Ohern had the occasion, years after receiving the rod as a gift from the captain, to see the ghost wood trees from which it was made. Bleached and charred they had jutted grotesquely above the blistering churn of the poisoned river. If a thing that is natural can be full of power already, before it is permuted into a device of another purpose, and that same power can strengthen its new purpose regardless what bent, then surely it was true for the rod too. It was free of markings save for the lacquered toil of one man’s concern for the strength of other men. Ohern had it now, would use it on the one he waited for.
As Easel had promised, Ohern knew him the moment he saw him and he smiled to himself then he rose from the rail of the corral across the road and began moving towards the smithy. The visitor would be inside before him unless he stopped. As he walked, Ohern raised the baton in front of him and seated the grip in his right hand, twisting it with his left, cinching it into his calloused grip. The lower iron banding barely touched the bottom of his right hand. Then, the one he had been waiting for turned and looked directly into Ohern’s eyes. Ohern nodded and kept walking forwards.
The others expression was intent and it soured when it took him in, dismissing acknowledgement. He entered the smithy. Eight steps later Ohern entered. The one he had waited for, the instigator, was standing near the forge facing Easel with his arms crossed, his back to the doorway and Ohern. Easel’s hammer pounded away. The instigator was talking at Easel. Easel was ignoring him.
Ohern stepped forward raised the rod and brought it down with all of his strength on the instigators head. The crack of his skull was satisfying. It was a hard blow. His head flew forward and his arms came out to keep him out of the coals of the forge. The flesh on his hands hissed and popped. Easel looked up, stepping back in shock. The instigator had pushed himself up off the coals in time to meet the second swing of Ohern’s rod, this time from right. It smashed into the side of his cheek. He fell onto the bare floor of the shop a few feet in front of a low table where he and Easel had eaten several times. Ohern raised his right boot and brought it down with everything he had onto the back of the ankle of the prone man. A bone, or more, snapped clean. He howled in pain, the scream though was otherworldly. Then, in a moment of time, the man on the floor flipped over and faced Ohern, only he was not a man anymore. His face was sunken and long, his skin translucent and his eyes were the deepest black. Ohern started to lunge but stopped. The things hands were large and strong and bore claws that belonged on a welp. The clothes he wore into the shop were gone. In exchange of blood the creatures face leaked a thick kind of sweat. Ohern hesitated, then leaped upon it, never looking away from its eyes. He held the rod between his hands and tried to crush the things throat. The creature met him. Ohern felt a tugging at his stomach.
…A lantern broke near them.
Had Easel thrown it?
He turned back to the thing on the floor but it was gone. Ohern was kneeling. Blood surrounded him, red blood. Was it dark out side? He looked up. It had pulled itself up the ceiling post and had knocked a few boards out of the roof and was pulling itself up and through. Its wounded ankle dangled. Ohearn tried to stand and couldn’t. Half the shop was on fire. Where was easel? He tried to stand again, this time only lower. He moved to his hands and knees and rose. It was definitely dark out. He reached up and grabbed the shattered foot with a strong hold and relaxed his weight. He fell and the thing fell on top of him shrieking. It hit him a few times then scrambled away. Ohern lay there on his back. The fire was warm and it felt good. A stick or something under his back was uncomfortable and he pulled the thing, a handle of some sort, out from under him and relaxed again. He should start thinking about dinner. His stomach growled. Why did I lay down here, he wondered. Perhaps Easel will want something to eat. He reached down and touched the discomfort in his stomach with his hand then brought his hand up and looked at it. It was covered in the thickest most beautiful red blood he had ever seen. I’ll sleep in his shop. I know him. Ill be safe, he thought then fell into the dark.