Blood and Brine

Join Novice Nnamdi as a mishap during training leads him to end up injured and alone on a rainy beach outside Silwan. Written in 32 A.S.




It happened on the beach, but it started in the mines.


I had come to Silwan with my Master and my fellow Novices in order to train in the saltworks. Five years ago, when I was ten, a Trader had told me of the saltworks near his home to the south. I remember his words exactly: “Cracked, white earth spreading out towards a shimmering horizon, flecked with pools of turquoise water rimmed with uneven ridges of cristalline salt.” Silwan’s saltworks are nothing of the sort. They are deep, angular mines of hardened rock salt.


We were going to train how to progress through unknown terrain. Master Gwenllian had her assistants equip each of us with a crossbow and a lantern. The crossbows were armed, but the tips were duds of hemp dipped in tar. We were told to treat them like the real deal, though, ensuring we did not loose our bolts by accident – especially not at each other – or face serious punishment.


I had been chosen for the first team to go in, working with Annis, Wilson, Eveline, and our squad leader Jenkin. Master Gwenllian would follow at a short distance, but she would not be carrying a lantern, nor would she be aiding us. Our mission was to hunt down one of Master Gwenllian’s assistants, Sister Sabina, dressed in padded clothing. She would hide somewhere in the mine and seek to daub us with a brush covered in tar. Our goal was to hit her with our tar-tipped bolts before she could do so. If any of us were daubed, Master Gwenllian would decide the severity of the wound and its consequence.


And so, Sister Sabina disappeared into the darkness of the mine while our lanterns were lit and we went into the cave. I was in front, with Annis forming the right flank and Eveline the left, with Wilson in the rear and Jenkin in the centre. I kept a brisk pace under Jenkin’s supervision, my crossbow propped up on the arm carrying the lantern, its tarry tip somehow both swallowing and reflecting the flickering light. I knew Master Gwenllian followed close behind, but she moved so quietly I wondered if she was really there.


The mine was enormous, our lights barely reaching the walls and ceiling at some points, giving Sister Sabina ample room to hide. It didn’t really come as a surprise, then, when she suddenly darted out of the shadows, swinging her brush against Annis’s throat in passing before melting away again. Eveline loosed a bolt at her vanishing figure, but we heard it strike the wall and clatter away uselessly. Obviously, Master Gwenllian deemed Annis dead. As punishment, she made her extinguish her lantern and wait in the darkness for us to return before sending us on.


We continued: me still at the front with Jenkin behind me, but Eveline falling slightly back and Wilson moving to the side, turning our diamond into a triangle. I strained my ears, but our own footsteps covered any sound Sister Sabina might have made. I alerted Jenkin to this, and we dropped our pace.


The mine grew still, our footsteps merely scuffs on the ground. I listened carefully as I moved, trying to pick up any trace of Sister Sabina. I suddenly heard another set of scuffs and turned towards the sound. As quickly as before, Sister Sabina struck, darting out from behind a corner and lashing Eveline with her brush. This time, however, I refused to let her get away and strike again. I ran after her, aiming as I went. Jenkin called after me, but he didn’t give an order, just calling my name. I felt like this was my chance, squeezing the trigger as Sister Sabina’s back began to fade out of the light.


Then my foot suddenly dropped away. My crossbow went off as I fell, but I did not see the bolt fly as I fell to the ground with a sickening crunch. Pain shot through my forearm in a way even combat training had never caused. I vaguely registered the sound of my lantern shattering and the glass skidding across the ground as the oil reservoir burst and caught flame. I heard Jenkin gasp and Wilson curse as they ran towards me, but before they were halfway I was being hauled up.


I yelped at a second surge of pain as Master Gwenllian appeared out of nowhere and pulled me away from the fire. She ordered Sister Sabina to reemerge and extract all of us while she sought a way to douse the flames. Sister Sabina obeyed immediately, emerging out of the darkness once more and guiding us back. We had to climb a step, and I realised belatedly what had caused my drop, but was soon distracted by the tar mark between Sister Sabina’s shoulders. I raised my arm to point at the mark in victory, sending another jolt of pain through it. Triumphantly, I said I’d killed our quarry. Sister Sabina chuckled as she led us away and said she’d noticed the hit, saying it would have definitely taken her down had it been a real bolt. I wanted to respond that I was proud to have taken down a full-fledged Hunter, but my voice trailed off as my arm began to throb. Sister Sabina must have noticed, because she asked what was wrong. I told her I’d hurt myself in the fall, but that the pain would soon fade away. She stopped, though, taking Jenkin’s lantern from him and holding it up next to the limb. My stomach twinged as I saw a weird curve run through my forearm, twisting my wrist into an awkward angle. Sister Sabina clucked her tongue and told me to move my arm as little as possible as we extracted.


The worry in her voice was clear and my arm stung even more as I realised I might never become a Hunter if it didn’t heal well. Wilson tried to comfort me, carefully putting an arm around my shoulder to guide me after Sister Sabina, but I shrugged him off and pushed on by myself. Once outside, Sister Sabina told two other assistants, Brother Hezekiah and Sister Masego, to find Master Gwenllian and help her put out the flames of my broken lantern while she took me into Silwan to find care for my injury.


That’s how I found myself on the beach that day, alone in the rain, my arm in a sling.


Sister Sabina had taken me along the road from the mine into town, Master Gwenllian a short way behind. The Healer they found cut through my sleeve, frowning at the fracture as if to force the bone back into place by stare alone. After a short conference with Master Gwenllian, I was given a bitter draught, which I was made to down in one gulp. Sleep Root, I later learned, when I woke up. By then, the Healer had wrangled the bone back into place, splinted the arm with lengths of wood, and bandaged it as tightly as they dared. The pain was a dull throb, even through the groggy haze of the Sleep Root leaving my body. Sister Sabina was next to my bed, having volunteered to watch over me as I slept. She told me she was glad to see me awake, but I immediately wanted to get away.


I couldn’t right away, though, as I was unable to stand, Sister Sabina having to help me walk when I had to relieve myself. But after a night of rest the Sleep Root had entirely faded, and I managed to slip away while Sister Sabina was fetching food. I needed air, I needed room… I needed to think about what had happened without someone staring at me with pity in their worried eyes.


I wandered out of Silwan in the rain, passingly wondering if my bandages should stay dry. I reached the beach soon enough: a wet expanse of sandy beige being slapped by grey water, some dark rocks scattered here and there. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was empty and I could take the time to think as the wind plucked at my hair.


It was of course possible I would heal well. The Healer said they expected as much and there were plenty of stories of people who had broken limbs and gone on to do their duty without issue.


But a Hunter of Fenblith must be more than well, they must be great. How could I ever hope to attain the heights of Master Gwenllian if my arm lost even a fraction of its strength? How could I wield a blade, or absorb the kick of a weapon, or wrangle a struggling Beast with one weak arm?


I knew it wasn’t rational to expect disaster, but what if?


I realised panic would not serve me, though. If anything, I was decreasing my chances of becoming a Hunter by being out in unknown terrain, unarmed, while I should be recovering from an injury.


And as if conjured by my imagination, as I turned to go back to the healing house, I saw a dark shape rising from the wet sand, one of my footprints on top of it. I took a step back as the bloated face of a woman arose, mouth open and full of sand. Her skin was pale and dead, her hair dark and laced with seaweed. Ragged holes sat where her eyes had been, and from one of them stuck a brown pincer. Her head lifted slightly as small pointed legs jerked out of her ear. The sand dropped away, revealing more and more of the woman, seemingly laying perfectly still as she rose from the dirt. I saw another pincer, and another, and more and more legs jutted out from under her; at her arms, her hips, her legs. I realised there were legs atop her, too, and pincers snapping out all over. A drowned corpse, washed ashore and melded together with a host of dead crabs to form a Beast.


A chorus of hisses arose from the Drowned Woman, the pincers snapping and swinging as it moved slowly towards me. I wanted to run, make a wide arc around the Beast and flee and get Sister Sabina. Then I considered what had brought me to this beach, and I decided to do something else instead.


I cast around for something to fight with, my eyes falling on some rocks nearby. I ran towards them, settling on a ragged stone large enough to do damage but small enough that I could swing it with one hand. I snatched it up, tested its weight, and then ran back towards the Drowned Woman.


With a lurch, I came at it, striking the head with enough force to crack the forehead, covering its face in ichor. The impact jarred my good arm, the rock’s edges biting into the palm of my hand, but I stayed focused.


The Beast hissed, snapping at me with its pincers and nicking my skin. I backed off, checking my injuries, but they were only shallow cuts. The Drowned Woman’s forehead was already closing again, though; I would need Starsteel. But the only way to get it would be to run back to town and if I did that the Beast might escape.


Realising what I had to do, I set about ensuring it couldn’t get away.  I threw myself onto the Drowned Woman, pulping its head as the pincers bit and nipped and nicked my skin. Even with its head caved in, however, the Beast continued to move. Worse, I saw the skull already beginning to retake its shape.


Doubling down on my strategy, I set about wrecking the Drowned Woman’s crablike legs, pulling and smashing my rock across its body. The Beast hissed again – fiercer than before – and tried to get away, but I kicked it until I forced it to roll over onto its shattered limbs and continued to strike it, until there wasn’t an intact leg along its entire body.


I smashed my rock down into its reforming skull, left it there, and ran like I never had before. I ran straight across the beach, into Silwan, and towards the healing house, where I found Sister Sabina organising a search.


The moment she saw me, she began to chide me, and I understand why. I cut her off, though, and I told her I had found a Beast, and that I had stopped it from escaping for now, but that I needed her Starsteel blade. She eyed me worriedly, noticing the cuts the pincers had made all across my skin. I pleaded for her to trust me and – to my great relief – she told me to take her to the Beast.


I turned and ran back to the beach, Sister Sabina calling out for fellow Hunters as she followed. Several heard her and heeded the call, and I led a party of Hunters across Silwan’s beach towards the Beast I had found.


We found the Drowned Woman almost entirely reformed and struggling to bury itself under the sand once more. The Hunters surrounded it, watching it burrow as it hissed at our approach. Sister Sabina stopped next to me, squeezing my shoulder and telling me I had managed two victories in as many days, and one of those with a broken arm. She drew her dagger and offered it to me, Starsteel glittering in her palm as she presented me with the hilt.


With a surge of pride, I took the weapon with my good arm and stepped forward under the watchful gaze of my soon-to-be fellow Hunters. I crashed down on the hissing Drowned Woman, lashing and stabbing it with Sister Sabina’s blade. It struggled, attacking me again with its pincers, but I ignored the pain and kept striking until it hissed no more.


I got up, hurt but satisfied, and returned Sister Sabina’s blade. I looked down at the Drowned Woman, cut to ribbons, and around me at the Hunters, full of approval.


The Beast was dead.