short for fifteen.

"What do…," started Gideon when Regent grabbed his arm and threw the boy over his shoulder. Gideon landed on a mattress with a whuff.

The creature tightened its arm across Gideon's throat, but the boy did not panic. He grabbed the creature's arm—just like he'd practiced—and sent it flying over his shoulder. The creature bounced across the floor, but it quickly recovered and hopped up onto its feet. The thing bared its big, pointy teeth.

Unfortunately for it, Gideon was already moving forward. He swung his staff and caught the creature smack across the knees. It spun forward and hit the ground hard. Giving a low groan, it did not get back up.

Moving forward, Gideon ran towards the fight. The creatures were all over Spike. Gideon hit one on the head and knocked it off him. He tried to swat the rest off, but two more jumped on the boy. One of them snapped its teeth at his nose.

Gideon held up his staff to ward it off. The other was holding on to his middle slowing him down. He noticed—for one moment—that there was a depression on the top of its head, almost like a bowl, and it was filled with water.

The boy tumbled backwards, but as he did so, he rolled onto his back kicking up at the creature trying to take off his nose. Gideon caught the creature in the stomach and sent it flying over his head.

As the beast disappeared, the boy drove his staff down on the other creature and whacked it soundly in the side of the skull dislodging some water from its head bowl. It slumped to the side.

Getting up, Gideon ran back to the fight.

Spike was gone. He had been there just a moment ago. He saw Fish go down. Two of the creatures were dragging him towards the fountain, and—as they did so—more came out of the water.

The fountain! he realized. Gideon had to close it up. He looked around in vain for something big enough. The tables did not look sturdy enough.

There was a flash of lightning, which was followed by a peal of thunder. The light illuminated the statues above for a moment.

Jumping up, Gideon bounded for the statues, but he was hit from the side. He tumbled to the ground banging his head. His vision blurred for a second.

"Sweet meat," whispered a voice in his ear as the creature drooled. Gideon fumbled for his Pigsticker. The creature opened its mouth nestled with pointy teeth.

"Gangway!" cried a voice. The dragon equivalent of a freight train hit the creature and sent it spinning into the darkness.

Pavataro stopped and shook the clinging creatures off his back, like a dog shaking off water. "Damn things."

"Got plan," murmured Gideon.

Pavataro picked him up and gave him a little shake, which oddly cleared his thoughts. "Can't be as much fun as my plan."

"Which is?" asked Gideon.

Pavataro grinned and dove back into the fight.

"Charge!" bellowed the dragon as he knocked the creatures aside.

"Right," said Gideon, he grabbed his Pigsticker. He jumped up along the wall using the nooks and crannies to move up. He reached the lip of the hole in the roof. He saw that Fish was almost to the fountain. Swinging up and through the protective rain barrier, Gideon burst into a storm of rain and lightning. The sound was almost deafening, and his vision was obscured by the driving rain.

With a touch, the blade—secreted in the top of the Pigsticker—popped out.

Slicing through the air, Gideon cut upward through one of the statue's legs. It dropped towards the fountain, and it missed completely.

Down below, Regent was feeling old. Either these things were really tough, or he was losing his edge. He hoped it was the creatures. He punched one as it jumped at him, and then he skewered another with his blade. But a third one had jumped on his back. He tried to shake them off, but they wouldn't budge. He saw motion above.

With a grunt, Regent jumped up and backwards and landed hard on his back, which screamed in protest. The creature's grip was slack for only a moment, but it was enough. Regent rolled aside as the statue dropped on the stunned creature. He looked up at the ceiling. Gideon knelt through the rain barrier and blinked down.

"Would you not drop statues on me!" shouted Regent as he skewered another creature.

"Sorry!" cried Gideon as he ducked back inside. But Regent didn't hear him because the creature he had stabbed moments before was standing back up and grinning.

"Oh crap," said Regent.

Up above, Gideon ran to the next statue. He'd have to cut and guide it this time. Then he froze. Fish was on the edge of the second tier of the fountain. They were trying to drag him down pulling on his coat. Gideon was paralyzed. He couldn't drop the statue on Fish's head.

Fish twisted quickly and dropped out of his coat. He rolled off the edge of the fountain as the creatures fell back in the water. Gideon had seconds. He sliced upwards through the statue's shins.

"Sorry," he muttered as he jumped up on the statue's back and pushed it towards the fountain. He and the statue dropped through the rain barrier shooting straight for the fountain. Gideon saw two creatures emerge from the water, and they looked surprised at the statue dropping towards them.

Leaping upwards—away from the statue—he saw the stone form of the ancient king drive itself straight into the fountain. He landed on the legs of the statue, after it stopped moving, and smiled to himself about a job well done. Then one of the many creatures still loose in the fortress, jumped at him.

Regent flipped back as a creature tried to bear him down, but he threw it off. As he turned to get up, he noticed another creature that was down. It was the one that Gideon had first knocked over, but it seemed dead. Looking closer, Regent saw that the bowl in the creature's head was empty of water.

There was a screech as the creature, which he had thrown off, scrambled towards him. He swiped the flat of his blade against the creature's legs and knocked it down. As it started to clamber up, Regent grabbed it by the legs and upended it. The water in the creature's bowl drained out and suddenly it made a dry, breathy gasp and stopped moving.

"The WATER!" shouted Regent, and he ran towards the fight. "Tip them over and pour the water out of their heads."

"Why didn't you say so earlier?" demanded Pavataro as he snatched one by the legs. He whipped it around like a cudgel hitting other creatures until its water was gone.

*

Gideon dragged over the last of the leathery monkee creatures and dropped it in a pile with the rest. The storm had broken just before dawn.

"Kappas," said Regent.

Confused, the boy looked up at him. "Huh?"

"They're called Kappas," went on Regent. "The bowl of water in their head is their strength."

"Definitely not like Lunchmeat," grinned Pavataro to Gideon. "His head ain't his strength."

"Quiet you," said Regent to the dragon. And then he looked around. "This mission went from bad to worse, but at least we now know what happened to our team."

"Romo? Spike?" asked Gideon.

Regent just shook his head.

"And I left my post. I wasn't supposed to," said Gideon worriedly. "Am I going to get in trouble for that?"

"It'll be beatings for you," grinned Dirigible maliciously, and the boy looked stricken.

"No, there won't be. It was your clumping about that woke me up before that monkee thing took off with my face," laughed Regent. "Which I am fond of."

"Clumping? But I was trying to be stealthy," said Gideon.

"It's okay," said Regent, and he patted him kindly on the shoulder. "You helped."

"What about me?" asked Pavataro.

"Like a runaway siege machine careening wildly through enemy forces," said Regent.

Pavataro grinned at this, and his tongue lolled out.

"Brigadier!" called out Fish from the corridor.

Regent ran over with everyone else hot on his heels. Fish was bouncing up and down excitedly and pointing towards the water.

"What is it?" asked Regent.

"Food?" asked Pavataro.

"Look! Look!" cried Fish, and Regent saw what the young soldier was looking at.

Out in the harbor was a boat.

"That's the Ravenwire! Captain Ironheel's ship!" cried Gideon.

"I knew I should've taken his ship," said Regent shaking his head. He turned to Pavataro. "You could fly me out to his ship, right?"

"He's not a pack mule," said Gideon.

"You're right," said Regent. "In this instance, he's military transport."

Pavataro smiled. "Military transport. I like it. Okay, where do we do this?"

Regent walked back inside heading for the fountain. "You all head down the Nail. I'm going to secure passage off this blasted island, and when we return, we will be in full force and this wretched fort will be ours. It's too important. Pavataro?"

Pavataro picked up Regent and they flew up and towards Captain Ironheel's ship.

Landing on the deck of the Ravenwire, the dwarf captain ran up to him. "Thank the Goddess that you two are safe," said Ironheel, but then he grew worried. "Gideon?"

"He's safe," said Regent quickly.

Ironheel deflated. "Thank the Goddess again. I was so worried."

"I'm afraid it is my fault," said a voice to the side. Tai–Fa walked up shamefaced.

"Why is that?" asked Regent.

"If I hadn't predicted the storm…," said Tai–Fa.

"Did you give the order to leave?" asked Regent.

"What? No!" said Tai–Fa in surprise.

"Then we are fine," said Regent.

"See, I told you he'd understand," said Ironheel with paternal kindness to Tai–Fa, and then he turned back to Regent. "You should've seen the poor boy. He was so worried. I was too, for that matter."

"Well, it was a bit hairy on the inside," said Regent. "We ran into some Kappas."

Ironheel spit on the deck. "Bloody monsters."

"They won't be bothering anyone, anytime soon," said Regent. "But right now, we'd just like to go home."

"And be fed," interjected Pavataro hopefully.

"That wouldn't hurt either," smiled Regent. He saw Gideon and the others schlepping the supplies back down the Nail. "Something hearty. These boys are growing."

THE END

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