Everything around the small house was burnt or still on fire, it all looked so dead. I looked to my left, to Nancy who looked at like I was out of place. Which I was. Just a few hours earlier I was in a luscious forest battling against a robotic penguin, but now I was in a burned down woods without sign of life. Except there was these pitch black birds with wings made out of fire flying around, breathing flames that just doomed this habitat even more.
I had my backpack on my back, but I made sure my staff was safely in my hands. I had to be ready to fight as Nancy explained that this area was filled with monsters all serving their master, the fire elemental, Pip. I wasn’t prepared to take on such a powerful enemy, but then again I wasn’t much ready for Fudge either and I prevailed there. Still, I think I need to learn to use my new body’s abilities.
“Are you ready, Omac?” Nancy asked though I could tell she found me awkward. It must be hard serving a master for so long only to have him switch bodies with the king of the kingdom. I wondered if JJ was having the same problem. “This place is dangerous, so we need to tread carefully,”
“Honestly? I’m a little scared,” I gripped my staff, “I don’t have much experience with monsters. I can’t help, but wonder if my self-aware sword was the only reason I was able to beat Fudge? I don’t really know how to fight…”
“Then we shall teach you. Let’s find a monster to show you how to defeat it. You should ready your staff and be warned, this won’t be easy,” Nancy explained pointing to a small pig with a speck of fire on it’s tail, “That is a creature that is perfect for starting out with. Be warned though, playing with fire is dangerous,”
I slowly made my way over to it, pressing the button at the top of my staff to extract the blade at the end of it. I moved fast trying to jab it deep into it’s chest, but I missed and then it ran. I could feel my pocket like it was on fire. Before I could look down I noticed my grey tee-shirt turning a dark red color.
Suddenly, I had the feeling to run and upon doing so I was moving at lightning speed. Everything around me was like a blur as I ran trying to catch up to the creature. I jumped mid-run and laughed my blade into the creature's backside. I couldn’t stop running so I simply ran around it until I felt an increasing amount of pain as I increased speed. All at once I came to a sudden stop, noticing my shoes looking more burnt than before. The color in my shirt went back to grey. I might have to be careful with this ability.
I took my staff out of the creature and slowly made my way back to Nancy. That’s when I tripped making my backpack fly over me and letting its materials slide out. I must not have zipped it up. I quickly put everything back inside, making sure I didn’t leave anything out. That’s when one of those birds with the burning flames landed in front of me. I slowly pulled out the bird cage and moved slowly towards the bird. It seemed to have a hurt wing, unable to fly away, so it was easy to capture it in the cage. I zipped up my backpack, slid it back in my back, then carried the cage with my free hand.
Nancy shook her head as I brought back the bird, “I asked you to take out a pig and you come back with a bird. This may be a good thing though, we might be able to trade it in for some rare items. There is a shop not far from here,” she took it from me, “It seems that you know how to fight better than you thought, at least with creatures that can’t fight back. We’ll need to find a better target so-” but she was cut off by something truly, terrible.
A bird like the one in my cage landed in front of us except it was double our size. It’s beak plucked itself down before us, digging into the ground, before coming up to breath fire into our faces. Nancy jumped in front of me taking the majority of the burns, but everyone knows that cyclops are immune to fire. The bird was angry that it couldn’t hurt me and get to what I figured was it’s child we captured.
“Let it go!” I announced, “Nancy, release the bird,”
“No, I’m sure we could sell it for something pretty high up. This is your chance to take to take on something power. Use your staff, Nat said it was fireproof,”
I didn’t have time to object so I slid into view and dove my staff into the bird’s left wing. It screamed out in agony as it dove it’s beak towards me. I moved to the left only in the nick of time. In that moment I got cocky and danced back and forth before attempting to shove my weapon into it’s neck. Things didn’t go according to plan. It caught my staff in it’s mouth then spit it out to the left of it and flung it’s beak down into my chest. I started flashing bright red and fell to my knees.
Nancy jumped over me and punched the beast in it’s face. She saved me! But, then the bird flapped it’s wings and bounced Nancy into a burning tree. It turned to face her before borrowing its beak into her leg. I couldn’t bare to watch so I got up, grabbed my staff, and ran up towards it hoping to take it by surprise. But, then it turned towards me and I didn’t have much of a chance to take it down. I threw my staff out of fear hoping that it would at least not hurt Nancy. Then the staff flew through the air and into the bird’s throat. It shook its head until my staff fell out then flew away.
Nancy came over to me, unable to walk quickly with a chunk of her leg missing. “I can’t take you in this condition. We’ll have to head back to the house and switch me out with Nat. It’s not your fault honey, don’t think that, but now I’m too hurt to walk you all the way to Pip and back. Even if I could get you there I wouldn’t be much help,” she put her hand on my shoulder, “What’s on your mind?”
Nothing much, just that I’m to blame. If I can’t save JJ.. or Nancy.. How am I supposed to save an entire kingdom?!
The lute strings sang under his fingers and the words of some song fell from his lips without him being overly aware of what exactly it was he was performing. The common space was full, though, and there were people singing along or chatting happily with companions and strangers so he figured he was in the clear with paying more attention to the people than his music.
Bodies were constantly moving throughout the space so the figure entering shouldn't have drawn his eye as they had. Many here wore hoods for whatever reason but this figure seemed off to him. None of the other patrons noticed. Heck, the figure cut right through a talking pair and the duo didn't so much as blink at the figure. This way and that the figure weaved and this way and that he tracked their progress till the figure was sitting at the table he had claimed for himself, a pretty metal bowl on the table for tips. It had a decent amount in it. He hoped it was enough to leave him a few gold richer when he paid the owners for putting up with him.
He let the little gaunt end and the room erupted into cheers. He grinned and tucked the lute away as one of the staff came over bearing a tray of food. He hadn't ordered and he certainly hadn't seen his new companion order anything either.
"Well played, minstrel," the young dwarf offered, placing the food on the table. Apparently someone was buying him a meal because he had already eaten what he had paid for a few hours ago. "Seems the room took a liking to ya." As if to solidify the point, a few patrons darted in and dropped a few coins into the bowl. He caught sight of the glint of gold and was humbled as much as he was grateful.
He offered the dwarf a smile. "I have you and yours to thank for that. Let your ma know I'll get the coin separated out and to her before I'm done here."
The dwarf nodded, offering a quick, "Will do," before heading to the kitchen.
He turned to his new companion, arching an eyebrow at them. "Meal from you or a different admirer, Soren?"
The figure smiled, tugging the hood back and away. He belatedly realized the cloak was wet. Must have started raining. "Good to see you too, Verena."
He grinned. "Hey, I didn't order any of this." Soren chuckled, low and deep. Verena's gaze flickered over the other, taking in the changes the years had done. Vey still had a head of red hair, skin still darker than what he remembered of veir father's, but what softness that had been there making the other's lack of gender obvious wasn't there. "Presenting more male nowadays?"
The amusement left Soren's expression and he gained a shrug as an answer. "Makes it easier to get by most of the time."
He frowned, watching as Soren closed off to him. His pulse quickened and for a fleeting moment fear gripped his soul. "Soren." He didn't gain the other's gaze like he had hoped and he reached out, grabbing at their arm. "Soren," he repeated. Those amber brown eyes finally focused on him. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"A lot. Most of it not good."
His heart fell at that. "Ah, Soren." He shook his head, removing his touch. "You should have said no when I reached out."
Soren shook his head in turn. "It's nice remembering what I can of the times before the bad. Besides, it sounded like you really needed the help."
"I would have asked for help elsewhere but when I had heard of what you've been doing, I had hoped you'd come with company."
Another shake no. "We were in the middle of serious business that, in the end, turned to being safer that I came alone. I've got ways to reach out to them if we need assistance or when I'm heading back." Soren fixed him with an accusing look. "It hadn't sounded like it would need much force. We're just going after some kid, yeah?"
"An Aarakocra so age isn't really something we can go off."
His gaze flickered across the room before he nodded towards a patron not far off. "Winged. Looks more like a bird than a human. The winged human two tables to the left is an Aasimar."
"Hmm." It took a moment for Soren's gaze to return to him. "So we're going after some Aarakocra. Why?"
Verena leaned back in his chair, cup in hand. "I owe Zerros a favor and his wife's family owns this inn. They had sent this Aarakocra - Artemis, if I'm remembering correctly - off on some courier trip but haven't seen a single feather of him since. He's somehow a friend of the family despite him only having been here because of the caravan he was riding with. Caravan leader is a family friend, apparently."
"Why send us in and not the city guard or something?"
Verena arched an eyebrow over the rim of his cup. He let his chair fall back onto four legs as he put the emptier cup down. "You don't know much about the town we're in, do ya?"
Soren arched an eyebrow. "Wouldn't be asking if I did."
Verena grinned. "Town's built on the Black Market," he explained, voice low to the point where Soren was forced to lean closer; "quite literally in some areas. Place is an intense maze of buildings and back alleys despite it's small size. Most things are tall because the surrounding lands are extremely fertile for crops and no one wanted to encroach on the farmlands but the number of people coming and staying kept increasing. So, they built skyward."
"Quite literally how?" Soren asked equally quiet.
"There's some hidden history here but from what I've overheard, there'd been a city in the area. A massive city. Something had happened that came in and not only killed everyone who lived here but also sank the city beneath a good layer of earth. What remains of that city has created a cavern system that's almost like catacombs beneath our feet and it houses a lot of the Black Market for the surrounding areas."
"So we're infiltrating this Black Market and freeing an Aarakocra that, what, looks like an eagle?"
Verena shook his head. "A barn swallow. It's a small blue and copper colored bird with a forked tail. Unusual in these parts from what I've been told. Supposedly Artemis is from the southern continent."
"Hmm." Soren leaned back, crossing his arms. "When do we leave then?"
"Do you need to rest?"
"No. I had camped not too far off so the walk was easy. I'm good to go whenever."
"Cool. Let's finish eating then and I'll go get my things and drop off what I owe to June."
Just over an hour later they found themselves beneath the city. Verena's tail was wrapped tightly around Soren's belt only because Soren had warned him about the high possibility of getting burned holding onto veir wrist. They were standing in the shadows of a tunnel that crossed the one they needed but there were people there talking. Verena crouched closer to the ground as the voices got louder, Soren pulling back to as far as Verena's tail could reach before following suit.
The duo they had been waiting on walked by without even noticing too caught up in their conversation. Verena didn't recognize the language and he didn't ask if Soren did.
Deeper into the maze they went, finding that it wasn't just one level when the floor caved in under Soren's feet. Verena was yanked in after vem. They came across stairs that led another level down.
An unusually warm hand gripped at his tail and he froze, suddenly alert, but the only thing that happened was Soren getting close and whispering into his ear, "Next left. Should lead us somewhere." He frowned back at Soren, who shrugged. "I'm running off of a hunch of what I remember of the upper levels. Just go with it."
Verena raised both eyebrows at that but followed Soren's words. He took the next left and followed it, keeping straight when Soren made no move to correct his direction.
Somewhere was right. Verena found the tunnel ending at a door and the amount of noise coming from beyond it proved Soren's statement lacking. With a quick glance back at his companion, Verena opened the door enough to see.
The room beyond was massive compared to what they had been traveling through. The room itself was two levels high and the noise beyond didn't echo horribly like it should have. Crates, cages, and containers filled the space of varying sizes. Bodies were moving everywhere, whether it was moving freight about or simply walking through. A few bodies were stagnant here and there but attentions were nowhere near the door he and Soren were at.
"Damn," Soren hissed, as Verena closed the door. "Ideas?"
"One. But I don't know how useful it'll be."
He started digging through his pack. "I know a spell, concentration based that I can hold for about ten minutes. Let's me see and hear what's going on around the target. Only," he pulled out a copper tinged down feather and tucked it into his braid for safe keeping before he went back to digging, "I haven't had the chance to get a focus for it yet."
"What kind of focus?"
He looked up at Soren, "A crystal ball or a silver mirror, the expensive kind. Like, at least 1,000 gold pieces expensive kind." He went digging again. "A holy water font would work too but I have neither a font nor that amount of holy water."
A water skin bumped his arm and he stared at it, bewildered, before looking up at Soren again. The other shrugged. "Endless supply of holy water. A gift from a friend blessed by Silvanus and enchanted by the Fae Queen. There's only one other like it and I am to return this to said friend as soon as I'm heading back to my company."
His hands wrapped around the water skin in shock. Standing abruptly, he uncapped the water skin and pressed the opening against the palm of his hand. He flipped the whole thing over and let magic do the rest.
The change in perspective was jarring but he had sight of a small Aarakocra with a coppery toned off white chest, blue feathers rich around the copper red feathers of the face and throat. The stout wings and deep forked tail were black from the underside. He bristled at how the small being was strung out, stout wings flat and open wide against the bars of some cage, tail clamped open. Nothing appeared clipped yet, which was a blessing in its own right, but it was clear there had been some rough treatment already.
He shuddered feeling Soren's hand on his tail and it took him a second to get both sensory inputs to agree. It turned into where his focus went, like one was a window with a scene and the other was the stage performance before him. The sounds stayed. Soren's expression was worried as he met veir gaze. "I'm ok. I can split it, be here and there but I have to focus to see one or the other. The sounds will blend but I can keep quiet. I can move. The spell will follow Artemis if he's moved."
Soren nodded. "What do you see?"
Verena turned his focus back to Artemis and looked around. "Cage with thick bars. I can see through them, see the room beyond. I'm trying to see if there's anything significant in the area I can use to get us there."
The perspective was horrible and even when he moved the spell to the edge of the spell's tether, he still couldn't make anything significant out.
The roar made him jump but it was faint when he came back to Soren, eyes wide as adrenaline shot through him. "Artemis is in a cage close to that sound. We'll have to just run in and head for it. I should recognize the area when we get close enough but I don't have anything else to lead us with."
"Stay close then."
Another roar tore through the space as Soren opened the door. What had been a room of organized and calm action was now utter chaos. There were bodies running all over the place, creatures throwing their voices to the noise of the space, and Verena stumbled after Soren when the other took off at a run. For a moment, his heart leapt into his throat. Someone was bound to stop them.
But Soren was running straight towards the roars, body thrumming with determination so potent, Verena could make it out from behind him and he realized what Soren was doing. No one was going to bother them as long as he followed Soren's silent lead.
He cut the spell when he gained sight of Soren from the cage's perspective. He overtook Soren, coming to the edge of the cage as another roar erupted into the space. They were at the back wall of the large space but there was an open doorway next to Artemis's cage. Beyond it was a short hallway or tunnel that opened into a different space. He could make out the flicker of firelight.
"A dragon," Soren spoke for him. He met Soren's amber brown eyes and the other grinned at him. "No better distraction than their own merchandise. How good are you with locks?"
Verena blinked. "Depends. Am I trying to be stealthy?" Soren gave him a bewildered look and he rushed, "I know a spell - Knock. It's well named as it gives off a very loud knock sound when it unlocks something. I've got enough magic to use it on all of Artemis's bindings and cage but it won't be stealthy."
Another roar drew both their gazes and Verena caught the mischievous grin out of the corner of his eye. "Time it with the roars. We should be fine."
Verena moved into place, asking, "And if the roars stop?"
Soren's right hand ignited. "I can make sure they don't."
Verena sent him a worried look. A roar ripped through the space and he almost missed the chance. The cage door unlocked as a loud knock blended with the roar. Verena's heart was in his throat. "Soren, I don't think that's a good idea. We're already in the pan. No need to go playing with the fire, too."
Soren laughed. "Ren, playing with fire is in my blood. It's who and what I am." Another loud roar, another knock as the lock on Artemis's tail came undone. The Aarakocra didn't even twitch from any of the sounds around him. "Just get the kid to safety."
Soren took off down the hallway at a quick pace. Verena's tail flicked anxiously behind him, waiting. Four- no, five more locks and they could leave. He just hoped Soren could get either long enough roars or the right number for him to get Artemis out of there.
Screams suddenly echoed down the hallway but the bellowed roar was far louder and he managed two locks with the two loud knocks within it. His heart clenched. "Please be careful, Soren," he muttered to himself, hands running over the Aarakocra looking for injuries as he waited for the next roar. "I don't want to exchange your life for his."
Another roar, only one lock.
"It wouldn't be fair."
Displaying some writings from the writing prompts archives was a great idea! I hope it will continue! Brava!