The Seven Jewels

by Rev. Joe Kelly
read from the beginning

part eleven.

Luo flushed with embarrassment and rage as the Wose walked around him, the hatchet tip of his backsword dragging about Luo’s neck. Alruf grinned at him as he leaned against the table.

Delcarta was at last able to regain control over her laughter. “You fool… you absolute fool! As though I ever loved any but him! You fool!”

Luo ignored her, and snarled up at Alruf. “That’s a real fine woman you’ve chosen. A real shining example of a lady–you know that harlot bitch would have set you up had I arrived first?”

Delcarta’s grin vanished, replaced with a look of indignity. “You foul-mouthed bastard! Are you going to allow him to say such things about me?!”

“Shut up.” Alruf was still grinning nastily.

Delcarta looked at him with shock. “Darling!”

Alruf replied, more forcefully, “I said shut up. He’s not wrong.” He grinned still, brushing the sharp tip of his backsword back and forth across Luo’s neck. “Only I got here first, not you. So I guess I get to keep her instead, eh?”

Luo answered with a dark look. He glanced at Delcarta. She was looking down at the floor, her face flushed as well now. But she dared not speak. Luo felt a pang of sympathy for her. She had just done what she had to. She may have been a lying, greedy little slut in his eyes, but she was also a woman in a man’s brutish world, and it was not a world that allowed independent women like her to hold onto much dignity.

Alruf chuckled. “So the big payday turned out to be nothing but an illusion.” He picked up one of the shards, examined it casually, and tossed it away. “Well, it doesn’t matter. I got back with a saddlebag bursting with gold, and I got here before you. And that’s all that… say.”

Alruf leaned over a little closer to the sack. “Do my eyes deceive me, or is there something left over in that sack?” He chuckled again, grinning at Luo as he reached for it.

Delcarta gasped a scream. “Alruf! I–I swear I just saw the sack move!”

He gave her a dismissive glance. “Oh, shut up.” He jammed a hand into the sack–and with a bloodcurdling screech he yanked it back.

Luo leaped back from the table, clean across the room, his knuckles white on the hilt of his sword, his eyes wide with horror. Hanging from the tip of Alruf’s hand was a sapphire-colored frog. Only it was like no frog Luo had ever seen: no frog he knew of had sharp claws for hands, or tiny needle-like teeth.

Alruf slammed the thing down on the table, and it burst into a smear of wet blue paste. With a roar of rage he lifted a fist to smash the pouch flat. He blanched, and gasped, his eyes bulging, and he lowered his shaking hand, stared at it as it began to swell visibly. His backsword dropped from his hand, and he grabbed at the arm and howled in pain as the swelling ran rapidly up its length. Sweat poured from his forehead, and his howling rapidly grew rattling and hoarse as his neck swelled an angry red.

Luo had been watching, fascinated with disgust. He jumped as Delcarta screamed once again. He looked back at the table, where her eyes were fixed, and saw, to his horror, more of the hideous, jewel-colored little frog-beasts crawling from the sack.

Delcarta turned to run. But Luo was faster. With a blinding bound he passed her, shoved her to the side, and as she watched in bafflement and horror, he grabbed a giant dresser and threw it down in front of the door. She screamed at him, “What in hell’s name are you doing?!” He whirled about, his eyes bright and wild with victory. Delcarta shrank from them, probably thinking he had gone mad. And indeed, he howled with a madman’s laughter as he regarded Alruf, lying on the floor now, gurgling in pain. “The dreams of fools, eh, Alruf?! The dreams of fools! And you–you were the fool all along!” Still cackling madly, he leaped to the third-story window even as the first of the frog creatures jumped down to the floor, as Delcarta shrieked in terror.

on to part twelve.

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