The boy lay on the cold stone floor of the cavern, his right arm clamped in an iron grip around the inert form of the Kobold Witch-Priest Tartuk. Steam rose from the Numerian’s body with an audible chemical hiss, his breath coming in heavy gasps and he dragged his way from the still-frothing pool of acid with his free arm.
Banon’s arm reached out towards the boy, grasping it high on his bicep. As it did so, the skin sloughed away with a sickening wet noise, leaving clean, healthy-looking pink flesh beneath. As the knight turned to attend to other matters, the boy let himself fall to his chest, a heavy sigh escaping him.
The Wise Woman came – she scolded the boy, but smiled all the while. He wanted to listen – why did she look happy with him when she spoke with anger? He could not focus on the words so well. His skin felt like he had held it in a flame.
She pointed at the Witch Tartuk. She wanted him to release it.
I… I do not know. It is a witch, and may not be dead.
She laughed at this. Not cruel. A happy laugh. A kind laugh.
I think he is dead, Kelak. Maybe you can let go?
The boy had heard of a witch having its head removed and still taking a man’s heart, but it was a wise woman and koalakeesi ’s job to know about these things. He tentatively released the body.
It did not stir. The Wise Woman looked pleased.
As she tended to the disposal of the witch’s earthly form, the boy gradually stood, testing his body, and looking around.
He seemed more-or-less fine. The pain in his skin had faded to a dull ache, and had almost disappeared completely near where Banon had pulled away the injured skin. Perhaps that had done some good. Hunter-Jak was at the side of the battlefield, most likely cleaning a kill, or taking his share of his slain’s possessions, as was his right as warrior.
Mikmek, however, caught the Numerian’s attention. He beat his chest his fellow kobold, the one who was his chief, and they cried out at each other in their rasping language, swords drawn. Banon stood by, brow furrowed in concern. Limping over, Banon explained that Mikmek had challenged his chief to leadership of the tribe. It was as the young wastelander suspected – with their numbers depleted, the Old Chief had less backing, and had also shown great weakness in falling in battle. It was right of Mikmek to challenge him, if he wished to lead. He would be a strong chief.
As the kobolds fought, Banon ignorantly tried to defend Mikmek when the Old Chief struck a sneaky blow against the young warrior – perhaps he thought it violated the Honor Duel? regardless, the knight lay where he fell, no longer interfering. Then the duel turned poorly for Mikmek, and there was a bright flash of light, and the Numerian saw no more.
Gasps. An animal roar and hiss. The round of flesh ripping. Heavy breathing. Voices raised in the Kobold tongue – Mikmek and others, not the Old Chief. The boy’s eyes hurt terribly, making it difficult to concentrate. His tribemates talking to each other. The soft, but distinctly dancing footsteps of the Wise Woman receding into the distance, until he could no longer hear them. Banon speaking the kobold tongue to Mikmek, and then the young kobold warrior saying his name, pressing his tiny clawed hands into the boy’s, and saying his name.
Mikmek led the Numerian’s hands to another form, not unlike his own, but more animal. A lizard, like in the ash-wastes of his home, only larger. It stood to reason that the kobolds would keep such beasts as steeds, as men rode horses. Mikmek motioned and told the boy to hold on to the lizard, riding it as one does a very slippery, writhing horse.
After some time, they halted in another place, still in the cavers, the boy’s eyes still burning and blind from the bright flash. There was much shouting in the kobold tongue from few voices. Banon told the boy to kneel – that Mikmek was now chief of his tribe. The boy, unsure of where he was, and what dangers were about, but meaning no disrespect, sat on the cavern floor.
Slowly, sight returned. Mikmek stood on a stone table. He wore a great headdress of office, and had seemingly claimed a wife-kobold. The boy was right. He would make a good chief.