Sunday, May 31, 2015

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 8 Famines Respite

Small Packages: Famine’s Respite

Marius had more than a little trouble sleeping that night. Luca’s nap came and went too quickly. The wolves which normally slept and awoke sporadically forewent their normal routine and tonight they simply huddled together in an exhausted and deep slumber.

Marius was bone weary and his body welcomed rest but his mind raced with the grim possibilities around him. Orc arrows and sorcery were enemies he could accept and face, the restless dead and writhing hordes of insects as allies was a bit more difficult to swallow. The landscape surround their campsite in the Famine King’s lands were dominated by burial mounds, monuments that hardly induced comforting rest. Yet what disturbed Marius the most was Luca’s easy demeanor. Luca had no issue sleeping.

Marius was a bit haunted by the battle. The wizard commander tried to use fireballs to burn a hole for the legion soldiers to charge through. Those footmen died horribly the moment they crossed the stream. The echo of the screams of the dying orcs would haunt Marius’ nightmares. The venom in Captain Septimus’ voice as he shouted after them with a magic mouth as he fell, Marius had no doubt the wizard would rise again another creature entirely.

The brothers walked about an hour into the famine king’s territory before settling on a campsite. The entire way they were escorted by all manner of horrors, the last of which was an elvish vampire maiden wearing livery from a long dead elven house. She had prepared the campsite. Luca did a curious thing by bowing to her as deeply as he would an empress.

The oldest and uncensored books were in elvish and usually preferred by scholars. The vampire spoke only elvish which was effectively a scholar’s tongue. After the orcs nearly exterminated the elves by raining alchemical fire down on them from the first fleet of skyships, they conquered most of the northern continent. Old books are often confiscated and translated with some edits into another orc invention the printing press. New books often revised old history, and restructured old ideas. Every village in the Imperium had a school that taught orcish history and had an imperial library. In time men would forget elves or that the world was ever any different than it is under the emperor.

Luca bled for the elvish vampire girl into a cup. She was grateful but Luca dismissed her offer to stand watch. Marius stood watch alone for two hours contemplating their present circumstances. In the end he concluded that he found the Famine King and his minions deeply disturbing and offensive to his moral aesthetic to promote beauty, but to raise his hand against a being whose only actions have been hospitable would be more offensive to his core choice to value loyalty above all other things.

When Luca awoke, a dead legionnaire shambled out of the darkness and greeted the brothers in Punic, the Orcish soldier’s tongue. The zombie’s words were clearly not his own and accompanied by an internal buzzing. Marius eventually realized a locust was wedged in the back of its throat and the buzzing was its wings.

The famine king spoke through the dead orc.“You show old world courtesy winter gnome, for that I accepted your bargain. If I am not mistaken you are a summoner like myself though of a different sort. I would like to discuss your magic with you and perhaps bargain with you further. Do you speak sylvian or draconic?”

Luca of course spoke both and the conversation drifted to places Marius would not likely understand even if he spoke the appropriate languages. Marius drifted into and out of sleep frequently, his will in conflict with the needs of his body.

On waking in the morning, Marius realized two things. First, by the position of the sun in the sky it was far later in the morning then it should be, second that Luca seemed cheerful which was uncharacteristic at best.

“What have you done with my brother?” Marius muttered.

Luca handed him a steaming cup of what from the smell of it was the last of their southern coffee.“Never mind, whoever you are, I think I like you better.” When he tasted the cup, Marius meant it.

As Luca explained what he learned and intended, Marius soon realized that he too was smiling. This was an uncomfortable place to sleep, but the Famine King was in the very least a useful ally. Luca was eager for the road, and perhaps eager for a fight. Marius didn’t expect to be but found that he too was eager for a fight.

A night’s sleep can do that.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 7 Strange Bedfellows

Small Packages: Strange Bedfellows

Luca crossed the stream, followed tentatively by the wolves and his somewhat shocked brother. Once across the hive-infested zombie bull scratched the ground with its hoof then turned it in an unnatural manner that resembled a merchant holding out their palm. Luca read the situation as a request for payment.

“I will relinquish the wand to one of your minions once we have rested and we are nearly out of your lands. I swear by Iz, my Eidolon that I will fulfill the bargain once I can be certain you are holding to yours for safe passage. Is this acceptable?” Luca waited hands outstretched until the beast snorted and nodded yes.

As Luca strode another step forward a tiny marble of fire streaked into the bull’s ribcage and exploded outward in a sphere of flames. Luca felt the heat wash over his face but was not touched by it. The zombie bull and its hive were consumed instantly.

“You are under arrest for the crimes of murder and sedition against the Orcish Imperium, surrender your weapons and any magical items and come peacefully or be slain.”

The orc speaking wore black robes cinched with a crimson sash littered with various pouches and a wickedly long curved dagger. A large silver medallion with an onyx spire indicated him to be a master of the black spire college. He was flanked by two red robed apprentices and a score of archers and another score of legion footmen.

It would not be a long fight. Fleeing wasn’t much an option either as the day’s run had all but depleted them. Luca had but one option, to bluff.

“You have no jurisdiction here. I and my party have an agreement for safe passage through this independent kingdom which belongs to the Famine King. Cross that river and you and all that come with you will perish. In death you will still walk the earth, serving as a home for whatever vermin the famine king sees fit.”

Silence hung in the air for a moment after Luca spoke his words. He and the black spire commander locked gazes as they appraised one another. The moment was broken by a chorus of inhuman roars as the famine king’s denizens poured out of the hills behind Luca.

The orc wizard raised and lowered his free hand and the archers let loose. He muttered arcane phrases and made motions that would summon a killing fog of deadly gas. It would if it overcame Luca’s willful counterspell. It would be the only one Luca would be able to stop but the swarms and his wolves would otherwise die.

Arrows scored hits on Luca, Marius, and two of the wolves though none were yet slain. Another act of will had Luca calling on a burst of positive energy to heal everyone, including Iz. The legionnaires formed up in front of the wizards and archers.
Zombies burst out of the ground between the gnomes and the orcs, followed by swarms of rats and biting insects. The western sunset behind them was rapidly blotted out as thousands of flying buzzing insects filled the air.

In the face of such horrors the legion held formation, determination and training outweighing any fear. The zombies made a formation of their own in an almost mocking tribute. The swarming hordes filled the air between the gnomes and the orcs spoiling any missile fire or the ability to aim. A fireball cleared the air for a few seconds but the effort was futile, a wall of undead and vermin massed along the stream but stepped no further.

Luca recognized the truth in the situation and turned away. He’d lead his pack deeper into the Famine King’s lands and he’d honor their bargain. For better or worse the gnomes had made a new ally and a deadly enemy in the same day. They’d find a camp and sleep under the watchful gaze of one of the world’s greatest terrors.

A magic mouth appeared before them, “I am Captain Septimus Clovis, master instructor of the black spire college, ship commander of the Burning Dawn. You gnomes will pay for your crimes.”

The words faded with the sounds of a million tiny wings.