Friday, 29 August 2014

Dying Fire

It hardly seemed fair, in the end.

Gesper hadn't even arrived by the time the duel was supposed to begin. He'd been moping around the tower even more than usual, sighing into mirrors and making cryptic allusions to the end of all things. He sent Bruno on ahead with apparently deep regret, but then everything he did was mired in such. It was impossible to say how much was showmanship and how much was the kind of chronic depression you got from spending your entire life contemplating death.

Bruno sat on a horse amidst a stern group of his father's knights and waited, wondering what he was supposed to do if his master didn't show. Could he call the duel off?

Unlikely. The young woman seconding their elderly Bright opponent had arrived early with a motley assortment of ruffians. They'd made sure the pitch was marked out, inspected Bruno's bodyguard to make sure they wouldn't interfere and made a few interested inquiries on Gesper's form in duels. Bruno hadn't been able to help them, he'd no idea how his master could fight. Or even if he would be.

At the eleventh hour, a messenger boy from the city puffed up. He led the Bright wizard's second, the lady called Rachel, to deliver his message. Even from the other side of the duelling ground, Bruno knew it was bad news. The messenger ended up with a kick in the groin for his troubles, and nobody on the ground missed his plaintive wail of "it's not my fault he's dead!"

Apoplexy, it seemed, had claimed Clovis Pyre before the fight could.

Rachel was immediately surrounded by gesticulating bookies and the towering thugs that accompanied them. Bruno had pressed forward, eager to put a close to the entire sorry business, but he couldn't get through the scrum. Eventually, he'd given up and tried to leave. Then he'd found himself trying to explain to the bodyguards that there would be no duel, so it was entirely within the remit of their orders to let him go.

Before he succeeded, the woman started hurling fireballs.

What had she been thinking? He'd never know, now. Once he'd felt the wash of heat crinkling his hair, he hadn't stopped to think again. He rode towards her, sweeping the dark winds of death before him like the blade of a plough. She'd braced against them, fire energy searing a great black patch on the ground for metres round her feet. His spell cut through her protection effortlessly, tamping the flames before they could take.

After she died, the bookies and their men sidled off, embarrassed. The bodyguard seemed unmoved - their job had gone well, Bruno presumed, so they had nothing to discuss. He felt, well, he wasn't sure how he felt. Somewhere between exhilarated and horrified. He might have died. Instead, he'd burst her life like a bubble. A woman he didn't know and now never would.

"That is death, Bruno. Terrifying, no matter how impersonal. Exciting even in its horror. Now, on the cusp, you begin to learn."

His master's voice. How long had the master wizard been watching? Bruno nearly didn't recognise him. He was in full regalia - purple velvet robes so dark they were nearly black, heavy with pieces of ebony carved into skulls. He'd dyed his hair black with a single white lock at the front, masked his face with a white pan stick and gone fairly overboard with mascara. He had a raven on each shoulder, one of which seemed to have been stuffed, and held the strings of a skeletal marionette in one hand. Shirtless under the robes, Gesper's body was pale and gaunt.

His hat, Bruno observed, had been tailored to resemble a tombstone.

"The Bright Wizard died, master," Bruno said, hoping to mask his embarrassment from telepathy by focussing on the task in hand. "There was no duel." Gesper pointed at the dead woman out in the field.

"There was," he said. "And it was but the first. We ride tonight."

1 comment:

  1. That's a hell of a way to dramatize: 'cast one spell, and I popped'.

    Top quality fluffing, sir.