By Gerry Torbert
If Darmon felt as if he had left a piece of his soul in Keller, he was right. No one could come away from such an encounter untouched - if he did, he wouldn't have a soul to begin with. ...is that what a soul is for, Slayer?... to be used up, to be given to those who need it... do some of us die only when we've lost enough of it to make us no longer contributors to others...maybe, Darmon... but how does that explain others who become better people as they grow older... they die, but with more of a soul than they had before... hmmm... maybe we shouldn't define a soul as goodness, but a power within... an evil one would not be soulless, but rather have an evil soul... does a hideous Orc have a soul?... watch where you're going... and the Drow... they seem to have purpose, but not the same as you and I, do they have a so... watch where you're GOING!
Darmon woke from his ponderings as he stumbled over some rocks in the darkness. ...I have to learn to listen to you... He picked himself up from the pile of stones and brushed the dust from his kilt. He remembered the map of this part of the road, now - the way between Gearasdan Araich ("Battle Fort"), clan of the Tavishes, and Eahrcnoc, home of the Duffs. Clearly, the most direct road to home would be through the home of the Tavishes. But he felt he had a little time to spare and had never traveled to the fabled Duff clan. If he was to become a leader of the Stuarts, he should at least become familiar with some of the other clans - he may have to deal with them in the future. Besides, he wasn't in the mental condition for going home just yet. The sting of seeing a family wiped from human memory would have been enough to bring any man to his knees - the idea that it happened because of him was even worse.
He recalled some of the Duff clan history. Being the most south-easterly of the clandoms, it bore the brunt of any military actions thrust upon Creagland. Many of the battles in the Civil War were fought on their land, and Zeland presence was felt there more than other regions, if for no other reason than their proximity. But a feeling of evil and foreboding permeated this region. Sarumvest was situated further to the northeast, a dark plain of woods and undead. The Battleplain itself bordered Eahrcnoc (Creagish for "Eastern Rocks") and Chadlighe ("The Lawless"), home of the Lewis clan. This "communal" burial ground of warriors cast a pall of fear and evil over the land, a feeling of helplessness toward ancient powers that gripped men's consciousness. After little consideration, he turned toward Eahrcnoc - it sounded like he might have a lot in common with them.
The Duffs were unique to Creagland in more ways than just their preoccupation with strife. Two centuries ago the clan leaders endured several generations with no sons born to take the reins as Clan Father. An unprecedented situation, there was no predetermined method for handling this, so a particularly strong-willed woman assumed the role of Clan Mother. As early battles proved, the women of this clan were found to be better suited to handling battle than were the men. The birthing anomaly continued, perhaps through genetic dominance, and as it did, the women were trained more for battle and actually grew stronger than the women of other Creagish clans.
Presently, both men and women assumed equal roles in policing their large castle and administering the septs, or minor families and clans living within their district. No thought was given to having a son for Clan Father, as the tradition of leadership changed and that honor was bestowed upon the eldest daughter of the first line of Duffs. Men and women both fight equally as mercenary help in other lands, as they did in the Civil Wars. Little interest does the clan leadership have for the internal strife between the Caembuhls and Donalds, or for that matter, any of the other skirmishes that seemed to occur. And the leader was quite a personality in her own right.
According to stories told around campfires, Osage Duff, the ninth in the string of Clan Mothers, grasped the leadership both through daring in battle and some dubious means. Rumors have it that she cleared the path by killing two of her sisters; or that she poisoned her own mother to accelerate the process; or that she challenged her cousin to a duel. By any means, she would be a good friend to fight alongside, or a bad enemy to fight against. It had been theorized that a woman can be more ruthless in battle than a man. Darmon's interest in the theory had been piqued - he didn't have any fear of dying, so he might as well find out more for himself.
The road was a well-defined path along the shores of Loch Brech. The lake took on the character of its people as the morning light barely cracked its moody surface. The hills to the east made sure it stayed gloomy for most of the morning, and the dark banks lent a mystique to its shoreline. He encountered a few travelers along the way, as this was the main thoroughfare to Gearasdan Araich. Several were women, among the tallest and strongest looking women Darmon had ever seen. The blue and tan of the Duff plaid was well displayed in several instances, but Darmon felt that the colors were unrefined compared to the Stuart red and black. None of the inhabitants so far sported a facial tattoo such as his, which seemed to cause the travelers some bewilderment. He wondered to his sword about the decision to come here.
He could see the castle from quite a distance away. It was quite large, easily as extensive as any other in Creagland. Made of grayish stone and lacking any aesthetic features, it cast a palor of gloom over the valley that was consistent with its inhabitants. But what it lacked in beauty was offset by the utilitarian nature of the structure. Arrow slits and murder holes dotted the ramparts, which were strongly built of large stone at the top of each embattlement. This building style was difficult to accomplish cheaply, but was more capable of resisting projectiles from siege machines. The towers were built keystone-upon-keystone, using the strongest features of bridges in creating sturdier walls. It looked strong enough to resist most assaults from orcs or men.
The portcullis could be seen partially hanging from the entrance and consisted of thick, heavy iron spikes that meshed into a threshold of iron bars sunken into the ground. Most of these features were only appreciated from a slight distance, however, as a deep, dark moat surrounded the castle. Apparently some of the Abhainnifrinn ("Hellish River") had been diverted to surround the castle and form the moat on its way to Loch Brech. Quite a fitting accompaniment to the already foreboding look, thought Darmon.
He walked across the massive drawbridge to the open gateway. Several guards were busily inspecting packages carried by a farmer - paranoia seemed to be the most common feeling here. As he approached, one of the guards looked up and turned to several others, who broke free from the search of the harried man to harass the newest victim of their boredom.
"Wha' say, men? Great day, isn't it? May I gain passage ta yer fine city?" Darmon always seemed to be able to find the right words to soothe the beast, even though it hurt to refer to this dark stronghold in lighter tones of gray.
The first guard, apparently the sergeant of arms, stepped forward and looked him over. "A Stuart, eh? Long time since I've seen one o' ye. State yer business, mon."
Darmon looked him over, as well. The tan kilt of the Duffs hung from his hips with well-flattened pleats, each fold carefully matching a blue stripe. It gave the appearance of tight blue with tan stripes until he moved, and Darmon appreciated the fine look of a man who hadn't seen any real military action, perhaps for years. The sporran hung low, adorned with fine horsehair tufts, furthering accentuating the fine dress of a soldier whose primary job has been reduced to pecking away at poor farmers at a castle's gate. At his side was a scabbard filled with a fine sword, a little over half the length of Slayer and with no nicks or scratches. ...harrumphf!... city sword... silly... Now, Slayer... it's just for show... "Here on a long trip, sir, headed back ta Slaughbaetha. Thought I'd stop in and meet me neighbors, as they say. Never met yer Clan Mother, thought it be time..."
An eyebrow went up as the sergeant smiled, looking around at his men, who smiled back. "Quite forward, air ye? Wot makes ya think she wants ta see the likes of ya? I mean, a road-dirty warrior, just walkin' up ta the door, she 'as business o' 'er own, soldier. Who shall I say 'as come ta call?" He looked around to his men, who began to chuckle at his jovial disrespect.
"Darmon Stuart, First in Line."
The sergeant's eyes widened as the other guards stopped their chortling. "Oh. And I suppose that's the famous Dragonslayer?" His tone quieted somewhat. ..."Yes, I am. Care meet me up close?... Darmon winced at the sword's brashness, admonishing him. But the guards all heard him, and Darmon's lips never moved. A chill cut through the sergeant, as the hairs stood up on his arms. "The Duff Clan House is straight ahead, sir."
Darmon nodded and walked forward as the others stepped aside. He continued to the clan house, a stone structure with all the drab features of the castle but with less warmth. He raised the drab, heavy iron knocker a few times to announce his arrival. The door opened through the efforts of a rather scrawny young boy into a stone foyer. "G'day, lad. I've come ta see the Clan Mother. Be she in?"
The youngster was struck by the size of the Stuart, and partially frightened by his tattooed face. He turned to announce the strange man but had no words. A woman came to the door to assist him, and her reaction was also one of incredulity, but managed to ask his business. "I know I'm unexpected, but would ya mind askin' the Clan Mother if I might 'ave a word wi' 'er? Just tell 'er..." he thought for a second, then with a slight shrug, "... it's Darmon Stuart. She may o' 'eard 'o me, lass."
Apparently this woman had. Her jaw dropped as she searched for some words to fill the silence. She was a lovely woman, half a head shorter than the Stuart, and well muscled, sporting a long woman's skirt, a version of the Duff kilt. Her fire-red hair was braided and the braid wrapped around her neck and tied, much like a noose. She looked as if, in a moment of battle, she could defeat many of the orcs Darmon had fought. But she was out of her league now - a true legend stood at the door. "Uh...wait 'ere a minute, sir... we weren't expecting anyone here today... uh... just a min..." She turned and walked down the hallway into the main room.
Darmon waited patiently, but not so his sword ... just remember, I was set against coming here... there's something wrong here... just can't place my hilt on it... the Creag ignored him - there wasn't much he could do about it now...
The door was opened fully by the Clan Mother herself. She stood nearly six feet high and at first blush seemed entirely capable of any of the rumors that were spread. Darmon's first thought was the old saying "rode hard and put away wet," usually in reference to clothing or a horse's saddle with a very weather-beaten look. He expected a chuckle, or at least a reaction of some kind from Slayer, but the sword remained silent.
Osage Duff was well-muscled, without the thin layer of fat that often softens and hides a woman's muscle tissue. As she moved one could see the ripples beneath the surface of her thin, dry skin, and those areas that were most pronounced were those Darmon would expect to see predominant on the body of a warrior - the neck, the shoulders, the triceps. Even her pectoral fibers were evident beneath the open-armed shirt she wore, dwarfing her breasts. In all, Darmon got the impression of not only a potential fighter, but one who had seen a lot of action, two assets that were not often seen in the same person.
But the faces of so many people he had met tended to be the window to the soul, or at least the cover of the book of a person's life. If it was so in this case, he would soon be speaking to someone who was, indeed, driven hard. Still a strong face, the lines at the corners of her lips and eyes were etched from pain and suffering, but her sullen look suggested the anguish they belied was not hers ...maybe this is what Slayer is feeling... and her dark, slightly sunken eyes indeed lent a smidgen of candor to the stories and rumors. Despite her features and her long, coarse graying hair, she was somewhat attractive. To others, he thought...
The Slaughbaethan was the first to break the uneasy silence. "I believe I 'ave the pleasure o' addressin' the Mother of the great Duff Clan, herself? My name is..."
Osage finished the sentence with a smile. "...Darmon Stuart, First in Line of the Stuart Clan. Your legend precedes you, warrior. Your tales are told from the northern reaches of the McLeods to here, in Eahrcnoc. Surely you grace our threshold. Please come inside and meet my family."
Darmon was quite surprised that such a greeting could come from one who looked so gruff. True, there is a lot of responsibility in handling the reins of a kingdom or clan, and one has to be able to turn on the charm at will. He followed her into the main hall, a room of cavernous proportions not entirely commensurate with the appearance of the building from the outside. Although it was kept darker than he would have liked, it was well appointed. Paintings framed in fine wood adorned the hall, apparently all of famous Clan Mothers of the past. Under each was a full suit of battle armor, and from the look of them, they were original to each of the matriarchs.
The arched ceiling rose above the outer walls into relative darkness, then dove from there to a central column of stone. It was an architectural faux pas for a main room, he thought, as it interrupted the line of sight. It did provide much more room, as it allowed double the arch length, but added to the dark, empty feel of the building. ...perhaps it was fitting, made for a somber clan that knew little peace... Each of their footsteps echoed with quite a clatter about the grandiose room.
They approached the main dining table, situated off to one side of the room. Around it was seated almost a dozen children, all about thirteen to fifteen years of age; all but two were female. The boys were not much larger or stronger. Their clothes were older and more tattered and seemed to be more backward and less aggressive. The woman who answered the door the second time, whom Darmon assumed was a teacher, sat with them. As the mother and fighter approached the table, she rose, addressing the class.
"Children, I want to introduce someone to you, if I may...," she said, looking to Osage, who nodded, "...just to prove that all of Creagland's heroes aren't just stories, this is Mr. Darmon Stuart of Slaughbaetha, he who rid our land of the evil dragon Gark'Aahs." Their little jaws dropped as they looked at the huge fighter. One of the girls immediately raised her hand, and Darmon nodded to her. "Mr Stuart, what was it like to be in the mouth of a dragon?"
Darmon smiled. "It's very dark, lass. Very wet, an' very scary. It's a good place ta stay out o', an' it's better ta talk 'er out o' hurtin' people."
"Were you scared?" asked another, after waving her arm. Darmon folded his massive arms across his chest and looked serious. "Yes, I was. Anyone would o' been. But ya canna let yer fear tell ya wha' ta du, lass. Always remember tha'."
Osage interrupted. "Now class, I'm sure Mr. Stuart is tired and has a long way to go, so that will be enough questions." The children obediently, almost fearfully quieted down and lowered their hands, looking back toward the teacher, who continued with her class. The Mother continued walking toward the rear of the hall, Darmon in tow.
Darmon noticed the looks of the children as the teacher introduced him. Their faces shone, seeing somewhat of a hero in their eyes come alive. He felt it was important to them to touch and speak to a legend in such a world as Nurion. There were enough things in the world that didn't follow the laws of nature, and children such as these should see what people could do against the power of magic and the unexplainable.
But it seemed the Clan Mother was a little hesitant to give a legend flesh and bone, having a definite propensity toward the dragon, perhaps even toward the evil it represented. Her hold over them was more of fear than of respect. Slayer saw this as well, finally breaking his silence ... I still think something is wrong here... I'll be careful, old friend... yes, I don't know to trust her or not...
They continued to a room off of the main hall. A maid finished setting a plate of food on the table in the room and lighting the sconce along the wall of the antechamber, scurrying out of the way as they came to the doorway. The young man moved with his head down, not looking at the Mother. Darmon noticed he was thin, perhaps overworked and underfed, but definitely subservient to her to a great degree.
"Come in, Mr. Stuart, rest and have a little food. I'm sure you must be tired from the road." She sat across the table from him and took a handful of nuts and fruits in one hand, pouring wine into two glasses. Darmon waited for her to sit before he did likewise. "What brings you to Earhcnoc?"
Darmon smiled. "To tell ya the truth, it was a whim. I've been on the road from Farland, servin' in their army, more for the adventure than anythin' else, I s'pose. I'm on me way back 'ome, an' I thought this is one place I've never been, why not stop an' meet ya? I could be a clan leader meself, some day, an' thought it a good idea ta get ta know more o' Creagland."
Darmon popped a few nuts into his mouth as she drank some of her wine. He continued, "It's a fine castle ya 'ave 'ere, Mother. An' good for us all, too. Many a fight has this city seen, an' if not for a few tricks by Zeland's wizards, we could 'ave been victorious, years ago. There's a lot of history here."
Osage smiled between sips of the wine. "You seem to know much about our histories, but you haven't scratched the surface. We had the Zelanders with their backs against the wall. The Duffs, Tavishes and the clan of Lewis were the main forces driving the war. Unfortunately, the rest were immersed in battles of their own. Caembuhls and Donalds were fighting over land, as usual. McLeods and Buchannans were squaring off against the Connors and your people. And who knows what the Wallaces were thinking of. All we got from the north and west were a few mercenaries, and we had to bear the brunt of the fighting."
"But it's true, Zeland asked Farland for help, and they sent some of their wizards. The Creagish wizards were reluctant to fight, having more to fear from their fellow spell-casters than from their clans. The Anarians, the Elves, even the Dwarves of Hook Hills stayed away. We had no choice but to surrender and swear allegiance to the Zeland Statement of Union. And do you know who kept the Creagish wizards from joining the fray?"
Darmon stopped eating the delicious nuts for a moment. It was difficult to do, as they were delightful little Buzz Acorns. The Buzz Oak was the only oak that produced acorns that were edible. The tree got its name from the sound the small, off-centered leaves made when encountering the stiff Highland winds. Prized for their sweet character, they literally melted in one's mouth, not like their tannin-laden cousins of the Pin, White, Red, Cork and other varieties. But the rare tree only grew in the northern wastelands east of the Battleplains and near Sarumvest, the haunted wood. And here was a whole bowlful of the nuts. This seemed a little strange to Darmon, but he pushed a few words past the morsels. "You mean, Faugus?" She nodded affirmation.
"I assumed you knew such, but maybe not. I would also assume Faugus was a teacher of yours, as you are in line for the Fathership, but again, maybe not. If truth be known, he was more of a leader at that time than your uncle or grandfather. He held much sway over them. Why he held your fighters back, we may never know. You northerners have always been peaceful, tending your sheep, throwing stones and poles in your Highland games, and I guess your ancestors were more easily swayed from war than others. Which is good, don't misunderstand me - we enjoy those things here, too – but the Civil War demanded more of us all than the good life."
Darmon thought for a minute, sipping the wine. It was a strange beverage, dark but sweet, with a hint of an unpleasant medicinal taste. It must have been strong, because he could feel his head swim a bit. Perhaps his taste for wine, such a crude spirit that is dwarfed by the care and refinement needed to create whisky, was not yet developed. Perhaps there was something else ... the wine... don't drink any more, Darmon... The warning given by the fine piece of hardened, cultured steel strapped to his back was too late. The room began to spin as he felt himself losing consciousness. The last thing he remembered was Osage standing over him, glowering and saying "Let's see how much of a hero you are now!" He thought, ...Is this the only way I'm ever going to sleep?...
The first thing of which Darmon was aware was that Slayer was not strapped to his back. The second thing was that his wrists were strapped to a pole, and that he was in a standing position in the middle of a courtyard - but only standing because of the tight straps. The third thing was that the sun was sinking. ...either I've been here all day, or two days, or more ...just one day, Darmon... yes, I can talk to you, even this far away... over here... Darmon looked to his left. There stood Osage Duff, holding Dragonslayer, still in his scabbard. ...hold tight, old friend, stay in the scabbard... The evil clan mother sported an equally evil grin.
And there was a fourth thing he realized. He could hear every blood cell, every drop of the liquid as it coursed through the thumping veins in his aching head. He could hear every ounce of air he drew into his lungs, almost as if each breath was a roaring windstorm of the type that would bend even the strongest oaks in his homeland. The strange sounds were only dwarfed by the incessant ringing in his ears. He had never been the victim of such a total hangover.
"Well, sleeping beauty...how nice of you to join us! Seems as though the wine you drank was a little too much for a Stuart. How can you ever expect to lead your clan if you can't hold your spirits!" As she laughed, her voice turned to a shrill cackle. Darmon, however, only heard a deep, slow voice, his head still reeling from the drugged wine.He tried to turn his head, but every movement was a monumental task. He could feel the blood, as it was forced to change direction, pushing against the inside of his head as if it was trying to get out. His directional stability was all but gone. He strained against the straps, but every move made his heart beat faster, and the pain in his head increased. ...damn, Slayer... I have to get some of that drug... it could come in handy... you're not here just for show, Darmon... I think she means to do you harm... and I think I've heard of such a drug... one of my souls remembers it... it's called 'heavy head'... a little more and you would have been in this state for a long time... it will subside as you move...
Darmon could now see something that frightened him more than anything. All around Osage were children - the same ones he saw in the class held in the main hall - but more. Some were scruffy and emaciated to varying degrees - the boys - and some were well dressed and in fit shape - the girls. Whatever it was Osage had in store for him, it was meant as a lesson - a sick, vicious lesson. He strained to move his head in the other direction, only to see a tall, red-haired warrior woman, stroking a horse whip, rolling it into coils back and forth, with a devilish grin. ...I think I know what that harm is now, Slayer... a public thrashing... by a woman... if I could move my face, I'd smile at her intentions... in a sick way... a lesson for the future of the clan... sick... Slayer sighed, as only a sword could. ...I told you this wasn't a good idea...
"So now, children, you get to see how men really are - weak, useless, pathetic, foolish. Cry out, Darmon of Slaughbaetha. You will, sooner or later. Show the children what you're made of! Una, show him!" The warrior brought the whip back and flung the tip at Darmon with a very professional motion, getting every last bit of power in her swing. The tip bit into his flesh, but his mental state numbed him somewhat. The adrenaline forced his heart to beat even harder, pounding in his head, but less than a minute ago. He smiled at his torturer.
"Ya swing 'at thing like a little wash-girl, Una! Is 'at all ya got?" His eyes were more focused now, and he could see Una clearer. She was a fair woman, at one time, perhaps. But now her eyes were sunken and dark, and her skin was a pale tan, almost a gray. ...Slayer... she's undead... probably just like Osage... they've been turned... precisely what I was thinking, Darmon... I could feel something... Darmon took another hit.
He laughed aloud. The pain was beginning to grow sharper as his body sweat out the drug, and the heaviness of his head subsided. The beating had its good effects, he thought. But he was determined, if for only the sake of the children, of the boys, not to show any ill effects. The whip struck again and again, and again he ridiculed her. Una's brow thickened with hate and anger as she whipped him more furiously, moving closer and losing the advantage of distance. "I've had enough, Osage!"
The clan mother looked incredulously at the bloodied Darmon. "Oh? You mean you're begging Una to stop? I thought you would be able to take more!"
"'At's not what I said, dead woman! I can take 'is until Una drops from exhaustion, if you ghouls feel exhaustion! I'm simply puttin' a stop to it, is all!" With that, Darmon bent backward and kicked up with his left foot at the straps. He grabbed his sghain dubh from within his hose and cut the straps. He fell on his back, knocking the wind from his lungs, but he was free.
The whip struck again, tearing at his flesh. But he noticed the shadows of the sun as they cleared the courtyard and began climbing up the wall of the clan house. As Una pulled the whip back again, he stood up and looked down at his wounds. They were quickly closing, and as he looked to her an expression of disbelief grew on her grayish face. She looked quickly toward Osage, who was just as stunned. Darmon laughed, slowly at first, then with almost as evil a cadence as Osage could muster. "Now, dead one, wha' can ya du when a man's not tied?"
She looked to the clan mother with a look of fear. Osage tried to toss Slayer to her, but he suddenly became heavy and fell from her grasp. She grabbed her own sword from her belt and tossed it toward her, sticking it into the ground. Una ran the few steps and pulled it from the soft dirt. Darmon was now at an extreme disadvantage, facing a doubtless powerful warrior unarmed, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve.
He took a few steps toward her and spun on his heels. The powerful Creag took two steps back toward the pole and leapt against it, launching himself off the ground in a powerful body block at the erstwhile tree. As he had hoped, it wasn't firmly packed into the ground, as it was only meant for tying unfortunate travelers for public floggings. The pole fell over with Darmon on top of it. ...now this is good fortune, Slayer... I don't see what you're going to do with a pole, Darmon... I wasn't the caber-toss champion at the games for nothing... I knew it would come in handy sometime... this I gotta see...
Una charged, the sword swinging behind her in an attempt to finish him. He hoisted the twelve-foot hunk of wood at its center as easily as if it was Slayer and ran toward her. She hesitated as she realized what was about to happen. He tossed it the last four feet across her path, flattening her into the dirt. The force of the attack tore her in two at the chest, but the result wasn't as gory as one might think. A cloud of dust arose from where organs would have been.
Osage stood motionless, stunned into immobility. Her best warrior was strewn across the courtyard in various states of disarray, her dust mingling with that of the ground. She looked at Darmon and reached over to grab Slayer. But still he resisted, feeling as though he weighed a thousand pounds. So she ran to pick up her sword from Una's body as Darmon ran to Slayer. He lifted it effortlessly, pulled it free from its scabbard, and spun around to face the woman.
Osage's first strike was well-placed but no match for a slab of metal who had seen – even contained – his share of undead souls. Darmon raised him to deflect the blow, and as she drove past him, Slayer whispered in an eerie voice ...let me take your soul, tortured woman... you can live in here with the rest of us... She shuddered, hypnotized by his offer, dropping her weapon and looking into Darmon's eyes. "...You don't know the pain, the suffering... I've waited for this so long..." With finality, she grabbed Slayer at mid-blade and drove herself onto the point.
Osage gasped, then smiled. Dragonslayer hummed and glowed brightly. She slumped slowly to the ground, her body changing as she fell. As she slipped from the blade, he quieted himself. Below the sword lay a beautiful woman with a heavenly smile on her soft features. Darmon raised the sword and looked into the reflection of the full moon at the shimmering steel. There, in front of a hundred faces, stood Osage. He kissed the reflection and returned it to its leather casing.
He bent over, picked up Una's sword and walked to the schoolteacher. "What's your name, lass?" She replied, "Mairead Duff, sir." Handing it to her, he said, "Well, Mairead, I guess 'is makes ya the Mother. We'll be talkin' again, I think." He pointed to the children. "It's past their bedtime, lass." She took the sword, stunned, and looked toward her class. They were startled, but for the first time Darmon could see life in their eyes.
Slayer, for some reason, didn't say a word as Darmon strapped it to its back and walked through the main gates toward Gearasdan Araich beneath the full moon. It would be a while before Slayer would talk.