PrinceCon 39 Theme Teaser #4

PrinceCon 39: Shroud of the World

For once in his life, Sparks was at a loss for words. The three of them had prepared for a fast and stealthy trip through the wasteland. But the last member of their small team…

Sarge made a quick introduction. “The magi have agreed to assist. This is Thoorin…”

“Thoorin Firesong,” the mage supplied sharply. “Call me Firesong.”

Bishop coughed, and his face said everything Sparks felt, but at least the man’s brightly-colored robes matched his name. The massive wooden chest, however, and the elderly donkey it was strapped to…

Finally Sparks found his voice again. “So, Sarge, have you explained the ‘move fast’ and ‘don’t be noticed’ parts of the mission to, uh, Firesong?”

The mage answered directly. “I’m sorry, if I may put it in your terms, these are my swords and armor. Non-negotiable. Now, when do we leave?” He turned away to tighten the straps on the pack animal.

“Looks like they’ve saddled us with two asses,” Bishop muttered under his breath.

* * *

Even thirty yards away, Bishop shuddered as he watched the creature pass. This one was smaller, the bastard offspring of the monsters that had nearly killed him. And it didn’t seem to care that the stomping and crashing through underbrush was alerting everyone within earshot. Maybe it just wanted a fight.

With a quick hand motion, Bishop stopped the rest of the team before they started over the small rise. A few gestures later, they were headed around the side instead.

Bishop watched the creature until it was safely out of sight. It still looked nothing more than a walking hunk of clay, with eyes and ears just molded out of the raw material. It walked stiffly, and carried a large tree branch over its shoulder; an improvised club, or perhaps a walking stick for climbing the steeper hills. The thing seemed to have a purpose, but what that could be here and now was beyond understanding.

He doubled back to the group, to be greeted by an outraged Firesong.

“I don’t know why you’re directing us away from the tomb. I’ve explained three times where it is!”

Bishop sighed. “And I’ve told you — we don’t fight in the wasteland unless we absolutely can’t avoid it.”

“Nonsense — I shall sing the fire and they shall trouble us no more.”

Sparks was just as skeptical: “This fire song, uh, Firesong, could you give us a small demonstration? So we can plan our tactics.”

Firesong hummed defiantly, and snapped his fingers at Sparks. A small flame, perhaps the size of a candle, popped into existence and hovered above his palm.

No longer able to keep a straight face, Sarge burst out laughing. “Boy, he really showed you!”

Bishop grinned. “Okay, Firesong, you win. Let’s go back and fight.”

The mage’s face turned as red as his robe. “Damn you, I can scale it up from there.” With a longer song and much more elaborate gestures, he threw a small streak of flame toward a distant bush. It almost hit, shattering a small rock nearby.

Bishop was actually impressed — Sparks could have shot the rock with ease, but his arrow never would have broken it. “How big can you make it?”

Firesong looked away. “Well, uh, that’s a matter of some debate.” He pointed to his trunk. “I believe I’ve identified all the elements of the gestures, but the proper verse eludes me. The scrolls speak of massive explosions, of fire streaking down from the heavens…” He sighed. “So much of the knowledge is lost…”

“Heck of a thing to lose,” Sparks chipped in.

“Look little man,” the mage retorted, “How’d you like to be stringing a bow taller than you are, not that pint-sized version?” He gestured at Bishop. “And the grunt here would be in full-plate armor, though he might need a war horse to move it.”

Sarge cut in before things got further out of hand. “Enough, enough. Firesong, we’ll take what you can give us, but we’re not going to go looking for trouble. Now let’s get back to the mission.”

* * *

The mage paced impatiently, though Bishop returned soon enough.

“It’s there all right,” he nodded at Firesong, “just like he said. But there’s nothing to see. Just a small room, lots of writing on the walls, and a little shrine with one of his magical fires burning on top. Waste of a trip.”

“The Everflame! It is the tomb of Azazel!” Firesong objected. “Legend holds that he was turned away from the Wall, by the Watch I might add, but never made it back to his fortress. Does it say where the fortress is? Is there a map?”

“No, just a bunch of words.”

“And do these words say anything,” Firesong inquired with scathing sarcasm.

Bishop turned away, visibly trying to restrain himself from throttling anyone. It meant he was facing the wrong way to see Firesong dash away, and only heard Sparks call after him, “Wait you idiot! We sent a scout because we wanted to avoid attention!”

* * *

The other three arrived to find Firesong gazing reverently at the walls. “The old tongue! The lost verse is here, I can tell! Just give me a moment…”

Naturally that was the moment the wasteland interrupted. Four people shambled out of the woods opposite the small mausoleum, except maybe ‘people’ was overly generous. Their clothes looked familiar but remained only in tatters, their eyes were completely blank, and the stench of rotting flesh arrived just after they did. They unlimbered makeshift weapons — a rusty axe, a miner’s pick, a sword broken off halfway, and a big stick.

The squad exchanged a silent glance, then sprang into action. Sparks whipped his bow off his back, arrow in hand. Sarge took up position to protect the door, with Firesong inside. Bishop charged the new arrivals like he had something to prove. Moments later, they crashed together.

Bishop knocked huge chunks out of the one with the axe, though it seemed to absorb the punishment without much of a reaction. The other three lumbered on toward the tomb. Sparks took careful aim and shot one right through the eye, though it just carried on with the shaft of an arrow sticking out from its face.

With an eye on the attackers, Sarge called back into the tomb. “We could use some of that Fire Song out here. Right now would be good.”

“A moment, a moment, I’m so close…” came the distracted reply.

Sparks figured if the head didn’t work, he’d try for the heart. The first surprise came when his arrow bounced right off the creature’s chest. It looked down stupidly, at least as shocked as Sparks was, and pulled something small out of the remains of its front pocket.

The second surprise was that Sparks didn’t need to see it to know what it was. A small mirror. Kenny stopped to shave at the oddest times, and left the mirror in his pocket so it would always be handy. There was almost a click in his head as Sparks recognized his friend from the lost patrol. Or what was left of him. The creature looked back toward the tomb and raised a hand. Sparks froze.

The third surprise was the cold hand on his shoulder that spun him around before he could react. Sparks had a moment to wonder how something so awkward had snuck up behind them, and then one of the makeshift weapons smashed into his head.

* * *

Bishop crippled his foe with a crushing blow that shattered its leg. He turned back toward the rest, in time to see three of the creatures close in on Sarge while two more leaned down to finish off Sparks. Bishop broke into a run, though there was no chance he’d reach them in time to stop the inevitable.

At that moment, a harsh voice rang out from the tomb. A massive ball of flame streaked out the door, exploding in the middle of the fight. The force of it knocked Sarge over. It all but blew the creatures apart. Bishop slowed to a halt, awestruck, while greasy nuggets of hot flesh rained down on him.

Then Firesong stepped out, face seared and eyebrows burned to a crisp.

Before anyone could say a word, he broke into an enormous grin. “Now can we look for some trouble?”

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