Updated: Aug 25
<---------Previous Chapter Melfice struggled as the arcane energy rocketed through him, his body acting as a magnifying lens for the pure destructive power he was unleashing towards the Marques and the towering Render. The spell itself resembled a swarm of fiery orbs, each roughly the size of a plum, that radiated blinding light and intense heat. The spheres fly soundlessly, save for the low hum of power that seemed to resonate in one’s teeth, as if they were sensitive enough to notice.
The Marques barely could let out shrieks of pain before each was struck by two or three such blazing balls, the orbs bursting to reveal they were more liquid than solid. Said liquid was akin to lava, though it wasn’t molten stone so much as refined magical energy that sizzled through muscle, blood, and bone. The bulk of the orbs sailed around the Render and Skelly, locked in their electric duel, to deal with the small crowd of archers before they tipped the battle in the Render’s favor.
They died messily, bursting into flame as their bodies were consumed in the arcane fire. Wheeze and Needles had looped around behind them and were now dealing with the five or six that had run beyond the spell’s reach, decisively beheading them with looks of grim resolve. Skelly, seeing that the tide of battle was turning, grit his teeth and poured more lightning and thunder through his frame, bellowing in pain and rage as he was cooked alongside the hellish beast.
The Render seemed to understand that it was now about to lose and stopped attempting to hammer down the immovable pillar personifying a thunderstorm, instead turning to try and run. It’s arms and front smoldered, blackened by electric sparks that had arced from Skelly and into the monster. Smoke trailed up from its chest and face as it loped off, limping slightly as one of its legs seemed to have been charred almost to the bone.
Melfice, feeling the power of his spell running low, spent the last vestiges of the destructive arcana on the fleeing titan and turned the remaining orbs to splash into the creature’s legs. The effect was instantaneous, with over a dozen pulsing balls of liquid fire splashing into the knees and ankles of the Render, rendering its flesh nothing more than charred, useless meat.
It stumbled and fell, sliding in the bloody snow with a pained howl. Skelly dropped to his knees and discharged the last of the energy he will pull through him, looking worn, but alive.
“Might want to check on him, El,” Melfice said, taking deep, gulping breaths. “Time may be a factor…”
“On it!” She said, sprinting out onto the battlefield to get to the old druid.
Melfice took a few hesitant steps, making certain he wasn’t about to go lightheaded or pass out. Channeling that much magic was dangerous under the best of circumstances, and he had only ever cast it once before.
Needles and Wheeze were now circling the downed Render, the beast growling and swiping with the horrible claws as it tried to keep them at bay. Its arms were bloody, raw, and cooked, with newer wounds appearing every time it swung at one of the two. They were carving it apart, slowly and surely.
Melfice groaned, before stretching out his arms high over his head. He could feel the familiar leaden weight of Spell Fatigue settle into his arms, and he knew from experience that not trying to work out the forming kinks would work agony over him in the following day.
Leaning to touch his toes, he listened to the dying roar of the Render, weak and frightened. It sounded like such an alien noise coming from such a terrifying monster, but he mused that every creature feared its own end.
Why wouldn’t it?
Twisting about to stretch and loosen his tightening muscles, Melfice slowly worked through a routine he’d learned over the course of his training. Unlike other wizards, who practiced more common methods of working out their fatigue (boxing was common), his master had stressed the study of Xoan Meditation.
Unlike the meditative practices of the monasteries hidden around the world full of sages and philosophers, Xoan Meditation was in fact a form of unarmed combat. It focused not on raw power or speed, but flexibility and weighted strikes. Swings fueled by the momentum of a dodge, or rolling with a blow to lessen the damage, Xoan monks were rarely trifled with.
They were also unusually chipper, largely because of the relaxing properties that came with being able to shrug off a day of hard labor with half an hour of stretching.
“Wha’ ya doin?” Melfice jumped when he realized Wheeze had walked right up to him, lighting one of his cigarettes as he did so.
This was unfortunate, as Melfice was in the Arcing Crane position, which had him standing on his hands with feet planted and belly skyward. His jumping resulted in his stance being ruined, and him tumbling to the hard-packed snow with a grunt. Looking up at Wheeze, Melfice scowled at the light smile adorning the mercenary’s blood caked face.
“You haven’t even cleaned yourself?” Melfice asked, settling into a cross-legged position in the snow. “By the Gods, find a stream and clean yourself! I will not be forced to smell you as your top-coat rots!”
Wheeze gave a choking bark of laughter, shaking his head. “Gonna melt some snow, better than findin’ a river. Too close ta the marshes, could get sick.”
Melfice paused in what would have been a continuation of his rant to study Wheeze for a moment. “That… was oddly cognizant of you.”
“Heh, no idea wha’ tha’ means, just somethin’ El said when I said I’d be findin’ a pond fer me an’ Needles to take a dunk in.”
“And that explains that… now, what were you asking?” Melfice asked, resuming his stretching, legs splayed wide.
Wheeze motioned to Melfice with his cigarette. “All this? Why you dancin’ in tha’ snow?”
Melfice laughed. “It’s not dancing, you… no, it’s a method for me to control the damage I do to myself when channeling that much power.”
Wheeze’s eyebrows rose. “You got hurt? Need me ta grab El?”
“No, no I’m fine… part of being a wizard, actually.” Melfice chuckled, shrugging. “Not much to be done about it. That much magic coursing through my body is painful, can be deadly. I’m just not learned enough to wield that much power yet.”
“Seemed pretty ‘learned’ ta me when ya were huckin’ lava about!” Wheeze cackled, tapping his boot against Melfice’s extended leg. “Still… thanks fer savin’ me and Needles like ya did.”
Melfice paused, glancing up at the young warrior. “I beg your pardon?”
“I ain’t got much patience fer wizards,” Wheeze pressed on, taking a long drag from his cigarette. “Never trusted ‘em, never rightly will. But you… ya went out o’ yer way to help me and mine. Can’t jus’ ignore tha, now can I?”
“We’re out in this endeavor as allies, Wheeze, you don’t nee to thank me…”
Wheeze stalled his arguments with a gore-stained hand. “Now don’ be tryin’ ta talk me out o’ this. Jus’ nod and say yer welcome!”
Melfice studied Wheeze, taking in the many light cuts over his body. They were all scabbed over, but Melfice knew that El would re-open them to clean them out before they all went to sleep. Finally, he nodded.
“You’re welcome, Wheeze… now lend me a hand? I think my legs fell asleep while we were talking…”
As the battle wound down, with Needles picking through the charred Marques corpses for anything worth looting and Skelly wobbled back and forth with the aid of Posnev and Elena, Wheeze and Melfice set about assembling the basics for their camp. Soon, an enormous bonfire roared in a shallow pit they shoveled out. A few stakes had been made and partially buried in the cold earth around the fire, serving as roasting spits for the Render flesh they’d carved away from the dead beast.
Turns out the strange monster was very well marbled, and tasted reminiscent of fish, not in texture but in flavor.
By the time the moon was high, Needles had returned with a jangling sack of coins he’d pillaged (“A few had some hidden in their prison pockets, ha! Knew you were coming, didn’t they Wheeze?”) and a small gemstone that he’d flicked towards Elena with a smile.
“Payment for services!” He’d laughed when she sputtered at the offering. “Besides, don’t think any of us will mind losing a small bit like that to keep the gods’ blessings coming.”
“Just take it,” Skelly moaned from his bedroll, sitting up against the massive frame of a slumbering Posnev. “Donate it to the church if it makes you happy. Though from what I saw, probably seek some new boots. Yours look fairly worn.”
Elena mumbled a quiet thank you and began patching up Needles and Wheeze, slowly growing louder in her complaints as she found all the wounds hidden beneath the blood that spattered their forms.
“How in the world are you two walking around like this isn’t a big deal?” Elena finally shouted into the night, when her cry of alarm at finding a wicked groove of sliced muscle on Wheeze’s back earned a round of laughter from the two. “This could have killed you!”
“Somethin’ has ta,” Wheeze replied, taking a swig of watered-down liquor from the bowl between him and the priestess. She swatted at his hand, earning a scowl. “Ow, watch it woman, I’m injured!”
“No drinking my medicine!” She shot back, taking the bowl from him. “These wounds need to be clean, no telling what those vile little creatures had on those arrowheads…”
“Most likely feces,” Melfice said, not looking up from his grimoire as he read over the notes on the spell he’d used earlier. When he felt all of his ally’s eyes on him, he spared a glance. “What?”
“What… did you say?” Elena asked, partially horrified, the rest outraged.
“Marques… they sometimes dip arrowheads in their feces, to help create infected wounds should their foes get away?” Melfice answered, curious how they wouldn’t know this. “Come on, they hunt in packs much larger prey. You think they just rush it and take losses every time? No! They wound it with poisoned arrows than stalk it for a few days when it succumbs to the infections. How could you people not know this?”
“I did,” Skelly said, chewing on his flank of Render happily, “I just had the moral sense not to say anything, as I knew it would just upset Elena.”
“Why would it ups—”
“Those nasty little monsters!” She hissed, practically shaking with rage. “They couldn’t just be out making farms and living like good people do, could they? No, they must make creatures suffer, possibly for days, before killing them! What little horrors!”
“Now ‘old on,” Wheeze said, pawing for the bowl as he spoke. “Me an’ Needles, we use poison off an’ on, wha’s so wrong wit’ that?”
“Feces isn’t a poison,” Skelly said, a smile tugging at his lips as he stared at Needles.
Who was doubled over, gasping for breath as he continued to laugh? He held up a hand, as if begging a foe to stop. “N-no, don’t do it! Y-y-you’ll break the spell!”
Wheeze piped up. “Magic? We under attack?”
Melfice heaved a sigh, flexed a hand conspiratorially to emit a loose stream of pent up energy. Wheeze, tired and inebriated enough to be relaxed, fell victim to the spell in a heartbeat. His eyes glazed over, and he went limp, as if unconscious.
“Wha—?” Elena said, flinching at the sudden movement.
“Wait,” Melfice said to Elena before she could freak-out. He then motioned to Needles, who was still laughing. “Let him explain.”
She seemed put out but crossed her arms and looked to Needles with an expression of “Get on with it.”
Needles took a gulp of air and let out an amused sigh. “Okay,” he said finally, “Wheeze and I do use poison, strictly the legal kind that numbs a creature or knocks them out.
Better used for hunting down a bounty that you need to bring in alive, you know?”
“Makes sense… I use herbal poisons when hunting animals in the wild, to subdue them before harvesting what I need.” Skelly agreed, stroking his short beard. “It prevents unwanted injury and allows me to spare the creature I am gathering from, should that be workable.”
“Well… Wheeze doesn’t mind the nasty stuff. Stuff that makes you bleed out your eyes and throat, stuff that shuts down organs, the worst.” Needles continued, still amused.
“Thing is, that stuff gets you a long stint in a prison cell, and I like to keep our contracts clean and legal. Usually.”
“So how do you get him to not seek the nastier stuff?” Melfice asked.
Needles gave a lopsided grin. “I lie. If you haven’t noticed, Wheeze isn’t that bright. That, and his social skills are primitive. So, when we need to supply, I do the shopping and make certain to ‘find’ rare and potent poisons for him to use, when in fact they’re the same alchemical glop that we always use.”
“And this… what does this have to do with us explaining what feces is?” Elena asked, crinkling her nose.
Needles motioned to the unconscious Wheeze. “Eventually he will go hunting for poisons on his own! Let him have some dumb one that he thinks is amazing, so that when he goes hunting for it he gets laughed out of the shops.”
“You want us to lie?” Elena asked, tone flat.
Melfice snorted. “This would be worth it.”
“It would prevent him from possibly gaining access to something dreadful…” Skelly mused.
“That too. I just meant it will be worth it just to see him treating Marques shit like powdered Belladonna.” Melfice smirked, nodding at a now grinning Needles. “Sounds good, we don’t tell him.”
“I don’t like this…” Elena grumbled as Melfice released the spell.
Skelly was just shaking his head as he laid back, and Needles was practically bouncing on the log across from Wheeze as the man snapped back to awareness.
“Wha… wha’ happened?” Wheeze groaned, slightly dazed.
“Blood loss, you just had a woozy spell,” Needles explained, waving away the other man’s worry. “You okay?”
“Yeah, ‘m right. So, this fezes… it a nasty one, is it?” Wheeze asked, looking at Skelly.
Skelly pulled his blanket up over him and rolled to the side to get comfortable against the large hound. “Ask Melfice, he knows the specifics.”
“Fezes,” Melfice said, fighting his smile. “Isn’t strictly a poison, as it also has properties similar to a disease. Makes you break out in a nasty infection as it…”
“Makes your organs rot!” Needles interjected, to a nodding Wheeze.
“Yeah, that. Nasty stuff…”
“Tha’s amazin’!” He turned to Needles, a smile blossoming across his weathered face.
“We got ta get me some of tha’!”
“I’ll nab some in town next time I go shopping.” Needles promised.
Wheeze seemed pleased with himself, then his smile faltered. “Wait, this shit may not be tha’ effective if the Marques use it! I got hit by half a dozen arrows. How come I ain’t dead?”
Needles was caught, Melfice could tell, and intervened. “I’d wager that your good health, lungs notwithstanding, allowed you to resist this nefarious toxin’s dangerous effects.”
Skelly trembled beneath his blanket, Melfice just making out with his Elven hearing muted chuckles.
“I’ll make sure the shit I get is strong, all right?” Needles said, somehow keeping his face straight.
Skelly continued to shake.
“’Ow do you make Fezez stronger? Some kinda alchemist work ‘r somethin’?” Wheeze asked, wincing as Elena dug a bit too deep into a tender spot. “Ow, damn woman, watch it!”
“Shut it!” Elena snapped, bopping him on the back of the head. Her face was flushed, her eyes narrow as a wicked smile spread across her face. “As for how do you make Fezes stronger? Why, even I know that!”
“’Ow?” Wheeze asked, looking as best he could over his shoulder. Melfice cracked a wry grin as he caught Elena’s mischievous smile.
“Diet!” Elena chirped, returning to digging into his back wound. “Oops, a few splinters back here! This may take a while…”
“You okay Skelly? You’re shaking something awful…” Needles asked, looking at the trembling back of the old injured druid.
Melfice finally snapped, laughter breaking past his lips and echoing into the night.
Melfice had never been camping.
He never knew what he was missing.