Of man, mouse, and monster
I overcame my urge to leave. The building was derelict, the entrance open and unguarded, no protective spells, and no lights showed. Sounds perfect for a robbery, but the story I had heard made me suspicious. As a Wizard’s apprentice, I had helped my master place protective spells over many businesses and homes. I can sense protection wards anywhere; a skill that makes me a successful thief. My senses and my spells had detected nothing this time even though the air around this place tasted …wrong.
It smelled like a trap, but if there was one iota of truth to the story, I had to try for the prize? So there I was, entering a dilapidated, ready to collapse house in order to find hidden treasure. In earlier days, someone important lived here, and had left behind—due to an early demise—a treasure worth a prince’s ransom. That is the story I overheard. A powerful spell had hidden and protected the treasure for years, but now the spell was fading—spells do lose strength as the decades flow past—leaving the hiding place detectable to someone with minimal training in sorcery, which is what I am.
Now, having exhausted the first four finding spells I had prepared, one remained. More powerful than the others, but it had to be cast from within the building to detect the treasure’s hiding place. This spell would surely detect and attract any ward spells that my first four castings had failed to find, but it would be too late for me to evade them. It would be necessary to battle the wards using my apprentice level magic. That fight might result in my death. Protection wards are set by Masters with aid from their apprentices. I had been an apprentice, giving me a chance to survive, but not a good one. Then again the protection wards might not even exist.
Creeping away from the garden wall I moved towards the house. My concealment cloak kept me invisible, as long as I remained still, but moving was different, and any noise I made was detectable. Concealment cloaks stop you from being seen. They do not muffle noise. There is one spell that stops sound, but it causes a ringing in the ears which limits its use to desperate times. Just walk with care, my Master always said, but walking with care also causes disturbances in the magical waves which must be considered and dampened if complete non-detection is desired. This is done in ways only a practitioner of magic knows how to do, and it is what I did as I moved through the overgrowth towards the building.
The pathway I followed wandered through gardens still hinting at the care they had once received and through small plots of grass, so thick it reminded me of air underfoot. I know the way walking on air feels. My Master let me experience that spell for myself once. It felt like walking on the grass beneath my feet.
The house had lost its doors long ago. Leaves, branches, and other invaders from the world beyond had accumulated in most corners and along the base of walls. Moonlight shining through the many holes in the roof illuminated high walls. After careful and lengthy surveillance, I crept across to them.
The smooth marble wall before me contained vertical seams. No hand or foot holds to help with climbing, so I used an elevation spell, rode it up, and crouched on the top of the wall. In the moonlight, ribbons of wall tops stretched out before me, with the farthest lost in darkness. The walls proved somewhat smaller than my foot in width. Others might consider this maze an obstacle, but I am a thief, and an apprentice wizard. I moved forward on talented feet.
Moonlight illuminated many halls and rooms below me, others remained shadowed and sinister. My ghosting sense was working overtime. As I paused to look for a pathway to the centre, I detected a sound from behind. I froze.
Nothing happened. I rationalized and ghosted on, winding my way along wall tops from intersection to intersection. My instruction regarding mazes told me to pick one direction and turn that way whenever given a choice, but I must admit I might have dozed during that lesson, perhaps on more than just that one. My Master tended to impart wisdom in a monotonous teaching voice.
My passage along the walls produced a whisper of sound and a hazy ghost afterimage for any watchers. With care I made my way closer to the centre. The openings below me lost width. No rooms now, just hallways. I targeted a junction of four walls and headed in that direction. Easier to do with the narrower hallways, but it still took a few frustrating left turns before I stood there. This junction was close enough to the centre for what I needed to do.
My body tensed as I cast the discovery spell, spinning in a circle, throwing the enhanced dust away from me. The sparkling blue of the spell scattered and hung in the air for moments before moving together. The dust adheres to any lines of power it encounters, identifying just one I hoped, the one that located the treasure, if it existed. My muscles relaxed as a single power line glowed in the air, but as I stepped forward, a projectile tore out of the darkness. I dropped from the wall, moved five steps, and froze. A crossbow bolt had pierced a few folds of cloth in my cloak.
I waited until my heart was no longer hammering in my ears before I started again. Moving was not something I wanted to do, but I had to. My discovery spell had a built in self-destruct, if not deactivated. Not strong. It wouldn’t blow things up, but it would knock them loose, especially the skeletal roof beams above my head.
I moved forward with care, frustration building with each turn, until I reached where the blue line ended. As I knelt, my arm outstretched to dissipate my spell, something landed on my back. I threw myself against the wall, but the thing hung on. It snaked a limb across my throat. I flung out my arm trying to throw the stop command to the end point of my spell, which now showed sparks within the blue. It didn’t work.
The concussion of the self-destruct threw me and my attacker backwards. I rolled twice and landed in moonlight. My attacker scrambled to the shadows along the wall. From above came groans and snaps of separating joints. The skeletal roof collapsed. Before I lost consciousness I glimpsed a whiskered, fur covered face within the shadows.
I spat dirt when I awoke. Grit covered my face, and pain throbbed above my shoulders. Something heavy lay across my back, something else across my legs. I opened my eyes and found a hand hanging before them. Who’s and how I did not understand. I located one of my hands, at the end of a half-buried arm. As I moved it, rubble fell away. When it reached my face, I touched the other hand. It was a dead thing, senseless. I pushed it, and tingling started, another push, the tingling increased until it became painful. The thing was mine I realized, feeling dead from the position it occupied above my head. I moved it.
“So, you live,” a voice said. “I was afraid you were dead.”
It was a female voice and familiar in a vague way. “Thanks for your concern.”
“Concern! Sure. Concern that you might die before I can kill you in the way you deserve,” she replied.
I was building a spell to release me from the debris, but I changed it to something more defensive. I needed time though. “Why do you want to kill me?”
“Because you left me with this.”
“With what?” I asked, although I was sure I knew the answer. I remembered the quick glimpse of whiskers and fur in the shadows.
Slowly she lowered herself into my limited line of sight, revealing a mouse’s face on a woman’s head and shoulders.
“Remember me, Forn?”
“Yes, of course I remember you Ally, but I didn’t do that to you.”
“You left me looking this way, and you destroyed the Blood Orb. Without it, I am told, the spell cannot be lifted.”
“Do you remember stealing the Orb from me and trying to sell it?” I asked in my most delicate manner. She didn’t answer. “Your face is not my fault. I tried to save you.”
She pointed to the fur on her face as if reluctant to touch it, “But you left me… this way,” then her expression hardened, “and I will kill you for it.” Her face disappeared from sight.
“Wait Ally, please, what if I could fix it?”
“It can’t be undone. Don’t you think I’ve tried? You destroyed the Orb. Without it the spell cannot be broken. I’ve visited every wizard in this city. Everyone says the same thing. I will have a mouse face until I die, and I have you to thank.”
“There are other wizards in other cities.”
“To travel through the wilds at night is dangerous, and these days, I only travel after sunset.”
My spell was ready. If she struck me, the concussion should knock her away. I hoped. Hastily concocted spells are dangerous. You can’t always be sure of the effect. One misplaced syllable, one misplaced pause, and it goes bang instead of pop. I preferred not to use it if possible.
“I could make you look the way I remember you.”
She screamed, “It can’t be undone. Don’t you understand?”
I spoke delicately, trying to ease her anger. “I understand what you are saying, but a glamour spell could make you look as you did before. People will see the old you instead of the m—.” I paused.
“Monster, is that what you were going to say?”
“No. I was going to say, mouse. I don’t see you as a monster.”
“Liar,” she said flatly. “Liar,” she repeated louder. “Liar,” she screamed, and I knew what was coming. My spell went pop, well maybe somewhere between pop and bang. When the dust settled again, I could move. I did.
Ally was lying against a wall. She wasn’t moving, and there was blood on her forehead, or whatever you call that part of a mouse’s head. I went closer. She still didn’t move, but her chest was rising and falling. She was alive. Should I help her? I wanted to, but she had tried to kill me, despite my pleading. “Goodbye Miss Mousy,” I whispered as I turned away, and then I stopped.
Across the room, in the place my detection spell had identified, something was moving. Something pale was pushing up out of the debris. It clutched, groped for purchase, and slid back. The sound of metal grating against stone dominated everything. It tried again. I recognized claws this time as they dug into a large section of a broken pillar. Claws able to dig into stone are never something you want to meet. A second clawed hand thrust up. Move, leave now my head was telling me, but I couldn’t abandon Ally to this thing.
I squatted beside her and patted her cheek. She didn’t stir. I slapped her, and her eyes fluttered open. Clamping my hand over her lower face, I mouthed, “quiet”, and slipped to the side. We both looked towards the noise. A quick glance told me that Ally’s eyes were wide open now.
The thing was clawing and squirming its way up out of the floor. It appeared to be a huge worm with arms. The body was as thick as a big man’s chest, half a tall person’s length was out of the hole, but more was emerging. I pulled at Ally, indicating we should back away, but as we started to creep along the hallway, it saw us.
We froze. The thing’s head opened to reveal a mouth big enough to encompass my head. It was full of dagger shaped teeth. As the thing tried to surge up, the edges of the hole broke away from around its body. Its struggle upwards, failed, and fell back leaving the arms extended fully. Ally’s short sword slid from its scabbard. She leaped forward. Her blade sliced cleanly through one arm. With part of its hold broken, the thing twisted away, and then swung back. My spell was only half ready, but I threw it regardless. The flames struck the thing’s mouth, scorching Ally’s shoulder on the way past, but giving her time to move. Springing forward she chopped through the other arm. The creature disappeared back into the ground. The sound of thrashing continued accompanied by a different sound. We crept forward to the edge of the hole. Below I could make out the glint of gold and the sparkle of gems.
“So there is a treasure,” Ally observed. “Do you have a spell that will kill that thing?”
“I believe I can come up with something, but it will take a few hours.”
She turned to me then. The sword was still in her hand, and I was wary. She noticed and sheathed it.
“Thanks,” she said. “You could have left me.”
“No, not this time, in fact, my idea was to stay around, if you don’t mind.”
She looked deeply into me and then pointed to her face.
“Even when I look like this?”
I reached a hand up to brush her cheek before I slipped it behind her neck and activated a glamour spell. I pulled her to me. She looked like her old self, but her whiskers tickled my face, and her fur felt soft under my lips. I kept my eyes open while we kissed.