Scree looked at the dead man speculatively.
“You are not going to eat him,” Nemucca said. The young soldier was weak, but on the mend. He’d lost a lot of blood from a wound to his leg and his face would carry a long, wide scar. But he’d survive.
“I don’t eats people, you fool.”
“Then why are you looking at him like that? It’s not likely he’ll be carrying anything you want.”
“He isn’t nows. But he did haves a good knife earlier.”
“You took his knife?”
“Yeah.” Scree took the weapon out to show the boy. It only had a short blade, but was well made. “What? He won’ts be needing it any more.”
“But… He’s dead.”
“Noticed. He complained enough abouts it before it happened.” Scree had smothered him during the night just so he could get some sleep.
“But you can’t steal from the dead.”
“That’s right. They’s dead, they don’t owns anything.”
“No. What I–”
“Just shut up, Nemucca. If you thinks he should have his knife back then you come and gets it.”
The soldier kept his mouth shut, but watched Scree edgily.
“‘Bout time I changed my policy on bloody deals,” Scree muttered. “Fetid cats guts.” He sniffed.
“Shut up.” He waved the knife.
“You won’t kill me.”
Scree continued to look at the dead man. He’d told the truth: he didn’t eat people. The thought disgusted him. But he did have other uses for bodies. He ran his fingers along the handle of the knife while he examined one of the corpse’s pallid legs. Nemucca wasn’t likely to like what he was really thinking any more than what had already been discussed, but Scree didn’t care what the human thought. He’d been stuck in the cave for two days, sharing one man’s already meagre field rations, listening to someone die and listening to two men complain constantly. He needed something to ease his tension.
“Don’t do anythings stupid,” he said to Nemucca as he crawled across to the body. “I ain’t going to eats anything.”
“What are you..?”
Scree used the knife to start cutting through the corpse’s leg near the knee. Nemucca shouted angrily and surged forward. Scree merely turned to glare at him.
“Please, no. Don’t.”
Scree continued to saw at the hardening flesh. Behind him, he heard the human gag.
“You never seens a man get cuts up?” There was no reply, so he continued to work.
After a minute, Scree gave the leg a violent twist and it came away with a loud crack. He pulled his prize away and held it up in triumph.
A shaft of sunlight angled down through a crack in the ceiling and he moved slightly so he could examine the end of the bone more closely. It was a little smaller than he usually liked, but would do. He started stripping the meat away, leaving a small, bloody pile at his feet. Nemucca was no longer watching.
“I can’t stay here now that you’ve done that,” the human said, motioning wildly over his shoulder, as if Scree needed to be reminded of the current topic of conversation.
“Good. Wouldn’t have beens stayin’ much longer anyways. Another couple of hours, maybe. Damn, I shoulds have taken the boot offs first.” He slit the low leather boot and struggled to pull it free so he could continue exposing the bone.
When he reached the ankle joint, Scree separated the foot from the leg and threw it back down with the rest of the body. What was left was a strong bone covered with small amounts of gristle and blood. He tore away a section of the dead man’s clothing to remove the latter and then started to work with the knife with a little more care. Another ten minutes passed before he was satisfied.
“You did all of that for a club?” Nemucca asked.
“What?” Scree grunted as he used another section of shirt to wipe his hands. “No. Why would I hits someone with a bone when I gots that bloody great sword?”
“What is it then?”
“There’s two things I have really haven’t gotten enough ofs in the last couple of weeks, Nemucca: music and sex.”
“Yeah. You nots–”
“No.” The young man held up his hand and backed himself into a corner. “No, I’m not interested. Even if you were human. Even if I hadn’t just seen you cut off someone’s leg. Even if… There’s no way I would be interested.”
Scree shrugged. “Didn’t thinks you would, but there’s no harm in asking. I’m ain’t much into thats myself, but there’s only so many times you can polish the sword before you gots to use it in battle.”
The boy grunted in disgust.
“Know what?” Scree continued to work on the bone, laboriously sawing through the ends. “I think those Raven guys came from another world.” He’d been thinking about it for a while.
“Another world? That’s just crazy. There are no other worlds.”
“That’s what I thought. But I gots this book, you see, and it says there are other worlds, and they’s joined to this one by these doorways called Ohoga Gates.”
“You have a book?”
“Yeah, so I gots a book.”
“And you can read it?”
“Yeah, I can reads it. And likes I said, it says there are–”
“Yes, I heard you. Lots of worlds joined by doors.”
A week ago Scree would have killed a human for talking to him like that. He probably would have killed a human before he’d even opened his mouth, but the youngster would be more use alive than dead. He just gave Nemucca a cold look and continued with his work. “There’s lots a worlds, yes, but only seven of thems is joined by the Ohoga Gates. Those weapons them Ravens had, they ain’t nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“I’ll give you that. And they did have a strange language. And clothes.”
“So why did they only just appear then? They could have been wiping us out long ago.”
“I thinks the sword was jamming the doors shut.”
“The sword? And you pulled it out.”
“Well, how was I s’posed to knows. It was just stuck ins the rock.” Scree didn’t really care anyway. Like he’d told Nemucca– the strangers had done nothing more than defend themselves.
Scree gave the human another glare and the lad hurried on.
“So, what else does it say in this book of your’s?”
Scree shrugged. “Don’t know. Been kinda too busy to reads lately.”
“Where is it?” Nemucca crawled across the smooth, polished stone of the floor to where Scree’s pack sat. He pulled it open and tumbled the books out onto the floor.
“Carefull.” Scree wanted to tidy up the mess but his hands weren’t really all that clean. He glared for a moment until Nemucca started to go through the pile. “Pack that away properly when you’re done.”
Along with Scree’s flask and flint, there was also a hard, dry bread roll, a silver chain and amulet, and a silver ring, all of which had belonged to the man who was now missing a leg.
“You stole his things!”
“I thoughts we already had this conversation.”
There was a long pause. Scree watched the emotions chasing across the lad’s face; anger, fear, disgust. He smiled.
“Which book is it?”
“The Gates of Hakahei is the ones I was reading. The Second Opening mights have something in it as well though. A wizard types guy was willing to die to protects them two books.”
“And I suppose he did die?”
“Course. But I hads nothing to do with it.” Scree got back to work.
“And I’m supposed to believe that?”
“You think I yearns for your good opinion?”
Nemucca gave half a bark of uncomfortable laughter. The Hakahei book was the first one he found. “Not much of a book,” he said. “It will only take ten minutes to read it. He opened it up to the first page and settled back against the wall to read. After several minutes, he raised his head wearing a bemused look.
“You think this is true? All these worlds?”
Scree shrugged. “The wizard guy who owned the books seemed to takes it serious enough.”
“How far did you get?”
“First page was about it.”
“Well, it says that there are thousands of worlds, but only seven are linked by these magical gates.”
“That’s what I said.”
“And people used to sail to the other ones in huge flying ships.”
“Sailed to other worlds in ships?”
“That’s stupid. How do you gets them off the ground?”
“It says something about ‘blasting’ them into the sky. Putting a fire under them and–”
“Yeah, right. I tried something likes that once. The ship just burned and alls of the humans jumped off. Which was kinda what I wanted.”
Scree had finally finished with the bone. He held it up in the shaft of sunlight and examined his handiwork. It looked good. It was clean and white and the ends were both lying on the ground beside the foot. The holes were drilled. All that was left was getting the marrow out of the centre. Normally he would have used water, but that wasn’t an option– water was running low as it was. He sighed, put the bone to his mouth and blew.
Nemucca turned away in disgust. “What are you doing?”
Scree spat the taste from his mouth.
“Why did you do that?”
In answer to the soldier’s question, Scree put the bone to his mouth again. This time he blew more gently and was rewarded with a slightly raw, off key, note.
“It’s a flute!” Nemucca said. “You play the flute?”
“Yeah, I plays the flute. By the look on your face anyone’d thinks I sprouted wings and flown aways.”
“Well, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I’m a savage bloody troll. Knows all about it.”
“Why doesn’t anyone know about this. I’ve never heard anybody speak of trolls playing music.”
“Because most humans who see trolls ends up dead.” Scree smiled wickedly and worked at the flute for a moment. It didn’t improve the sound.