Chapter 9 - In Home Support Services

The two story house almost appeared out of the woods as they rode though the forest. A thin carpet of fog covered the shaded ground, but the clearing where the house sat was barren. Dead and almost brittle looking grass covered the earth. In places where bare dirt was exposed, it was a dry, caked area.

Elric’s spell stopped abruptly once he flew over dead grass. He hadn’t been floating that high as Norman had slowed considerably as the woods had thickened before the opening. As soon as he hit the ground he let go of the rope to avoid being dragged.

“Sorry, I should have warned you,” Norman said as he stopped the horses. “It isn’t much but this is home.” Elric felt almost a challenge in Norman’s words.

“Saves money on landscaping.” Elric said picking himself up from the ground. Dried bits of grass clung to his clothing. He gave a quick brush to remove the larger bits.

“Come, there is still time for you to get some work completed before dark.” Norman dismounted his horse and lead the two towards the building.

The house wasn’t very large. From a distance Elric estimated maybe thirty feet wide and forty feet long. Curtains behind one of the two windows on the ground floor moved a little as they walked. On the second floor there were two windows that poked out from a sloped roof, each had a shutter covering them.

“An illusion?” Elric said as they got closer. Before he got an answer, he slipped his vision into the magical specturm. There wasn’t any illusion on the house, but he saw multiple areas of illusion placed in a pattern across the clearing around the house. One of the blurred specs of reality started moving towards them.

“Are you using magic?” Norman asked his head suddenly turning in the direction of whatever was moving towards them.

Elric returned his vision to normal and looked around. The blurred specs were no longer visible. Nor did he see any after effects of something moving around the yard.

“Just looking at the magical spectrum.”

“The guards feed on magic, I recommend you do not use any while we are outside of the house.”

They both hurried and got to the front of the house. Norman tied the reigns of the horses to a post in the ground. The door opened outwards to them but the bright light outside made the inside of the house pitch black.

"You have to enter first,” Norman said. He started to say more but Elric quickly stepped inside.

The entryway was bigger than expected. A ten by ten room with a little couch along one wall. Some hooks poking out of the wall to hang a coat or jacket. Taking off his cloak, Elric hung it on a hook. 

A skeletal hand reached out from the wall and grabbed Elric’s wrist. He tried to pull away but the white bony fingers had a vise like grip. Instinctively Elric pulled his arm back, immediately the skeletal hand responded.

“Ah!” Elric said as his hand was slammed against one of the coat hooks. The rounded metal tip jabbed into his shoulder. His hand grew slack and he pulled away, then the skeletal hand jerked him back into the hook. This time Elric’s head hit the wall, his vision grew a little fuzzy around the edges.

The arm repeated its process of loosening and jerking twice more, each time resulting in a cry of pain from Elric. His mind racing, knowing that if this continued he would lose consciousness, Elric gathered power to blast the wall apart.

Norman appeared in the entryway. He looked at a almost limp Elric who’s eyes were closed and a faint red glow surrounded his hands. The skeletal arm had slackened and Elric was no longer standing.

“Stop!” Norman commanded. The skeletal fingers relinquished Elric’s wrist. Purple bruises circled the wrist were it had been grasped. The arm and man fell limply to the ground and the red glow disappeared.

“Thank you,” Elric softly said. He lay face down on the floor for a minute before moving again, his arm throbbed in pain. Reaching inside his jacket he pulled out a little vial and quickly drank the contents. His face relaxed as the magical healing took effect. He rolled over and looked up at the coat hooks, “That isn’t something Mortis Operandi sells.”

“Aye, Lethal Inventions sent a free sample.” Norman said, “It was installed a few days ago, I apologize I should have warned you.”

“I didn’t even realize there were other people in the same business.” Elric said as he got to his feet. “Though I never actually thought about it.” He leaned in to get a closer look at the hooks.

Footsteps from inside the house drew Elric’s attention from the trap.

“You’re the third person it has tricked since it was installed.” A young dwarf said as he stepped into the entryway. He was dressed in finely made shirt and pants, the stiff black boots looked almost new, and he carried a mug of dark liquid in his right hand.

“Three people, in the past week. Do people really try to break in that often?” Elric said looking at the young dwarf. He missed that behind him, Norman was down on one knee.

“Just you and some workers,” the dwarf said. “Here, would a cold beer help salve any injury your pride has taken?” He held out the mug towards Elric. “Nothing soothes sore muscles better than a good ale.”

Elric took the mug and drank deeply. The sour taste was replaced by a sweet nectar. Warmth filled him immediately. Pausing to take a breath and enjoy the warmth washing over his body, he tipped the cup back and took another deep drink. This time he didn’t taste the sour.

“That hits the spot.” Elric said lowering an almost empty mug. Remembering something, he held out his right hand. “I’m Elric.”

“I know,” the dwarf said. “Lich-in-stein, this is my home.” The dwarf reached out and grasped Elric’s hand.

Elric tried to jerk his hand back as soon as the dwarven hand made contact. The illusion of a hand didn’t hold up to touch and he felt the skeletal bones close around his hand. A cold unlike anything he has known sucked the warmth out of him. Even the false warmth of the alcohol disappeared. His hand was no match for the undead creatures magically augmented grip, their hands jerked up and down as they shook.

When the dwarf released Elric’s hand, the facade faded. While the dwarven face was still recognizable there were holes were bone was visible. Involuntarily Elric took a step backwards and noticed Norman kneeling on the floor. The beer he had drank had already caught up to him and Elric right foot stepped on a part of Norman’s cloak.

Elric awoke on a bed. The almost unbearably soft mattress and equally soft blankets threatened to engulf him in warmth. Struggling against the pull of going back to sleep, he opened his eyes. A faint light across the way lit up the little room. The massive bed was in the middle of it, and a night table along a wall.

Head aching, he sat up in the bed, he turned to look to his right but his vision swam. Taking I much more slowly, he scanned the room carefully. A single wooden door off to his right, it looked sturdy but a hundred years old. A tiny window that was too small for anyone bigger than a cat to crawl through was across the bed. The glass panes were not clear enough to see much than a black haze outside. To his left a single little table and stool. The table had a lantern on top. Elric was still in his cloths and only felt the pain of a headache.

“Whello,” he said with a mouth full of cotton. He carefully moved his legs to the side of the bed. Biting his cheeks a little he tried to get rid of the cotton. “Hello?” He swung his feet over the side of the bed, his boots had been taken off and were sitting on the floor near the door.

Sliding off the bed he slowly and carefully took a step on the wooden floor. The wood creaked loudly as he put pressure on it. It still groaned for a while after he finished putting his whole weight on the floor. Bending down and carefully reaching over he grabbed his boots with one hand. Throwing himself backwards and jumping a little he flew backwards onto the bed with his boots in hand.

Nothing came out of the floor and grabbed him. His boots didn’t disappear. For a moment Elric was confused. The door opened and added to his confusion as a young looking dwarf stepped in.

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