The Fire Mage
Brashani walked along a dirt road in the town of Irenrhod. He came to a small tavern, the Drunken Mage, paused, and glanced up at the establishment. The front of the saloon was not much to look at — peeling red paint and dirty white shutters mostly; but Brashani liked the place because the drinks were cheap. Today was different, though; he was here to meet someone and acquire some information.
He went inside. The tavern was filled with patrons, tobacco smoke, and women who provided pleasant company for men … at a price. He found an empty table and sat down. A barmaid wearing a low-cut black dress approached him.
Brashani smiled to himself, enjoying the outline and slight bulge of the barmaid’s nipples. He caught himself staring and averted his eyes.
“Beer,” said the wizard.
The barmaid smiled warmly at the order and gave him a flash of her round, firm ass. He noticed, but she was gone to place the order before he could sneak a pinch.
Just as well. I’m here on business.
Brashani looked around. An associate of his, a short, balding man named Derek, sat at the bar alone with his back toward the wizard. Only Derek’s golden shirt and tan trousers were visible. With luck, Derek would have the information Brashani had paid for. As the barmaid spoke to the barkeep, Derek got up, came over, and sat down at Brashani’s table.
“Well?” asked the mage.
“They know you know,” said Derek.
Brashani growled. He did not need to ask how the necromancers in town knew. They were wizards like Brashani; all they needed to do was cast the proper spell, gaze into a crystal ball, or perform a ritual of Revealing and the whole sordid affair would become plain to them.
“The fact that it was an accident probably means nothing to them,” commented Brashani.
“You’re right; it doesn’t. Whether you were eavesdropping on purpose or you accidentally wound up scrying their meeting because your magic went haywire, it is all the same to them. The fact is, you know their business; and that’s a threat to them. So they have only one option.”
“Pretty much,” Derek said, nodding in agreement.
“Which leaves me only one option — leave town.”
“’Fraid so. Fighting them is suicide.”
“I know. Five against one is lousy odds. And I certainly couldn’t go to the authorities in Irenrhod. They’re crooks and probably in league with the necromancers. I’ll be dead by morning if I talk to town officials.”
“Where will you go?” asked Derek.
Brashani’s eyes shifted from side to side. “I’ve no idea. South, I guess, so they won’t follow me.”
“Got a horse?”
The wizard laughed. “I barely have money for food. How can I afford a horse?”
“Then you’d better start walking. It will take a week to reach even the closest town and the leaves on the trees have already begun to turn; winter will be here soon.”
Brashani sighed and stood. Derek rose to his feet too and shook Brashani’s hand. “Good luck.”
“Thanks. I’m going to need it.”
Brashani walked down the south road that led to Clearbrook and stopped to listen every few minutes. It had been several hours and so far, the necromancers had not tried to follow him. Maybe he would live to see tomorrow.
Somehow, Brashani didn’t think it would be that easy.
Necromancers don’t have a reputation of being very forgiving. On the other hand, if they are planning the theft of a magic gem, perhaps the fact that I have left Irenrhod makes me too difficult a target to pursue. Completing that job must require a lot of coordination and must be far more important to them than killing me. Guess it depends on whether they will tolerate loose ends.
Brashani guessed they would not and that it was only a matter of time before they tracked him down. He knew how that went. Several years as an investigator for the town guard in Marngol had taught him the general process necromancers followed. They would wait until the victim was certain he was safe and then they would strike.
Good thing I know how to ward against death magic.
Then another thought wormed its way to the front of Brashani’s mind. It was his old investigator training taking hold, he realized. He tried to put the notion out of his head, but the thought kept coming back.
What did the necromancers want the gem for?
Who cares? he answered himself. Probably to power a magic item.
And what sort of device would a necromancer want to create?
Brashani pondered this and realized he had no idea. But whatever it was, it would not be good.
Brashani slept poorly that night, starting at every noise despite the wards he had set. The next morning, he felt awful; and by midday he needed to stop and rest again. He saw a tree by the side of the road up ahead.
Perfect. I’ll rest there.
He sat down beneath the tree.
Wish I had something more than stale bread to eat. His stomach growled. He ignored it.
He rested his head against the trunk of the tree and before long, he was dozing. A vivid scene appeared before him. A giant worm, a hundred feet long and the size of three men in height, was tunneling underground, eating all the trees in the vicinity. Brashani saw the worm approach and eat his tree and him with it. He felt the razor-sharp teeth in the creature’s mouth impale him.
He screamed and awoke to find himself under the tree. He heard a noise. In the distance, the worm approached again; he was still dreaming he realized. Brashani tried to stand and run before the worm came again, but it was no good. The monster was faster than he was, and even though he ran several yards down the road, it caught up to him and devoured him again and again.
Brashani jumped up and found himself awake and standing beneath the tree under which he had decided to rest. He was breathing hard, perspiring heavily and the collar of his tunic was soaked through.
Had the dream been a warning from the necromancers? No, not even they can reach into my mind. But that means they’ve taken no action against me. Are they going to leave me alive? Yes, alive to wonder. Bastards. They’re trying to use my own fear against me.
Brashani tensed his jaw with anger and his fear melted away. Well, if that’s their plan, they’re messing with the wrong wizard. He felt his old confidence resurface. He had not felt that since the Massacre. Perhaps it was time to fight necromancers again. Perhaps. But he would need a source of income to do it. He could get a job when he reached Clearbrook, of course; but unless there were death mages in town, it would be hard to fight them long distance.
He sighed. It was probably just as well. He was not a young man any more. Better to continue south and hope for the best.
At least he was alive. And that counted for something. Not much — not with his luck.