Confessions of the Magpie Wizard Book 5 (Chapters 37 & 38)
“Water Orb!” My first instinct turned out to be pointless; the chilly night air surrounding us had already been dried out by the dome of fire. The golf-ball sized sphere didn’t even reach the flames before it evaporated.
“It is getting closer,” said Mariko, joining me towards the middle of the trap.
I bit my tongue; no sense berating her for stating the obvious. Not when seconds counted.
It turned out she was already ahead of me. She had crouched down, her hands glowing with magical energy. Her nameless affinity went to work, vaporizing the soft soil beneath our feet.
“Clever plan; we’ll get under the…”
I was cut off by an orange flash and a deafening pop. The already heated air was scalding for an instant before it cooled again.
Well, relatively cooled. When I cracked my eyes open, the rings were still closing in on us. Mariko lay stunned, and I wasn’t feeling any better. What in the Hell was that?
A question for later. If I couldn’t douse the flames, then perhaps I could break the energy envelope that held them in place? I drew my borrowed longsword again, willing magic into the blade. I wished I still had my rune-reinforced beret, since I suspected what would happen when I popped the membranes. I removed my green capelet and tied it in place over my head. That will have to be enough.
“Hah!” The sword’s tip sang through the air. I couldn’t aim with my eyes covered, but I didn’t have to. The trap was cooperatively coming right towards us.
The runes in the green capelet lit up, and my exposed hands were scorched by the bursts of flame. I only stopped when the chill returned to the air around me, and I tossed aside the capelet.
Mariko had escaped unscathed. I hadn’t been so lucky, though my enchanted uniform had done its job. The back of my right hand was raw, and even the magically-enhanced sword was too hot to touch comfortably.
“I-I am fine,” she managed, levering herself up. “What happened?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing. Flamiwhorl… I mean, Flaming Ring doesn’t explode like that!”
“It is like that day with the bike,” she said.
A horrific crunch from the pen cut off our discussion, and I was reminded of our uninvited guest. The creature had made short work of the sheep, and I really wished I hadn’t seen it eat. A dark, rasp-like tongue was already scraping the last bits of flesh from the sheep’s bones, leaving a skeleton just like Brandur’s ram.
My wounded hand reluctant twisted into position. “Magic Bolt!” Perhaps if it doesn’t see me coming, it won’t be able to stop the spell?
No such luck. It pivoted to place its wings in the path of the spell. Instead of dissipating, the flashing blue orb glanced off, punching a basketball sized hole in the barn’s door. The sheep within began bleating in panic.
The creature paid me a stinging insult: it turned away and made its way over to the door. A slash of its taloned hand ripped through the deadbolt, and it kicked the door down.
“Hey, you! We aren’t done with you yet!”
Mariko was right to sound confused. What in Our Father Below’s name was I doing rushing in to defend a bunch of stupid sheep? I’d had more than my share of mutton during the last week, after all.
There was a smidge of method to my madness. If it was burning through so much magic to fly about, much less fight us, that explained its enormous appetite. We wanted the beast hungry. For all we knew, this wasn’t its full fighting potential.
Of course, I might have been offering it some nice steak à la Marlowe on a platter, but adrenaline tends to quiet such thoughts.
It took the bait, though, and spun about to face the new challenge. I was ready for it, though. “Fireball!”
I threw some extra oomph into the spell; I was going to show this pissant who was the real master of that spell. It seemed unbothered by the explosion, but the impact staggered it. Good, it can be hurt.
It responded by beating its wings twice; once to break the pull of gravity, and again to tackle me to the ground. The blow knocked the wind from my lungs; I struggled to back off, but it held me in place. Something hot spattered against my cheek, and I could just make out the trace of drool going back to its jagged maw.
“Get off him! Spectral Web!”
Mariko was on the other side of the fence, which was the best place for her. A mass of blue threads covered the creature’s face. It released me to claw at the covering, but it turned out its long talons were ill-suited to such delicate work.
I took advantage of Mariko’s distraction to get some distance, backing up to the edge of the pen. I spared her a grateful smile; I didn’t have the breath to waste on words.
I raised my hands to fire off another Celestial Arrow, but the creature wasn’t stupid. Even as it struggled against the quickly dissolving Spectral Web, it had raised its wings between us as a shield. Crouched down as it was, the leathery skin covered most of its body.
However, it couldn’t cover everywhere at once. “Fireball!” I put extra energy into the spell again, aiming for a gap near its ankles. It exploded, sending the beast stumbling back. I couldn’t make out any injuries in its pitch-black skin, but it seemed shaken.
I decided to use Bryndísar’s gift. The cane had stayed on my sword-belt, and I quickly leveled it at my target with my unburnt left hand. A mental command sent a bolt of jagged red energy right at the staggered creature. I could have made my own Bloody Lance, but I wanted to have as much distance between the ideas of ‘Soren’ and ‘demon’ as I could manage.
Besides, it left my mouth free for more important tasks… like cursing my luck. “Blast those wings!” When it wasn’t flying, it only took a twitch to raise its built-in shields. That attack seemed more telling, as the black wings glowed and smoked afterwards.
Not much of a comfort when it bounded ahead again, smacking the cane from my grasp.
“Lovely Fireworks!” Mariko came to my aid again. It wasn’t as helpful as another Magic Bolt right then, but the dazzling lights stopped its charge.
I sprang over the fence to bolted away to get some distance. It was clear to me that we were chipping away at its defenses, and I was doing better at range than up close.
It seemed to have reached the same conclusion, clearing the fence with a single stroke of its wings. It didn’t seem to want to fly anymore, which I took as a sign it was nearing the edges of its magical reserves. It proved damned fast on its cloven hooves, and I realized I would have a chance for one spell before it caught me.
Well, if it was going to play for keeps, I would, too. I set aside any thoughts of secrecy. Let’s see how you like demonic acid! “Ruhspont!”
The damp, early morning air coalesced into a single point, forming a green sphere the size of a baseball. A wave of my hand sent it spattering in a wide arc at the charging demon.
Its wings proved no defense against the hissing spray. Sizzling holes opened in the leathery membrane, revealing an agonized face. It skidded to a halt, its enormous wings flapping desperately to try and remove the remnants of my Rough Spout. The creature cursed in a Low Demonic. A bit slurred, given its pronounced muzzle and enormous teeth, but the accent was unmistakable.
That’s no mindless beast, then. I hesitated; not out of any mercy, but I spent a moment in calculation. Was this being the agent of whoever had sent the Beckers after us? If it wasn’t, it seemed like too much of a coincidence. I had an opening, but what if I was slaying the only being who could tell me what I was up against?
“You speak; what are you?” I demanded in a slightly rusty High Demonic. I cast a Svalinn’s Wrath, forming a black energy sword in my left hand. I wasn’t as strong with that one, but my burned right hand was starting to pain me. Hopefully it doesn’t notice the blade is in my off hand.
“Ya understand me?” The acid had run its course, and it lowered its wings to get a better look at me.
“Obviously,” I spat. There was something about using the mother tongue that brought out my snippy side. “Again, what are you, and who sent you? Don’t be all day about it.”
“A human wizard that speaks Demonic? How?”
I leveled the blade at it. “I’m asking the questions here. Unless you’d like to taste my blade? Or perhaps you’d care for another acid bath?”
Its milky white eyes narrowed as it studied me, before widening in shock. “Malthus?”
There was my name again. “If you don’t want to talk, then…” I’d been inching closer, and I had the winged creature in my sword’s range. I tensed up, ready to strike.
“Malthus!” I was forced on my back heels as its clawed hands swiped at me. Svalinn’s Wrath origin as a defensive spell saved me, as the sturdy energy sword survived three barely-parried slashes. “Our Father Below smiles on me today! I never thought I’d see ya again!”
“You…” I grunted, as I brought my wounded hand to steady my grip on the sword’s hilt. “You have me at a disadvantage.”
“I almost didn’t recognize ya without yer horn nubs, manlet!” Its attacks became wilder, which is what saved me from his onslaught. “I’ve changed too, ya saw to that!”
He stopped his onslaught, his white orbs narrowing again. “Ya’ve got no idea.” I could see the steam rising from his fanged mouth, just as with mine. However, I was panting from exertion, but he was quivering with fury. “Ya destroyed me, and ya have no Enemy-damned clue who I am!”
I gulped; suddenly the energy sword seemed insufficient, but I didn’t dare let it go. I’d never get off another spell at this distance. “Surely it can’t be as bad as all that. I’m sure I’d remember—”
“Yer the face I see when I’m shivering in a mud hole! When I spent my days hiding from damn humans, living like a wild animal!” He sprang ahead, his claws tracing deadly arcs through the air. I could keep up with my sword, but I didn’t have the same rage to fuel my attacks as him. “How could ya forget me?”
“I’m bad with faces,” I grunted. I thought I saw an opening in his uncontrolled attacks.
I did not, and he laid me flat with a single kick from his hooves. I inhaled, and regretted it, feeling the familiar burn of a broken rib.
He loomed over me, planting his foot on my cracked chest. “Tell ya what, I won’t strip the meat from that woman’s bones if ya can tell me who I am.”
I didn’t bother saying Mariko wasn’t part of it, like I might have with a human. Whatever he was, he had been a devil once, that was clear, and asking for mercy would only ensure he would go after her. “Can I have a hint?” My voice was barely a wheeze.
“Grand General Girdan’s painting,” he spat. “Tell me ya can recall that much.”
Painting, painting… My mind raced, trying to think of what this deformed thing could be referring to. I didn’t think the truth would set me free, but I was trying to buy seconds. If I could get my hands free, I had a golden opportunity to tag it with another spell.
Then it struck me.
“Mulciber?” I croaked out.
Demesne of Margrave Mammonin (Near the former Salamanca, Spain)
Saturday, June 15th, 2047
“I swear, we should have let those goblins have this lousy tract of land,” I griped. “It’s all dust and sun.”
“Look on the bright side, Captain Malthus.” Dewdrop the goblin freshened my drink without my asking. When we had stepped away from the bulk of the party, he’d swiped one of the bottles from the open bar. The butler was always good about anticipating my needs. Whatever Girdan pays him, it isn’t enough. “You wouldn’t have earned your promotion if they had. It’s a high honor, especially at your age.”
“True enough.” Refreshed my drink and stroked my ego. Shame they don’t live past thirty; it’s so hard to find good help. “You’re one of them, Dewdrop; what were they thinking?”
He cleared his throat. “Of course, I’m a loyal son of the Grim Horde, and cannot imagine the thought process of a revolutionary.” The bald, grey skinned demon began to sweat, and not just due to the summer heat.
“You know I’m not going to tattle on you,” I replied. “And we’re alone.”
“Some of them approached me when they realized I had access to Grand General Girdan, and tried to win me to their side,” he replied. “They got ahold of some old human books that put revolutionary ideas in their head. They seemed to think their creator had endowed them with, for lack of a better term, human rights.”
I nearly snorted some of my drink in laughter. That would have been painful, even as watery as this whiskey is. Some victory party! “As if the Enemy gives a kobold’s ass about goblins.”
“True enough, Captain Malthus,” he said. “We ought to put in an appearance in the main hall; Mammonin and Girdan will wonder where you are.”
“When I’m good and ready,” I said, taking a step down a random hallway. The petty noble had set himself up in the largest mansion the Horde had left intact. There were plenty of places to wander. “I don’t consider hanging out with old men a good time. Girdan’s a mean drunk, and Mammonin’s trying to earn himself a promotion. I nearly vomited listening to him toady.”
“Yes, I know your preferences, sir,” he said, sounding a tad wearier than I liked. “Speaking of, the local madame says she found you a blonde. Not the most common hair color for devils, but I negotiated the price down. She’ll be waiting for you in your room… once you go make nice with the officials.”
“Good man,” I said. Had I even had to ask him? I couldn’t quite recall; Dewdrop had been very good about keeping my glass full. Definitely not paid enough. Not that I was about to sacrifice any of my loot from the campaign, but it seemed like something Girdan ought to do.
Wait, that sounds an awful lot like concern for the four-fingered little snot. Remember, he isn’t you, so he does not matter. I shook my head. It’s hard to find good help; that’s why you want to keep him in something like good health.
“You seem deep in thought; is something troubling you, sir?”
I didn’t answer right away; he was the last demon I wanted to share those unworthy thoughts with. We stepped out of the hallway, entering a library. A thick coating of dust on the books showed that they were only trophies; the fireplace and couches showed the same lack of care. I studied the collection, finding most of them to be in Spanish, naturally. Completely useless. A pity; I was getting tired of rereading Pride and Prejudice.
“Mammonin’s got the design sense of a color-blind orc,” I said, running a finger along a freshly painted wall. “Red walls with green furniture? I hope he had whoever suggested that flogged.”
“Probably the only color available, sir,” suggested Dewdrop. “We didn’t leave many factories intact, after all.”
“Very fair of you, Dewdrop,” I said. “You should save the ass-kissing for Girdan and I.”
“As you say, sir.”
“Ah, finally!” I pulled a book off the shelf. “Something I can use! A biography of… Winston Churchill in English.” I wasn’t entirely sure who that was, but the name had an air to it. Either way, I wouldn’t have to read about Elizabeth and that Mr. Darcy chap again. Too much buildup, and then that Jane Austen hack didn’t even include any sex scenes!
“There’s hardly time to read it all, sir,” said Dewdrop with just a hint of reproach in his voice.
“Obviously not,” I said, handing him the tome. “Smuggle this out for me.”
He held it as though it were red hot. “Is it… wise to pilfer from the local lord’s personal collection?”
I blew a handful of dust in Dewdrop’s face, sending him into a coughing fit. “As if he’ll notice it’s gone. Books are meant to be read, not just to be a talisman to throw on the wall to show how cultured you are!”
“As you say, sir,” he said with resignation.
“Don’t worry about it; Mammonin owes us after we recaptured his province from those Four Finger revolutionaries.”
We passed from the library into an adjoining room, and I was surprised to find we weren’t alone. A lower-caste devil with skin the color of burnt umber lounged in a chair nearly the same shade. The plain, dusty clothes marked him as some sort of laborer or servant. He bore black, curly hair that seemed unused to a comb, which matched his slovenly pose. He also had a proud set of curled ram’s horns.
Not that I was jealous of that last detail, of course; the devilmaids assured me that my horn nubs were cute.
He didn’t notice me, but then, he seemed to be in a bored daze. I coughed into my hand, startling him out of his seat and into a heap on the floor.
“Hey, what gives? You human trash, I oughta…” His golden eyes caught sight of my uniform and freshly minted Captain’s bars. His eyes also went up, spotting my nubs. A cocky smirk crossed his lips.
“Do you see something that amuses you?” My cheeks burned, but I kept it out of my voice.
“O-of course not. Sorry, didn’t realize you were mixed.” He sprang to his feet and gave the traditional Horde salute: right hand over the heart, left over the eye. “I meant to say, good evening, Captain. Pleased to meet ya.”
I didn’t return the gesture; I didn’t owe him the honor. “What is your name?”
“Mulciber, sir,” he replied. He hadn’t stopped his salute; protocol was to wait for it to be returned or acknowledged, especially when dealing with a social better.
I counted to three in my head, enjoying how the devil squirmed. After months on campaign under Girdan the ‘Fair’s’ thumb, it was a pleasure to have somebody fear me.
“Captain Malthus,” I said, releasing him. “And I wasn’t expecting to find anybody here. Should I tell Mammonin you’re hiding here instead of helping with the party?”
He swallowed nervously. “I-I am working, sir, though I can see why you’d think I wasn’t.” He gestured at a wall opposite his sofa, and I noticed the painting for the first time. “Mammonin’s givin’ a celebratory gift to the Grand General, and I’m to make sure nothing happens to it.”
I peered at the diminutive canvas. “Melting clocks? This is art?”
Mulciber shrugged. “Couldn’t rightly tell you. It’s a human artifact, and you know how the nobles love hoarding those.”
“That I do.” I would only realize what I was looking at much later. I’m not sure how it The Persistence of Memory had come to southern Spain, but the nobledevils were constantly trading around those bits of human culture.
I glanced at Dewdrop to make sure he’d hidden the stolen biography. The paperback was simply a small bulge in his jacket pocket. Good man. “Well, as fascinating as looking at this old human junk is… actually, it isn’t the least bit fascinating. Do try to stay awake this time, hm?”
“Yes, of course.” He was right to be afraid; a less subtle nobledevil might have ruined his face with a Rough Spout for less.
That would be too obvious, though. No, I had a better scheme.
I clapped him on the shoulder. “You can relax a little. In fact, would you like to share a drink with me? Just to prove there are no hard feelings.” I gestured towards Dewdrop’s bottle.
“I-I couldn’t trouble you like that,” he stammered.
“I insist. Dewdrop, I think I saw a glass in the library?”
“Of course,” said Dewdrop.
Soon enough, the two of us were chatting idly on the couch. It seemed we didn’t have much in common, which was to be expected. I mostly had tales of battles, hunting, and carousing to share, and he had tales of, ugh, honest labor. I definitely carried the conversation, and he seemed especially interested in hearing about the recent rebellion.
“They kept us all in the dark,” said Mulciber. “I didn’t even know there was a problem before the Margrave evacuated the town.”
“I’m sure you had a rough time of it,” I said, gesturing for Dewdrop to freshen his fifth glass. Good to see the lower classes practice the virtue of gluttony, or else this wouldn’t have worked at all. “What’s the matter? You aren’t touching your drink.”
“Actually…” Mulciber stood, keeping his head bowed. He shifted uncomfortably. “Could I trouble you? I, er, I have bodily needs and…”
“You have to take a piss,” I snapped. “Don’t try to be flowery on my account. Gentledevils piss, too.”
He flinched from my rebuke. “R-right. Pretty badly. Would it trouble you to watch the painting while I, er…”
“Piss, yes,” I said, waving him off. “Be quick about it.”
“Much obliged, your lordship.” He saluted me again but didn’t hold it for a respectful period of time. He dashed through the library and down the hallway.
As soon as his footsteps trailed off, I splashed my drink on the aged oil painting. The dried colors lost their cohesion and began to dribble down the aged canvas.
“Captain Malthus!” said Dewdrop.
“He called me human trash. He had it coming.” And smirked at my horns. For good measure, I slit a long gash down the middle with my dagger.
“Sir, you just ruined Girdan’s gift!”
“Correction,” I said, relieving him of the whiskey bottle. “Mulciber just ruined Girdan’s gift.” I poured a few fingers into the emptied glass, chugged it, then threw my tumbler out the window. No sense wasting more than I have to. I placed Mucliber’s glass and the mostly-emptied bottle by the couch to complete the illusion.
My work done, I strode out the door the same way we’d come. “Come, Dewdrop. It’s time for us to put in an appearance.”
Sunlight streamed through the windowed main hall, giving the devils and devilmaids of Mammonin’s court an open place to mingle and plot. He hadn’t spared any expense where guests could see. Even the windows, usually the first target of vandals, were in good shape. It was the mark of a lord with… well, the locals wouldn’t respect him, exactly. They feared him, though, which was just as effective.
There were devils of all walks of life there, including a few courtesans I’d have normally chatted up. However, I saw Girdan and the Margrave on the other side of the room. Besides, I already had a girl waiting for me.
“Malthus, about time you showed up,” snapped Girdan the Fair. He was dressed up in his Grand General’s uniform, starched and bleached within an inch of its life after campaign. He ran his hand through his well-coifed blond tresses. “What have you been up doing?”
I had to look up at him, and I pasted a smile on my face as I saluted them both. “I’m afraid I got a bit turned around,” I replied, nodding to Mammonin. “Our host owns a lovely home, but a bit daunting for my first time!”
“Understandable,” said Mammonin, a jovial chuckle shaking his jowls. His acknowledgement freed me from the bow sooner than Girdan seemed to appreciate. The elder devil clearly didn’t get out much, as he was nearly wide around as he was tall. “It is a lovely home, isn’t it?”
“Yes, of course, Margrave,” I replied. “Such delightful color sense, too. Is your interior decorator available?”
Mammonin tapped his curled horn, the other being broken off at the base. “I’m afraid it’s me, and I don’t have time for a trip to the capitol.”
Assuming you could even roll your way out of this mansion. “Such a pity. I imagine you have quite a bit to clean up, now that we’ve rid you of those rebels.”
“If you ever do find your way north, you would be more than welcome,” said Girdan, with a smirk. “They’ve set me up in the old palace at Versailles. There would be plenty of room for you.”
Mammonin frowned for a moment, deciding if Girdan meant that as a joke about his girth, or if he was rubbing the historic housing in his face. “It would be a delight.” The false smile returned, showing me the relative ranks for the two devils. He clapped twice, and a green-skinned orc in a dress coat strode over.
“Yes, my lord?” he slurred between his tusks.
“Now that Captain Malthus has graced us with his presence, we can finally have our gift-giving ceremony. Go fetch the you-know-what.” With a nod and a bow, the servant darted out of the room.
Girdan waved it off. “A gift? Oh, you needn’t have troubled yourself.”
“I insist,” replied Mammonin. “You grace my lowly province with your presence, and you have done so much for me.”
Yes, did so much whoring and drinking while the rest of us suffered on the front lines. By Our Father Below, I can’t wait until I’ve hit that stage of my career. I need another drink.
I snapped my fingers, and Dewdrop seemed to appear from the ether with another bottle and three tumblers. “May I propose a toast?” Keep your mouths busy for a moment. “To a smashing victory, and the return of order to the realms of our Dark Lord, may he rule until the stars go out!”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Mammonin. “Oh, Malthus, Girdan, come this way.” He shuffled along, setting a pace the two of us easily match. “I should show you Yatener’s toy. It’s a marvelous invention. It was expensive, too."
"Shouldn’t we wait here?” asked Girdan. “We are waiting for them to bring my gift, after all.” He had pretended to not care about the gift before, but he was still a devil; we aren’t known for impulse control or temperance.
“They’ll find us soon enough; that’s the one advantage of switching from goblins to orcs.” He mimed a set of running legs with his fingers. “They’re clumsier, but much faster.”
“Switching?” I asked.
Mammonin gestured at Dewdrop, who followed us at a respectful distance. “Besides your servant there, there isn’t a living goblin for twenty kilometers. I had to send a message to the rest.”
I nodded. “After they revolted against your enlightened rule, they had it coming.” It never occurred to me to be concerned for the apparent genocide; they were the lesser races, after all. Still, I whispered for Dewdrop not to leave my side until we were out of Mammonin’s Demesne. I simply didn’t want to break in another goblin.
Thank you for reading!
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