The Dead Ferryman by Brian P, Chapter 3

The Dead Ferryman

Starring Milo Pulsar and Shaula Bluestar

Chapter 3

“By the vexing Void! I thought she was in your custody! Is your jail cell made from rice paper? Are you totally incompetent!?” I shouted and gestured sharply at Ashlam.

“I had civil order in this town until an arrogant, irresponsible Wizard landed here!” Ashlam’s face started turning red, his courteous manner boiling away before my eyes.

“What? WHAT!?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “I have tried to stay as far away from your duties as possible. How dare you suggest I had anything to do with this mess!” I enunciated my statement by pushing the Deputy away from me. Despite being a few inches taller than Ashlam, my shove felt puny against his greater bulk. Ashlam, either sensing his advantage or more likely reacting to my taunts, made a smooth pivot at his waist and brought his fist solidly into contact with my jaw.

The bitter taste of blood was in my mouth as I reacted, making a fast, sharp jab at the center of Ashlam’s chest. To my chagrin I discovered that his simple style of dress had hid a solid physique; he did not retreat back in pain, as I had hoped, but instead dropped his right shoulder and tackled the wind out of me. I stumbled backwards, tangling my feet in the bench behind me and sat down hard to keep my balance.

The Deputy paused for a moment to see if he had sufficiently subdued my will to fight. I sucked in a gulp of air and tried to ignore the wobbling in my legs and flashes of light in my eyes. As soon as I’d caught my breath, I braced myself on the bench and swept my legs at Ashlam’s knees. He started to collapse, but with a mighty heave he shifted his fall forwards and slammed into me, sending both of us careening over the bench and into the ritual circle.

The two of us wrestled on the floor, striving for the upper hand, not particularly noticing as our flailing limbs disrupted random figures in runic equations and unwove the binding circle. Beakers of alchemical reagents and various elixirs started bursting open; others started glowing, seemingly at random. Ashlam released his grasp on me, as a flask of solvent suddenly exploded into shards of glass inches away from him.

I seized the moment to slip away from the Deputy and roll away from the bubbling chaos. The phenomenon was familiar to me; while chalk is an easy medium to work with and can be applied to a variety of surfaces, it’s also easy to smudge. Most magical workspaces are closed to foot traffic so a Wizard doesn’t have to worry about the lines being disturbed. The mana in this circle, given a path of lower resistance, was quickly flowing out, catalyzing reactions in the various vials and beakers that had been peacefully sitting on the shelves.

The Deputy stared at the shelves of bubbling and glowing beakers in stupid fascination. I gasped heavily, wincing at my burning lungs. Damn, he had really knocked me hard. Ashlam’s gaze settled back down onto me and I waved my hand at him in surrender; my fighting stamina wore down quickly without the aid of my Etheral Mask, which I hadn’t thought to wear.

“Enough, Deputy, enough. Forgive me, I am weary.” With effort, I heaved myself upright and straightened out my robes.

“Please, please, let me do that for you.” The soothing tone in Ashlam’s voice was not one I hear very often–at least not directed at me–and certainly not one I’d ever heard from him. I stared at him with my mouth hanging open stupidly as he brushed chalk stains off the cuffs of my sleeves.

“You really should keep these robes clean, and this silver sash is in serious need of ironing.” The Deputy went on like this for at least a minute, fussing about my appearance and complimenting me in various other ways. At first, I thought this was some kind of belittling joke, or maybe an odd custom; but then it came to me.

“Ashlam Corrina, come back to yourself!” I shouted in his face, reaching for my most commanding tone. I was too unsettled to come up with a relevant evocation; not that I knew many for breaking mind-control spells. A haze drifted over his irises that would have been hard to notice if you weren’t looking for it, and he paused and stared at me. Not at my eyes, or anything specific, just stared at me without even focusing. I shuffled sideways and he smiled dumbly, unfocused eyes following my motion.

My gear belt and holsters were piled on top of my other travel supplies near the door. I strode calmly but swiftly to the pile and unsheathed my levitation wand, trying to come up with an explanation for how Ashlam could have been controlled without me noticing until now. Better still, how did he fall under the sway of some magic spell to begin with? Could the mana escaping from my ritual circle have interacted unexpectedly with something else in the room?

A tear ran down my cheek. No, not a tear; drops of something was running down my face. This disturbed me more than any of the previous events; I brushed frantically at my cheek in surprise. Something viscous clung to my finger tips; a smooth white paste that dripped slowly to the floor. The realization crashed through my mind like a Tyrannosaurus in a forest, and my gaze lowered to the center of the ritual circle.

The ivory box was broken into several chunks, no doubt crushed during our scuffle, and the white paste the box once contained was smeared on the floor. Suddenly frantic, I rummaged through my bag; I didn’t own a pocket mirror (don’t start with me, I don’t have the time to comb my hair everyday), but my highly polished, pure silver phiale could work in a pinch. At last my fingers felt the smooth metal surface and I tore it from my satchel, scattering clothing and arcane paraphernalia in my mad haste. I held the phiale up to my face; reflected in its surface was a globby smear on my left cheek.

“Vex!” I roughly wiped my face with a tunic sleeve hanging out of my satchel. Panic was forcing its way into my mind; I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing. This wasn’t the end; I knew how to deal with this.

Very carefully, I reached out with my Will and awoke all the Elements in my body with a gentle command. I drew the mana into a pool within my mind; each Element called to the others, and the chaotic reverberations of Storm began to build. When I judged it was ready, I muttered the syllables of the dispelling evocation and released the mana. I opened my eyes long enough to watch the Storm tear apart all the structured mana in room: the remnants of the ritual circle vanished, several more beakers on the far wall fizzled and popped, and finally, the aura clinging to myself and Ashlam eroded and fell away.

The tax on my body was sudden and painful. Drawing mana from the self is always painful, hardly ever used for anything more potent than a cantrip. Needless to say, I passed the hex out.

 

(c) 2011 Brian Paul

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One Response to The Dead Ferryman by Brian P, Chapter 3

  1. Pingback: New Dead Ferryman! « Astroarcane

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