Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Winding Road: Homecoming

by Frank Gori

Somewhere between his third and fourth step back onto his old block, Lazeron realized a part of his life was about to end. When the choices you have are likely death or defection, the Merchant’s Guild doesn’t seem so bad. He hated linear thinking, beginnings and endings were for boxes and Lazeron strived to never find himself in a box. Even the block that comprised his territory was round.

He hoped his school held together and picked a new leader, but he knew even in that best case there’d be casualties. Unlike other wizards Lazeron was also of sorcerer blood and had been working the school system since he was a child. He earned his students and carved out his block, and he was granted a measure of respect for his blood rights,

It was probably all Emry’s now. Emry ran an up and coming school before he tried to take Lazeron’s block and absorb his students. Lazeron played him for fool and used a simple broken wing gambit to get Emry’s boys into an ambush. Given a choice to join or die, Emry did the smart thing. Now he likely ran -Laz’s school, The Vicious Cycles, and Lazeron’s block which was really about six blocks.

That was bad news for a few of Lazeron’s strays. Most schools were fairly homogonous, all wizards or all sorcerers, heck some were even all of the same bloodline. In Laz’s thinking the comfort of that was a mistake, there was greater strength in diversity. Laz’s strays were mostly what other mages called small powers or little fish. City folk sometimes forget that one of the most effective tactics of small creatures was to swarm.

Fourteen steps later Lazeron spotted the first signs of damage. He was already annoyed the sentries weren’t tending their established circular routes and he had gotten as far unchallenged but damaging the block was too much. The scorch marks meant either an external fight with a rival or someone got sloppy with an internal matter.

That was unacceptable. The small businesses and housing in Mage’s Guild territory operated under mage protection. They didn’t have to pay in on Merchant’s Guild or Workman’s dues because they paid their school taxes. Some called the Mage’s Guild a collection of thugs but last Lazeron checked his taxes still came out better than even Workman's dues. He did loans, sold caster services, and had working girls too. No one suffered in his domain and his strays proved to their worth to his advantage.

Marta and Snook were perfect examples. Marta was a female ogre no one would take on account of her lack of wits. The girl was indeed dumb but she had power and muscle which was a rare enough combination. She’d never be the type to advance or even be sent on a mission without supervision but she was useful. Her violent abilities and tendency were only directed at threats. To her friends she was sweet as they come. Snook lacked the raw ability to throw a lightning bolt or fireball but he used what little he had smartly. Snook used his gift to enhance his abilities with bows and crossbows, he might not be able to burn you to death with a fireball but a well placed arrow will kill you all the same.

“Relax Laz, no burn shadow. Was just for show,” said the gruff voice behind Laz.

Lazeron forgot about Zool. The man walked too damn quiet… He was right though. Showy displays of power were Emry’s wheelhouse. The boy had a lot of power but was careless how he aimed it. This indicated Emry was likely in charge as Lazeron feared. Emry lacked imagination, and to him a mage was just one thing. It meant trouble for the ones that didn’t fit into his narrow view. Price on his head be dammed, Lazeron wasn’t about to leave those that were his behind. Laz was going to collect his strays and he was going to get that fool minotaur too and burn anyone who stood in his way.

“Aw hell, I remember that look Laz. Go on back thinking ‘bout your numbers we’re supposed to do this quiet,” said Zool.

Three, then one, and four, one, five nine… Lazeron lost himself in the number for a bit, trusting in Zool’s professionalism. His invisibility circle would hold for some time. He was in the maddening three, thirty six, seven, three, thirty six sequence when the sunder stopped him.

They were at the Vicious Cycle’s schoolhouse and the copper smell of blood greeted them both. The door was wide open and Emry’s corpse was pinned to it by four expertly placed arrows.
“That who we came for,” Zool asked as the roaring woosh of a fireball and pained screams came from inside the house.

“Circle round the back,”Laz instructed in a voice that seemed distant to his own ear.

The bliss roared in his blood as Lazeron called a swarm. No circle, no abjuration, nothing the numbers could claim. Gods the bliss felt good. He called another spell and held it, rewarded again by the bliss. It was like sex, truffles, and being admired all at once. With a swarm of wasps at his command and lightning ready to pour out of his hands Lazeron walked in his own front door.

He giggled at a stupid thought. Some snippet of proverb, saying you can’t go home again.