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Irsquo;m going with the.., p.1
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       I’m Going With the Flames., p.1

           Tobias Gavran
 
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I’m Going With the Flames.
I’m Going With the Flames

  Tobias Gavran

  Copyright © 2015 Tobias Gavran

  All rights reserved.

  I’m Going With the Flames

  I see the man in the black leather cloak stride across the market place and into the tavern pulsating with drunken laughter and light. The shadows appeal to me, their cold fingers laced around my neck. Obscurity has given me strength, but now I must leave its protective embrace.

  The windows of the building darken at my approach, but I’m not the cause of it. Inside I hear a groan followed by sounds of a struggle. I open the door in a hurry and blue eyes peer at me.

  “Hey!” I yell out when his sword digs into the door frame, inches from my face. “Don’t turn your back to it, warrior!”

  He doesn’t listen. A tail covered in shiny scales slips out of the darkness and surrounds his waist. When it tightens around him, the lizard’s head emerges, mouth open to bite. The warrior swings but his steel glides on the reptilian armor.

  My mind races and leaves the physical world in the dust. I cast a ward on both my hands before I throw them up and grab the beast by its upper jaw. My magic fights the edge of its teeth but they tear through my skin nonetheless.

  “Strike, now!” I shout. I see him lower his blade in a circular motion and I feel like killing the fool. “Thrust, you ass!”

  The lizard shakes his gaping head to try and snap his jaws on my hands, but it had already embedded its lower teeth in the warrior’s cloak. Warm blood splatters my face, forcing me to close my eyes and stagger. By the time I open them again, the stranger has killed the monster; he is also pointing his blade at me.

  “Haunter!” he accuses.

  “Oh, shut it!” I have very little patience for stupidity. I’d shove him out of the way if I had the strength, the speed, or the skill… I rub my hands together despite the pain, I don’t want him to see my wounds.

  The warrior seems wary of any trick I may pull on him, which I find irritating. If I could, I would, and he could squint at me all he wants, it wouldn’t change a thing.

  “Can I get my hands on that thing now?” I give a nod towards the wooden floor behind him, where the beast lies dead.

  “I will not allow–” his grandstanding declaration dies in his throat when I walk right past him. So much for guarding the way to the holy tavern, paladin.

  I take out my knife and press the short, wide blade below the lizard’s gums, slowly parting the scale armor from its skull.

  “You launched that beast after me for its skin?” the warrior sounds outraged.

  “First I’m a haunter, now a beastmaster. Shouldn’t you be in some monarch’s court, sharing your wisdom with the strong and powerful?”

  “The tavern. It was bright and filled with people, then suddenly I found myself in a dark room with two corpses on the ground.” He walks to me and grabs my tunic, pointing his weapon towards what I assume to be the late innkeeper and her employee.

  “You don’t bait a trap with vinegar,” I reply.

  “So you confess, you cast the illusion to trap me here with this monstrosity!” He shakes me and draws back his weapon.

  Part of me wants to see him hurt, but I stop my hand just in time before it reaches his exposed wrist, and tuck on my tunic instead. Hopefully he doesn’t see as well as I do in the dark and hasn’t noticed the awkward redirection.

  “This is a sneerer,” I finally say, turning to the animal. “Have you heard about it?”

  He lowers his sword a little but doesn’t reply. I take that for a no.

  “We call them that because they look like they’ve a nasty grin about them. They usually hunt by the side of the road, luring people astray to kill them out of sight. Illusion is their bait.”

  “Why is this one in town, then?” he asks as though I’m not making any sense.

  “That’s what ‘usually,’ means, O wise one. It’s not always the case.”

  “But you knew this thing was in there! You could have called before I even reached the door.”

  He makes a good point, but on the other hand I really didn’t picture him agreeing to help me kill the thing if I told him it was in there. People tend to run away from monsters. I turn back to my skinning job and he kicks a table upside down.

  He paces for a few seconds then sit on a bench at a distance. “How much are you going to make off that hide?”

  “It’s not the hide I’m after, and I’m not going to sell it.”

  “Why don’t you cut to the chase and just tell me what you’re doing?”

  I raise my head again to glance at him. Would anyone miss him if he were to disappear? “I’m getting the pancreas, that’s where its…” I look for a layman’s term. “Magic resides.” I’m not about to explain to him the intricacies of corporal anchorage of feral spells.

  He cocks his head on the side and I wish another lizard would just fall from the ceiling to gnaw at his throat. “Why would you need that?”

  “To make idiots talk,” I smile with pursed lips, “and trust me, it’s working right now.”

  He immediately stands up, and I suddenly realize that he’s much younger than I first thought. His blue eyes were pretty much all I saw of his face earlier. They contrast beautifully with his olive skin, but I’d hardly call the man handsome. People rendered speechless by anger, opening and closing their mouth like carps just aren’t attractive to me, I guess.

  I return to my gruesome task, bag the pancreas into a leather pouch I had prepared, and stand up to leave. He doesn’t try to stop me, but he does the next worst thing: follow me. I face him before I get out. In the dark tavern I still have the advantage of sight over him.

  “What do you think you’re doing?”

  He shrugs.

  “What exactly do you think you could gain from following me?”

  He shrugs, again.

  Reasoning with him doesn’t seem to be the way to go. I don’t see myself threatening him, he’d just call my bluff. Well, if he decides to actually try and stop me, maybe then I won’t be bluffing. Until then, he can follow me, no matter how annoying that is.

  I crouch near an empty stand which still reeks of old fish in the corner of the market place and retrieve my bag. Impatient, I sit on the ground and take out my instruments; mortar and pestle for the southern grain, mincer for the sneerer’s pancreas, grinder for the blue pepper.

  “You’re an alchemist!” the warrior barks.

  I take out an iron pot. “Sure, I am.” The pan is the next tool to see the moonlight. “Obviously.”

  The man watches, bewildered, as I make kindling out of an abandoned crate by smashing it repeatedly against the stand. There is no complaint from the neighbors, but yet again, I’m pretty sure there aren’t many survivors.

  “You… You did all this for a…meal?”

  “Did you ever hear the saying ‘you are what you eat?’” I ask.

  He’s so confused he nods a genuine yes.

  “Well, it’s truer than you’d think.” I light the fire and the shadows part with my skin. The cold suddenly bothers me again. I drop butter in the pot and start grinding the southern grain.

  “You’re a cook?” The warrior does nothing to hide his disappointment, and his stomach suddenly does the opposite.

  “Don’t even think about stealing this when I’m done.”

  “You sent me in there to be eaten by a monster, the least you could do is share!”

  I sigh. “It would make you sick, plus, I need it all.”

  “What’s so different about you?”

  “I’m used to it.”

  “A bloody cook,” he whispers as he goes back inside the inn.

  Once I mixed the bu
tter with the southern grain flour, I start pouring dyregoat milk from a wineskin in the pot as I stir the sauce. I season it with blue pepper and let it rest next to me, to start cooking the minced pancreas with some herbs. The smell is horrid, but taste isn’t really the point. I’ve been taught the art of real cuisine, that of my family for generations.

  I hear his steps getting closer then further again. I glance at him and see him wincing, a half-eaten apple in his hand. I won’t give him grief for stealing from the dead, I’ve done worse.

  “Are you really going to eat this?”

  I nod. “You don’t want me to share anymore?”

  “I’m pretty sure pigs wouldn’t eat that.” He stays at a good enough distance, upwind, and bites in his apple again.

  “Well, I wouldn’t if it weren’t useful.”

  “Useful?”

  I smile. “Yes, the protein contains feral magic which the seasoning,” I shake a little wooden box packed with herbs, “brings out. Then, I have my sauce.” I knock a knuckle against the pot. “It kinds of sets a directive, it influences the magic.”

  “Like a focal stone?” he draws his blade out of the sheath, his index finger pointing at the crystal at the center of its guard. They’re used to help people enchant their weapons in the midst of battle.

  I shake my head. “No, it’s more like…” I shrug. “Never mind.” I love to talk about my craft, but this one is too stupid for me.

  He rushes to finish his apple and come closer, his cheeks still puffed with fruit. With a big gulp, he swallows it all before he speaks, “No, no, tell me, please.”

  What’s wrong with him? I frown, but eventually point at my pan. “This is the magic.” I
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