Confessions of the Magpie Wizard Book 5 (Chapters 34, 35 & 36)
Going on a Monster Hunt!
“Excuse me?” asked Kowalski, clearly flabbergasted.
“You heard me,” I said. “Buddy attacked Viktor not an hour ago. Nearly tore his leg off.”
We had all assembled at the scene of the attack, save Bryndísar. Heida had insisted on sorting things out before bringing the farmer the bad news. I wasn’t sure that was the smartest move, but Heida was technically in charge. Besides, Heida’s still rather dolled up for a night at home, and neither of us want to explain ourselves to him.
The others must have noticed, but they had more pressing concerns. They had rushed out in their pajamas to deal with the crisis. Viktor’s head lay in my lap as Lilja and Mariko tended to him. The disinfectant packed a powerful stench, and the mackie’s trunk was wrapped around my wrist hard enough that I felt pins and needles. It was disheartening to see the proud creature in such a sorry state.
“It wasn’t me!” said Kowalski, hovering near the downed ungulate.
“You poor thing,” cooed Mariko. “Do not worry, it will all be okay.”
“I hope so,” said Lilja. “I know how to treat a sheep, but nobody knows much about Macrauchenia. He might be allergic to antibiotics, even if they work. Heck, he might react to these bandages.”
Mariko’s face lit up. “Soren, you helped the Horde care for mackies! What medicines work well?”
“I can’t be much help there; the Horde doesn’t know much about medicine besides throwing magic at the problem, and a few herbal remedies.”
Mariko’s brow knit. “Wait, healing magic only works on wizards. What happens to mackies who are injured?”
“Orcs love a good barbeque,” I replied.
“How awful,” said the Japanese girl.
I shrugged. “As far as they were concerned, there was always more where that came from.” It was a tad gamey for my tastes, but once you acquired the taste…
A sad bleat from Viktor reminded me that it wasn’t as tasty when you knew the beast. I scratched him behind the ears again. “You’ll be fine.”
Lilja cursed under her breath. “Then we’re flying blind.” She stroked an uninjured portion of Viktor’s flank. “I don’t want to lose the last Macrauchenia! Not when he’s finally behaving.”
“It’s why until further notice, Rafal is wearing his disruptor,” said Heida, pointing at Kowalski. She stood well back from the rest of us, out of fear of either Kowalski or Viktor. “That thing inside you is a menace!”
“B-but…” Kowalski turned to me. “Magpie, you know it can’t be Buddy, right?”
The poor boy seemed to believe in me. He’s in for a rude awakening. “Kowalski, it was a shadowy creature with brilliant white eyes. Those aren’t exactly common. If it wasn’t Buddy, that’s a heck of a coincidence.”
His face fell, before rebounding. “Wait, you said it was an hour ago, right? I was asleep!”
“What’s your point?” spat Heida.
“Me and Buddy are linked,” he said. “When I’m unconscious, so is he. It couldn’t have been Buddy!”
Lilja looked up. “He definitely was asleep at that point.”
“How do you know that?” asked Heida.
“I went in to wish him good night, but he was already snoring,” said Lilja, rising to her full height. “Viktor’s in as good of shape as we can manage. We’ll have to call in a vet, but I think he’s stable.”
“You hear that?” I stroked him behind the ears. “Now let’s release my hand before it goes completely asleep, alright?”
Viktor followed my orders and rolled over to lay on his stomach. He didn’t warn Mariko, who was nearly pinned under his bulk. I didn’t like the look in his eyes, so I ushered Mariko away and closed off the pen.
“Wait, you were in my r-room?” stammered Kowalski, turning beet red despite the serious situation.
Lilja reddened too. “Nothing weird about saying good night to a guest. It’s good manners.”
Heida’s lips curled back. “Sure, that’s why you were there.”
“Get off it,” snarled Lilja. “You’ve got no place to criticize me, with what you two were up to.” Mariko’s face fell.
“Good thing we were, or who knows what Buddy would have done!” countered Heida.
“You said you put him out,” said Mariko. Here face fell and she pretended to be entranced by an empty section of floor. “It seems to me you put him in danger.”
“Like I could have known Buddy would be on the warpath!” shouted Heida.
“We have more important concerns than assigning blame,” I said. “Let’s stop this bickering, shall we?”
I was treated to glares from Heida, Lilja, and Mariko, reminding me that it’s never wise to get in the middle of a catfight.
“A-anyway,” said Kowalski, drawing their attention away. He’s a better wingman than I deserve. “L-like Lilja said, I was asleep. It couldn’t have been Buddy.”
I stroked my chin. “That’s how it’s always worked before, hasn’t it?”
“If Buddy has really turned on us, who’s to say it wasn’t a ruse?” said Heida. “Or who’s to say Kowalski wasn’t faking? Buddy’s just him, right?”
“That theory is no longer supported by the facts,” I replied. I couldn’t exactly use the word golem without risking my cover, but I could hint at it. “Mimics tell me he’s a separate being. A manifestation of his magical ability It explains why K… why Rafal’s always had such a hard time reigning Buddy in.”
“Besides, Buddy’s been so happy since he came here,” so Kowalski. “He spends all day running around and helping us with the chores. It’s kinda tiring, actually. It eats up my magic reserves.”
“Then what did we see?” asked Heida. “Soren, you were so sure it was Buddy.”
“That would make the most sense, honestly,” I said. Kowalski must have been on an emotional roller coaster as I sat on the metaphorical fence. It wasn’t much easier on me. Being fair is rough. “Perhaps we should ask the accused ourselves?”
Kowalski looked down at his shadow, which obeyed the laws of physics for once. “Hey, Buddy? Come on out.” It didn’t so much as twitch. “Buddy, come on. You’re just making it worse for both of us.” Still nothing, and he was starting to sweat. “Buddy I swear to God, get out here!”
“Rafal?” Lilja’s voice rang with concern.
Kowalski didn’t notice, squatting down and striking his own shadow. “Don’t you do this to us! To me! I’m starting to think you are guilty, you stupid piece of garbage!”
Two white eyes snapped open, and Kowalski withdrew his hand an instant before jaws like a bear trap formed and snapped shut. Buddy rose out of the shadow in a mostly human form, save the teeth.
For once, Kowalski didn’t back down. Brave, but perhaps not the wisest move. I readied my fingers for a Magic Bolt, just in case Buddy needed a reminder. Still, we were all under a spell as we watched the confrontation. We all sensed that we’d be unwelcome, and possibly prompt another attack.
“I-I’m not afraid of you,” stammered Kowalski. He swallowed and tried again. “You let me dodge because you know what’d happen if you did kill me. So cut the bull…” He glanced over at Lilja. “I mean, cut the nonsense. You look me in the eyes right this instant and tell me you didn’t attack Viktor.”
Buddy flinched, glancing at the wounded mackie. He didn’t turn his head; instead, one of his eyes flowed across inky skin so he could still keep Kowalski in his field of vision. After studying Viktor a moment, his errant eye slid back into place and he shook his head.
“You promise?” Buddy nodded. “Did you see who did it?” He shook his head that time.
The tension broke in an instant, and Kowalski actually embraced his shadow, which was a first. “Thank God. You had me worried there, Buddy.”
I think Buddy was as startled as any of us.
“Of course he didn’t admit to it,” said Heida. “He wouldn’t if he’s guilty.”
“Has Buddy ever lied to you before, Rafal?” asked Mariko.
Kowalski rose, shaking his head. “Not once.”
“Let’s test that,” I said. “Buddy, did you ruin that container of dirt at the greenhouse?” A nod. “Did you steal Mariko’s bra?”
Ignoring Mariko’s scandalized tone, Buddy nodded again. “Are you proud of your little pranks?” Nod. “And did you attack Viktor?” He shook his head, though his eyes narrowed; Buddy seemed to tire of this line of questioning. “Ko… Rafal, has Buddy ever actually hurt anybody before?”
Some of the tension flowed out of Kowalski’s shoulders, as if his first name was a spell. “Outside of training fights and stuff? Not really. He snaps and threatens, but he doesn’t try to draw blood. Well, except that time he almost took your eye out.”
“At the firing range, yes,” I said, quaking a little at the memory.
“He did what?” asked Lilja, taking a step back from Kowalski. The boy deflated visibly as she did.
“You held back, didn’t you?” I asked, crouching down to the golem’s level. “I doubt those flimsy glasses really stopped you. You held back.”
Buddy’s jagged mouth curved downwards.
“What, you don’t like being exposed as a big softie? Too bad.” Welcome to the club. I placed my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t take a chance like that again, hm? Pranks are all well and good, but I don’t fancy wearing an eyepatch. Besides, Rafal’s the one who would really suffer.”
Buddy scuttled back. He shook all over, and if he could speak, I’m sure I’d be getting an earful. Thank Our Father Below for small favors. After moment’s internal debate, he nodded.
I rose to my feet, unsettled despite what ought to have been good news.
“Magpie!” Heida stomped over, jabbing her finger at Buddy. “He’s clearly lying! You saw him right there! What are the odds of there being another black monster with glowing white eyes on the loose?”
“Admittedly low,” I said. Still, with what I knew about Buddy’s behavior, and his nature as a golem, it tracked. “Still, there are a few discrepancies. Buddy is weak to magic, but whatever attacked us shrugged off a Magic Bolt like it was nothing. Plus, he’s mute, but that wasn’t Viktor screeching out there.”
“As far as we know he’s mute,” said Heida. “He can shapeshift. What’s to stop him from making vocal cords if he wanted to, or making his chest more durable?”
Buddy’s response was to flip Heida the bird.
“Heida, come on,” said Lilja. “You have to be careful. If they decide it’s Rafal, they might throw him in an asylum or… what happens to rogue wizards?”
“Northing good,” said Mariko.
“We need to call Asahi and Henrik,” said Heida, whipping out her phone. “This is above our pay grade.”
Mariko stepped forward, grabbing at Heida’s phone. “You cannot! They will not listen to him!”
“Let go, you cow!” They wrestled over it, but Mariko’s compromised grip lost out.
“Heida, we shouldn’t get them involved right away,” I said, stepping between the fuming women. “Even if we do, it will be hours before they could get here. If there is another shadowy beast on the loose, we’re in the best position to deal with it.”
“What if you’re wrong?” Her blue eyes shone with defiance. “What if we turn around and Buddy tries to slice out our throats?”
I shot her a cocky grin. “He’d probably only slash mine; he’s always been partial to the ladies.”
“I’m serious,” she snapped. “Just because Rafal is a pushover doesn’t mean we can trust his shadow.”
Buddy’s eyes narrowed dangerously, but he seemed to realize that force wasn’t the way to go. For once.
“Then it seems we have a monster to hunt,” I said, trying to sound jovial. “Though… did they let your father keep any of his weapons after they discharged him?”
As a matter of fact, they had, so we quickly decided to go back to the farmhouse and arm up. However, we found Bryndísar waiting for us in the living room, sitting at the foot of his hide-a-bed.
“You all aren’t as quiet as you think you are,” he said. “What’s the emergency?”
Lilja raised her hand. “I’ll tell Pabbi. I don’t need to suit up.”
She must have spared some details for the sake of brevity, as the two of them were sitting in silence when we came back down in our uniforms. If Bryndísar knew what Heida and I had been up to, I doubt he’d look so calm.
“So, looking for a black creature in the dark of night?” He eyed Kowalski suspiciously. “Assuming the monster isn’t with us already, which it almost certainly is.”
“Finally, something we agree on,” said Heida.
“Pabbi, Buddy is part of Rafal, and Rafal’s so gentle!” Lilja had seized her father’s good hand, looking at him imploringly.
“The Horde’s got a lot of monsters to throw at us, but I’ve never seen anything that looks like Buddy. Skjor, did that monster really have black skin and empty white eyes?”
I hesitated. “Yes. It was rather similar, but with some significant differences. I don’t think there’s a match.”
“Well, I think you’re ignoring the obvious,” he replied. “You’re taking the word of a shadow-beast about its actions, and it’s one that’s almost as ornery as Viktor.”
“No, Buddy doesn’t lie,” said Kowalski dejectedly. “He’s proud of the tricks he pulls, especially if it gets a rise out of people; I don’t see him fibbing this time.”
“Wait, why the heck is Buddy still out?” Heida pointed up towards Kowalski’s room. “Kowalski sleeps with a disruptor, right? We should slap it right on his ankle and call it a night.”
“Rafal, you said he can slip out, right?” I asked. “I remember you mentioning that at the airport.”
“Yeah, if he’s careful,” said Kowalski. “And uh…” He glanced up the golem perched on the back one of the chairs, staring straight ahead like a gargoyle. “He’s kinda riled up. He probably would.”
“Then we should not, uh, ‘rile’ him up any more,” said Mariko. “Buddy is innocent, and we want him to help when we find the real creature.”
“Yes, we’re better off being able to keep an eye on him,” I said.
“Fine. Do we have any sleeping pills?” asked Heida. “We could knock him out, and you claimed Buddy can’t work while he’s asleep.”
“That leaves us vulnerable if I’m right and there is something else on the loose,” I countered. “We might need Rafal in a pinch.”
“Well, I’m not going on a hunt with that thing behind me,” said Heida. “Not when we know our quarry is sitting right there.”
“Then we’ll split up,” I said. “Some of us can stay and watch over Rafal, just in case Buddy does try something, and the rest of us can go after our quarry.”
Heida let out a relieved sigh. “Well, you insisted on chasing that wild goose, so you can go search outside.” She jerked a thumb at the blond man. “I agree with Pabbi, so I’ll be watching this guy like a hawk.”
“Works for me; I’m not in any shape to go tramping around in the night,” said Bryndísar. “I can still cast a spell…” He flexed the fingers of his weakened left hand. “More or less. I’ll stay here, too.”
“I can’t leave Rafal alone with two people who don’t trust him,” insisted Lilja.
“Just as well, since you aren’t exactly equipped for a monster hunt.” I nodded at Mariko. “What do you say, my dear? Shall we?”
Mariko smirked at Heida. “I suppose it is just the two of us.”
Heida looked confused for a moment, as though wondering how she’d so badly miscalculated. She wasn’t the least bit pleased that I was going off with Mariko, but she also couldn’t object to it.
Kowalski shook his head. “No, wait. You said whatever it was ate your spell like it was nothing.” He glanced at Mariko. “Sorry, but Mariko won’t be throwing any Magic Bolts to help out. You can’t fight it by yourself!”
“Not without the proper tools, at least,” I said, hefting Bryndísar’s enchanted cane. “I’ll be borrowing this.”
Bryndísar’s eyebrow raised. “What for? Wait… Those runes do mean something, don’t they?”
“It’s an attack spell,” I replied. “Bloody Lance, or Bahadur in High Demonic.”
“What, did they teach you that while you were shoveling Macrauchenia shit?” asked Bryndísar in a skeptical tone. “Did they have night school for slaves?”
Mariko piped up. “His Mimic helps him with that. It also lets him copy their magic.”
Giving me some cover in case I have to break out the big guns? Good girl. I did pick up on human runes fairly quickly; there might be some truth to that.
He shrugged. “Sure, go ahead and take my cane, if it helps. I’m not going anywhere, and if that shadow attacks, I’ll need both my hands free.”
Kowalski bit his lip before leaning over to whisper in my ear. “I still don’t like leaving you and Ms. Yamada alone. I can help you more out there!”
I eyed Bryndísar and his daughters. “Think of it was keeping them safe. Bryndísar isn’t at full capacity, Lilja’s a mundane, and Heida… Well, it’s good to have two combat wizards on duty.” I decided not to out her bad habit of freezing up. We were dating, after all. It would be bad form.
He didn’t look any happier, but he nodded. “Alright. I’m on it.”
“Good man,” I said. “Now, Bryndísar, I was told you still had some enchanted weapons on hand?”
“Just my sword, and an enchanted spear.” He gestured towards a large painting at the far side of the room. “The safe is hidden there, but it sounds like this thing flies. How are you going to get into range?”
“That’s why I’ll need one more favor,” I said. “Where is your least valuable sheep?”
“Are you sure this is necessary?” asked Mariko as I led the stiff-legged sheep into the fenced paddock. It wasn’t as tall as the one meant to contain Viktor, so I sprang over it once the sacrificial lamb was loose. I wasn’t a moment too soon, as the freed creature charged after me, nipping at my heels. I see why the old man was willing to give you up, B37.
“We know it’s got a taste for fresh meat,” I said. “I’m sure this is what took out Brandur’s ram, too.”
“Yes, but this seems cruel,” she replied.
“Then we’ll try to be faster than it,” I said, smiling with all the confidence I didn’t feel. If the mystery creature was Buddy, I’d just sentenced a whole family to their fate. If I was right, though… “Remember what I said before? Whatever it is, no quarter. No mercy. Not when it can shrug off Magic Bolts and swoop down from any angle.”
Mariko nodded once. “Yes, I understand. It sounds like it is simply an animal.” She snapped her fingers. “You said it had wings, right? I wonder if that drunk farmer thought it was a pterodactyl?”
“I hadn’t considered that,” I said. “If it’s been moving from farm to farm, that would explain an awful lot.”
We had a quick discussion about how to proceed. We didn’t want to sit in plain view of our bait; the creature might not show up if it spotted us. Worse, it might go straight for us instead, and it could come in from any angle. Yet, we had to keep an eye on the sheep.
“Are we sure the creature will come back?” asked Mariko. “You scared it off before.”
“It seems to me that it might not have a choice,” I replied. “It completely stripped the meat off that ram’s bones, remember? It must have one Hell of an appetite. It might be desperate if it was willing to tackle a giant like Viktor.”
“Or it is sure it could win.” Mariko shuddered. “That was an awful gash.”
“Getting cold feet, my dear?”
She shook her head. “No, though… Never say this to Mr. Maki, but I almost wish I had learned some of the combat spells. I never considered fighting off animals before.”
“A tad late for that,” I said. “Though, I think we have a use for your unique talents.”
The barn was the furthest from the house, sitting at the base of the tallest hill on the property. It seemed the sheep hadn’t been left to graze it, since it was covered in scraggly brush and leafless trees.
My borrowed longsword was reinforced with runes, and a little magic let it fell the tallest tree with a single slash. Mariko vaporized a section of hillside to create a depression large enough for us to sit side by side. I relieved my tree of its branches, and I fashioned them together into a decent enough cover.
“I’d feel better if they still had their leaves, but it probably won’t be able to see our hidey-hole from above," I said as I settled in, shutting off my flashlight. “It’s not the best hunting blind I’ve ever used, but I’ve had far worse.”
She nodded and took a seat next to me. “Now what?”
“Now we wait,” I said. The only light came from the moon and a distant lantern that illuminated our bait.
It shouldn’t have surprised me when she rested her head on my shoulder. “Probably best not to get too close, Mariko.”
I could just see her round face in the reflected light, and she wasn’t pleased. “What do you mean?”
“If we get too comfortable, we’re liable to fall asleep.” I couldn’t quite stifle a yawn, and she followed shortly after. “Rather inconsiderate of that beast to attack in the night after we’d spent all day working!”
“I do not know,” she said in a reproachful tone. “It did not seem to stop you from sneaking off with Heida.”
“Don’t tell me that’s why you volunteered for this job,” I said.
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “You saw the way she went after Rafal, though. That was a new low for her.”
“I can’t entirely disagree,” I said. What would be safe to say? Anything I confided might come out of Mariko’s mouth later, after all. “I’m sure she has her reasons, and it is the simplest solution.”
“If you ignore everything we know about Buddy,” she countered. “And Rafal. Buddy is mischievous, but not actually evil.”
A vision crossed my mind of Buddy ripping the entire family to shreds as Kowalski begged him to stop. My eyes were fixed dead ahead on the doomed sheep. He had run out of energy, and stood completely still, peering out into the gloomy night. “We’ll see soon enough.”
Hunting was always a favorite pastime for nobles of the Grim Horde. Devils love domination and violence by our natures, and it keeps your riding skills sharp and your sword arm strong. I always enjoyed the moment when I faced off the wild boar or deer, and it was my cunning and magic against their speed and brute strength. Having an orc on hand to bail me out never hurt either, though that was more a sensible precaution.
I didn’t go often, though. Memory is a funny thing; that exciting clash at the end stays fresh in the mind, but it’s easy to forget the long periods of waiting in the rain and muck.
At least the company was more pleasant than an orc retainer. We ought to have been quiet, but after an hour in darkness, Mariko had dozed, and I had nearly followed her. I roused her and started up a conversation. Making our quarry aware of us was better than him stumbling across us in our sleep.
“This wasn’t our worst assignment ever,” I said. “Up until this attack, I mean.”
“I agree. I do love having a real kitchen to work with.” Mariko let out a long sigh. “I wish I could make more than baked goods and sweaters, but at least everybody seems to appreciate those.”
Her head settled on my shoulder again. “Now, now, what did I say before?”
“I am sorry, but it is so cold out here!”
I couldn’t disagree, and I relented, throwing an arm around her. I wasn’t about to say no to some extra body heat. “Speaking of your works, do you know just how many Yamadas there are out there?”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“It’s an exceptionally common surname! It made tracking down your one-shot story a bit of a challenge.”
Her face reddened. “Oh, no. You found it?”
I nodded. “Not Without My Supervisor? I hope that was yours; I found one from another Yamada Mariko that was… a bit less wholesome.”
“Not Without My Supervisor was mine,” she confessed. “What do you mean less wholesome?”
I smirked down at her, unsure if she could see me. “I couldn’t see you keeping a straight face while you drew a young woman and an octopus—”
“Stop,” she said, burying her face in my arm. “No, that was not mine.”
“Good, I liked the real thing better.”
“Were you able to read it? I know that your Japanese is not the best.”
“I’m getting a bit better; it’s your fault I was able to find it at all!”
She chuckled to herself. “I am always getting in my own way. Still, I am surprised you could read all of the kanji.”
“Hiro was kind enough to help me with the translation—”
“Oh, no!” Her face filled mine. “Do not tell me you showed it to everyone!”
“Why shouldn’t I? You put it in a magazine to be seen by other people, right?”
“Strangers, not people I know!” She settled back down, covering her face in her hands. “This feels like when Buddy found my underwear.”
“Would you like a review?” I asked. “Or would that also be too intimate?”
She peeked between her fingers and nodded. “Otherwise the suspense will kill me.”
“I liked the art quite a bit,” I said. “I couldn’t help but notice that the main heroine resembled you. Not just the look, but she was a homebody who liked baking and knitting.”
She gulped. “Wr-write what you know.”
“I thought her relationship with her supervisor at work was interesting,” I said. “She seemed rather passive while she waited for that dense man to get the idea. She was lucky he did, eventually.”
“Again, write what you know,” she said, giving my arm a squeeze.
“Come now. This was made before you even met Hiro, much less me!”
She hesitated a moment before nodding in agreement. “Life imitated art, then. Did you… like it?”
“I admit I tend to go in more for action than romance, but it was a fine read.” I almost added something about looking forward to her next work; it felt natural to say to a writer, but I knew that could only twist the knife.
“You’re the first,” she said.
“To enjoy it?”
“To try looking,” she said, her face coming close to mine again. “I didn’t expect to hear about it again. Thank you.”
“C-careful there, Ms. Yamada,” I said. “We are still on a mission.”
“That is an interesting response,” she replied. “You mention the mission, and not Heida.”
“I…” I gulped. “You’ve heard my objections. This will not end well for you.”
“Yet you keep on being so sweet,” she said. Her hand came to rest on my chest. “It is not kind to play with my feelings like that. It is like you are always bringing me close, then—”
An ear-splitting screech filled the night, and I shoved her aside. I could have been gentler, but I needed to get a clear view of the pen below. The cantankerous sheep had bolted to the other side of the enclosure, bleating as it tried to force its way through the narrow slats in the fence. I couldn’t blame it; the shadowy figure perched on the fence made my guts churn, too.
I quickly covered Mariko’s mouth, cutting off her own startled shriek. “No sense giving our position away!”
She shoved my hand away. “We have to help it! Svalinn’s Mercy!” She had the sense to whisper the spell; it’s fortunate that the forces of magic didn’t care how loudly you said something. The floating red barrier popped into existence right between the sheep and the beast.
I bit back a curse as it craned its head. From the side, I could see a pronounced muzzle full of jagged teeth. It hopped down into the pen, shading its eyes with a clawed hand in an oddly human gesture. Clearly not Buddy: this thing has a limited range of motion. Buddy has the advantage of being boneless.
It seemed the branches did their job, and it turned away to search for the source of the spell elsewhere.
I leveled my hand at it. “You didn’t seem to care about a Magic Bolt before. Let’s see how a Celestial Arrow strikes your fancy!”
Mariko grabbed my arm, and I could feel her trembling. “That is not an animal like you described.”
“And I was quite clear that I couldn’t show any mercy,” I hissed back. “I doubt it’s going to go volunteer at the fire department!”
“I see your point.” She bit her lip and nodded, releasing my arm. “Then try to be clean.”
“Gladly.” I had no intention of going hand to hand with it again; not when it had clawed fingers like steak knives! I leveled my hand again, only to find the target was nowhere to be seen. “Where in blazes…”
Mariko let out a surprised squeak as I lifted her up and sprang out of our devil-blind. She proved simpler to lift than Heida, and a good thing she was! A massive Fireball lit the hillside, the shockwave nearly bowling us over. I just barely kept my feet as I skidded to a stop at the bottom of the hill.
“My hands are full!”
“Right! Svalinn’s Mercy!” Another red barrier popped into place above us, courtesy of Mariko. This one was shaped like a tower shield, which spared us from the second Fireball’s wrath. The impact was enough to crack the barrier nearly in half, and hot air knocked the green cadet’s berets from our heads.
My stomach churned as I set her back down. “Hell’s bells, how much magical energy does this thing have?” Fireball normally doesn’t hit with much impact, since the idea is to do damage with the flames themselves. On the other hand, going all-out led to more explosive results. These weren’t quite as powerful as what I’d used to fell Big Ben, but then again, I’d been exhausted for days afterwards.
I chanced a look through Mimic Sight for just a moment, since our assailant was invisible against the night sky. The monstrous shape stood like a bonfire in the dark. Those were magical reserves like Rose, beyond any other human I’d ever scanned.
Time to douse that light before it turns those into more sledgehammer spells! I thrust a hand out. “Celestial Arrow!”
The golden missile shot forward, briefly lighting the gloomy night in its wake. My aim was perfect, but the beast spun about. Runes on its batlike wings flared to life at the point of impact, and the arrow ricocheted away into the darkness.
“Call for help!” I snapped at Mariko.
“Hai!” She whipped out her phone an instant before the lights on the barn shut off. “Shimatta! It’s dead!”
“Blast!” I peered into the night, and a new set of runes running down our attackers’ legs glowed a steady red. “It has the same scrambling fabricata as the Horde’s jammers!”
Its wings flapped once, lifting it off the ground. Its forearms lit up, and I narrowly pulled Mariko out of the way of another Fireball.
“It does not have to cast?” she asked, a moment before she set up a new Svalinn’s Mercy.
“It’s like they tattooed runes into its hide,” I replied. “Like a living fabricata.” Which meant that it wouldn’t have to waste time speaking and casting the spells. Another disadvantage for us.
“They did not tell us about those in school.”
“Hell, even I…” No, less talking, more casting. “Fireball!” This was the spotlight variant Kiyo had taught me. This monstrosity seemed to have no problems seeing us in the dim moonlight, and the glowing runes left out too much detail; we needed to even those odds.
The creature beat its wings, and even my shaky grasp on physics told me those wings shouldn’t have been able to support its weight. With each flap, I could see the flecks of residuum left in its wake.
Another peek through Mimic Sight showed its aura burning bright, but a shade dimmer than before. It was draining enough for us to lift those bags of dirt with Svalinn’s Mercy. Even if it’s optimized, that flight magic must be burning a fantastic amount of energy. “Mariko! It’s going to close the distance soon. It won’t have a choice.” I twisted my fingers and willed magic into them. “When it does, do not block my line of fire. Alright?”
“Understood.” Her voice sounded confident.
A smirk tugged at my lips. She’d be a fine soldier if only she’d fight.
It flapped again, and my prediction was borne out. It rocketed forward, making a beeline right for us.
“Slow Barrier!” I willed extra magic into the defensive spell as I traced a wide arc before us. The air thickened in my wake, making an almost gelatinous defensive structure that was great at capturing bullets and arrows.
And, I hoped, flying monstrosities.
If it noticed the trap, it gave no sign. It barreled straight into the Slow Barrier and was stuck like a fly to paper.
I almost wished I hadn’t given us a light source. The beast thrashing in the thick air before us looked like what the humans of old thought we demons looked like. Batlike wings flapped uselessly, cloven feet struggled to find purchase, a pointed tail lashed about, and proud horns slashed through the air. All blacker than midnight, all rendered helpless for one shining moment.
Most awful were its glowing white eyes, which I finally saw were not exactly like Buddy’s soulless orbs. There was a pupil hiding the white mass, but it was the same milky color as everything else.
I leveled my hands at it again. “That Slow Barrier won’t hold long!” Best to forestall Mariko trying to spare the thing.
Thus I threw away my chance; runes traced down its tail and a shockwave knocked us back, even as the Slow Barrier became so much residuum.
It twisted its fingers and runes burned bright in the air around its hands. “Flamiwhorl.” Its gravelly voice reverberated with the casual malice of a bored devil.
“It can talk?”
Before I could reply to Mariko, rings of flame surrounded us. They formed a rough dome, not tall enough to stand comfortably, and about ten feet wide.
“More importantly, it can cast!”
If our captor understood us, it gave no sign. It simply walked off as the fiery rings closed in on us.
Thank you for reading!
These chapters originally debuted on my Patreon. If you would like to read ahead, please consider backing me there.
Original Post: https://www.patreon.com/posts/magpie-wizard-5-64613808
Note: Chapter numbering differs slightly from Patreon, due to minor edits between then and now.