Wildflower & Vinnie
Wildflower stood up from the trophy-goblet of ambrosia, still burning. Cordwynn met their eyes from the ring. “Do we keep wrestling?”
The referee raised her hands, unsure.
“No matter. I concede.” Cordwynn bowed to Wildflower. “I have faced you, now. You know my strength now, and I know yours. I shall be glad to test you again — another time.”
The referee lifted the kylix, and held it out to Vinnie. “This is somewhat irregular, but — I declare you tournament champion! Hail Wildflower!”
Still somewhat dazed, Wildflower carried the trophy into the city.
It was about then their shirt caught fire.
The silver glow faded, and the room was dark. Vinnie could barely make out the shape of the now-dry pool — and was that a metal ring around it? Silver? Gold? He leaned in closer.
It was lead. Worthless.
But there was something written here, in an unfamiliar script. A number 1? He’d heard stories of the “seven rings”, but weren’t those ones you wore on your finger?
On the way out, he had to pass Anacron, the minotaur. Fortunately, it had a short memory, or maybe a heavy heart; a few carefully-chosen words saw Vinnie past it and back down the corridor.
His new sword must have slipped its notice.
Back in the posh house, a swig of wine steadied his nerves. This time, he found the way out without any further encounters.
Was anyone in charge here? A stroll around the streets didn’t find anyone who seemed to know what they were doing, except an Ifrit, Wildflower, whose shirt had somehow caught fire.
A swaggering young Strix dropped out of the sky and told them the “ghost shirt” and “ghost sword” would have to be confiscated.
Then he left, just as mysteriously. No sooner was he out of sight, but a group of youths carrying long-handled fans rounded the corner. Behind them was a man with a couple of small cauldrons. This procession showed no sign of stopping for Wildflower and Vinnie.
Wildflower and Vinnie showed no sign of moving.
“Step aside! Do you know who I am? I am Sync!”
The man glared at them, then began beating his cauldrons like a pair of drums.
Perfectly in step, the fan-bearers marched forwards, sweeping their fans like quarterstaves.
Vinnie fell into the rhythm. He dodged the first strike, cracked the second fan-staff in two, and knocked a third fan-bearer to the ground.
Wildflower went for the leader. They leaped over the fan-bearers’ heads, and pulled the drummer to the ground. Strength surged, and they were twice the size of the man and more than capable of pinning and manacleing him.
The fan-bearers faltered, then fell back into the same pattern of strikes.
Vinnie swung with the flat of his sword, hoping to knock down another one or two.
An eye opened in his sword’s hilt. “Is this a battle? A real one? How exciting! Let’s try this!”
Lightning. The fan-bearer jerked into the air, his bones showing through his skin, then fell flat on the cobbles. He was very, very still.
The remaining fan-carriers fled.
The two victors reacted together, as though they’d been a team all their lives. Vinnie remembered the temple of Baket, god of healing — someone there must be able to help. Still double their normal size, Wildflower picked up the unconscious fan-bearer, Vinnie, and Sync, and ran north. Their size and speed lasted until the temple steps.
“This is a medical emergency!”
The white-robed priests of Baket ignored Sync (“he’ll recover”) and the throng of minor injuries on their steps, and rushed the fan-bearer into the temple. They laid the body on the altar, and asked several uncomfortable questions.
Then the senior priest shook his head. “Struck by lightning? Out of a clear sky? That can only be the wrath of Kalagon, and Baket cannot defy the pillar-god in his own city.
I’m afraid you will have to leave.”
The only option now was a copper tower in the Forge District — an ogre there was said to know something about lightning. But they were running out of time.
Outside the temple, Vinnie spied an unattended horse. He cut the reins, leaped onto its back, and kneed it forwards.
The horse ran like the wind. Vinnie stayed right where he was.
He stayed suspended in the air. He could fly!
With their supernatural speed, Wildflower soon caught up to the horse (even after releasing Sync).
A familiar ogre ambled out from the tree across the street.
Cordwynn’s conversation was no easier to follow than it had been in the ring.
Perhaps she understood what she was saying.
Wildflower didn’t think that likely.
She left without clearing anything up, but her last sentence hung in the air:
“You can’t tie up the same horse twice.”
Fifty feet up, Vinnie felt his flight stop short. He couldn’t keep this speed up any longer.
“I’ll save you!”
The same Strix fell from the sky, and grabbed Vinnie under the arms. The Strix pushed him and the body to the copper tower, then left. Vinnie let his power lower them to the ground, where Wildflower had just arrived.
An ogre looked up from a pour of molten copper.
Vinnie stepped forward. “Are you the one who knows about lightning?
Can you wake this person up?”
“I am. I am Meth, and this calls for SCIENCE!
I can wake this boy, Just as soon as the sky changes.”
They glanced up.
Wildflower and Vinnie looked back at Meth, quizzically.
“No thunderclouds. Nothing I’ve tried will work without lightning.”
A spark crackled across Vinnie’s sword. “Give me an hour.”
Chapton & Jethan
The fragments of the star sailed harmlessly overhead, leaving the pillar untouched. This was the perfect moment for a dramatic exit.
Chapton flew straight up, into the sun. The view was magnificent — except for four fresh craters. There, in the distant Forge district. Here, deflected into the swamps. And in the river, either side of the temple of Ienna.
And who were those two strange figures? One on fire, the other flickering with a ghostly sword and wine-jar? Chapton flew down to investigate, but neither of them understood the need to confiscate ghost-touched things.
With a sigh, he retreated to an inn. Well, tried to. Everything here was pillars, cloisters, and blank walls, with no shop-fronts in sight.
Chapton’s magnificent exit was the perfect diversion. Jethan slipped down the tower and disappeared into the distracted crowd. Home wasn’t far away — on the river, just across from Ienna’s temple.
Except the streets were flooded. Mud brick buildings, collapsed. Hasty walls of sandbags, with water on the wrong side. People had panicked.
The three gillmen stalking up the street towards Jethan had not. “We’ve claimed this street. Turn back now, or best us in a flite.”
Jethan was in no mood for a rap battle. They skirted around the lead gillman.
The other two moved into the way. Knives appeared in their hands.
This called for another path. A few quick jumps, and Jethan stood on a flat roof, with a clear run home.
The gillmen followed, jump for jump. Jethan fled.
Someone tapped Chapton on the shoulder. He spun around.
Surely that stocky Oread hadn’t been there before? The newcomer took in Chapton’s fine plumage, and his bearing. “Are you Chapton the Strix?”
“Why do you need to know?”
“Look, are you him, or aren’t you.”
“I am Chapton.”
“In that case, this parcel is for you.”
Chapton took it. Something about it felt … odd. Not safe to hold. He set it on the ground.
When he looked up, the Oread was gone, and the street was empty.
Ahead of Jethan was the river. Gillman territory.
But being a tiefling had a few advantages: for instance, the ink-blot of darkness that erupted ahead of Jethan as they ran. The gillmen charged straight through, and dived confidently in the water.
The ink hid Jethan safely on the bank. They waited a few minutes for the gillmen to lose the trail, then strolled home.
He couldn’t find a stick, so Chapton unwound the cloth wrapping with the end of his bow. A plain wooden box. He took a deep breath, reached down, and lifted the lid.
A piece of lighting jumped into his hands, and was gone.
The only other thing in the box was a thin silk mask; and right at the bottom, a note:
Yours is the lightning, and the silver tongue.
The tongue that can wake the lightning in our hearts, and that can give us rest.
When the time comes, remember: we must sleep.
— The Red King
There were two things waiting in Jethan’s apartment. A rabbit-like creäture with wings and antlers hopped around their feet. It nudged a cloth-wrapped parcel with large eyes, and looked up expectantly.
Inside the wrappings was a longbow, made of gilded and carved wood. There was mask of blue cloth, heavily printed over in black; and a slip of folded paper.
Six checkers (three black, three red), fell out when Jethan opened the note:
Things may seem strange now, but there is a reason, and a rhyme.
You will have your time, and your place.
When the time comes, step back.
— The Red King
The city was safe, so the Strix should have been celebrating.
But when Chapton landed on the Peak, the mountainside was empty.
Everyone was still hiding in the wells.
He dropped a stone down the nearest one.
“Hey!” a voice yelled up the well.
“It was some kid,” Chapton lied. “But you can come up now. I stopped the star.”
The Strix flowed out, opening their wings to the sun. Chapton pulled the elders aside. “I have a question of great import for the city. What do you know of the Red King?”
Only Jerome, the mad astronomer, came forward. “You need to speak to Pythia, the Serpent Seer. 33 Amazon Street, that’s the place!”
This new bow had to be tested, and where better to do that than the clear space of the Peak. Jethan walked to the mountain, and fired arrow after arrow, feeling their aim improve. Feeling the bow sing with each shot.
They let their power infuse the weapon, giving it a corona of blue flame.
Even in the zone of practice, Jethan stayed alert. The Oread might have thought he’d surprise them, but a faint “pop” gave him away.
“What do you want?”
“I am Rook. I am to tell you that what you need is at 33 Amazon Street.”
Chapton flew up and over the city, towards the Joy district.
But wait! What was that spot above the Forge? Chapton knew the signs — losing height, faltering in mid-air. This flyer had tired themself out.
The man called Vinnie wasn’t a Strix — he didn’t even have wings! But he was still glad to be rescued. And it was a medical emergency, too, so Chapton’s help saved two people.
Once they were safe, Chapton flew south to the Joy District. The shop wasn’t hard to find. A sign outside advertised “Pythia, the Snake Seer. Prophecy a speciality.” He stepped inside.
“Chapton! I have been expecting you.”
The shop had all the usual accoutrements: crystal balls, heavy curtains, crystals and runes lining the walls. Jethan could smell the stink of incense.
The Strix from the Great Pillar was already there. The fortune-teller (clearly aged with make-up) gestured to an empty seat.
“Welcome, Jethan. Your questions shall be answered.”
She held out a pack of cards. “Take three, each of you, and show me.”
The “seer” leaned over Chapton’s cards.
“We have the Queen of Wands. A great woman, that. Someone respected, even loved. But here! She’s challenged by the Two of Wands; a new force, and strong.
“And this — ” she flipped the third card face down. “This is a strange card. A powerful one.” Her eyes met Chapton’s. “Tell me, do you want the power I hold? The power of sight? Then take this, and breathe deep.” She set a sacuer of strong-smelling incense in front of the Strix, and dropped a small stone disk beside it.
Then she turned to Jethan. “For you, I see The Moon, high between two towers. It comes, terrible in its light. And the Tower! The Tower crumbles before it. It cannot be stopped. It will burn.
Now, what is the third card…”
The fortune-teller held the card up in front of her. Her eyes closed, then opened again a solid blue. The card fell from her hand.
“The Page of Swords.
Someone who can break the future.
Who can change things.
Someone who can challenge the Red Ki — No!”
The blue drained out of her eyes. “No-one can change what I have seen. No-one can challenge the King. It cannot be!”
She dropped a stone disk on the table in front of Jethan.
“Your two cards are clear. The Moon will fall. The Tower will fall. Neither can be stopped.”
But Jethan knew she was lying.
Chapton stared at the bowl of incense for a moment, then leaned over it and breathed in. His vision blurred, and re-focussed. Spots of red and black flickered before his eyes, mixed with anti-blue — the colour the eye imagines when it has seen so much blue it is sick and tired of it.
He stood within a square, between soldiers like him: five to his left, four to his right. It was time.
Chapton took two steps forward. The other side moved towards him —
The vision was gone. The curtains were open, and two stone disks sat atop the cards. Chapton’s was red, Jethan’s black.
Lightning Strikes, Once
An hour later, everything was ready.
Vinnie seemed to have figured out his lightning power, and Meth had the body arranged to his liking.
The ogre poured a final connection of molten copper, and gave Vinnie a signal.
A bolt of lightning struck out of the clear sky, ran down the copper tower, and split the world in two. Something landed at Vinnie’s feet with a “thunk”.
The fan-bearer’s body was outlined in black, then white.
Then it sat up, and jerked back and forth in imitation of its earlier march.
“I have done it!” Meth bellowed. “He is ALIVE!”
The corpse blinked. “What is this? My heart is beating like a drum, but my blood is running cold. Where is the Beat?”
The boy wasn’t breathing. Vinnie checked. He didn’t actually even have a pulse. But somehow, he was awake.
As he stepped out of the shop, Chapton’s vision flickered. For a moment he was back on the chessboard. A blue meeple fell into the square in front of him, and walls sprang up around it.
Then the vision was lost again, and no amount of walking back and forth through the doorway would bring it back.
After a few minutes, Vinnie remembered the object that had fallen at his feet. He picked up the box, and unwound the cloth wrapping.
There was a mask: white, with a blue dot over the mouth. A handful of blue meeples fell out of the fabric.
And there was a note. It seemed to be written in Elven.