Tuesday, 14 March 2017

No Contest

Merelyth took a deep breath as her rival stepped into the clearing. Uncomfortably aware of the increasing redness of her cheeks, she nodded as the would-be apprentice threw her a feckless grin.

For years it had been assumed that she would be Ajalok the wizard’s chosen one, so she should have felt nothing but hatred for the newcomer, but the young man electrified her in a way the moon-faced boys of the tribe never could. And yet the blonde, easy-going traveller made the dark trainee shaman feel cloddish and ugly. She loved, hated and feared the boy in equal measure.

And now they stood side by side as Ajalok strode forward and placed an aged tome onto a tree stump with exaggerated reverence. Her whole body tingled as her rival chuckled to himself while the old wizard turned to them.

“This is an ancient spellbook known as the Book of Bones, said to have once belonged to the dreaded Lich Lord himself,” he intoned. “It contains a spell that allows one to bring forth an armoured skeleton. Your first test is this: I wish to see such an armoured skeleton before me!”

Merelyth gulped; book reading was never her strong point – such things were few and far between this far north – but she could not, would not, fail. Tearing herself away from her rival’s magnetic presence, she grabbed the grimoire and attempted to make sense of the symbols that swirled around the scratchy pages. There was something there, a pattern she’d seen before when raising zombies from the earth, but other things her mind could not pin down. With the boy taking off his coat uncomfortably nearby and setting to work she just could not concentrate. She gritted her teeth, eyes watering as she forced herself to focus. The ground before her began to shake, a long-departed soul began to wail and then…. nothing. She collapsed to the ground, useless and ashamed.

The boy smirked and waved his hands. Leaves and twigs swirled up from the clearing and coalesced into an ancient skeletal warrior. It turned it’s helmeted skull to it’s creator and bowed. The crowd of onlookers, unsophisticated tribes-folk, gasped, as did Merelyth.

“Wh-? How? How did you do that?” she wheezed, picking herself up from the damp ground.

“Heh, the Book of Bones is notoriously difficult to master,” he tilted his head in that peculiar way that always sent her heart fluttering. “The master wanted to see an armoured skeleton, so I cast an illusory soldier spell to show him one.” He grinned as he waved his arm through the now shimmering warrior.

Merelyth opened her mouth to protest, but Ajalok clapped his hands. “Excellent work boy!” As he turned to the girl his smile faded. “And you… your father would be very disappointed… Now, your second test is to bring me the head of this…”

He nodded to a group of warriors, who between them dragged a heavy crate into the clearing. Nervously they pushed open the lid and hurriedly stepped back, weapons raised. For a few seconds nothing happened, but slowly a hairy, clawed hand reached up to grab the lip of the box…

With a howl the werewolf suddenly leapt out of it’s prison, causing the onlookers to scatter backwards in panic. The beast sniffed the air and, snarling, turned towards the two rivals.

“It’s head, remember?” Ajalok called.

Once again Merelyth decided to seize the initiative and, trying to be brave, stepped forward as she began to prepare an elemental bolt. But before she could finish the incantation the werewolf roared and lunged forward. She squealed and, by way of reflex rather than design, cast a leap spell on herself.

She was still climbing down from the tree as her rival’s mind-controlled warrior plunged his greatsword into the wailing beast’s chest and then hacked the head from it’s massive corpse. By the time she trudged back into the clearing, the boy was presenting the grisly trophy to the wizard with an ironic bow.

Her face reddened as the crowd tittered at her approach. Ajalok scowled at her – the same scowl her father wore whenever she was due another beating. That same expression she saw every time his belt bit into her flesh as he admonished her for not standing up for herself. That same look she wiped off his face when she finally gained the strength to fight back…

Ignoring the crowd, the wizard and the shame, her thoughts went back to the time she yanked the belt from his hands. She remembered the look of surprise, fear and pride as the brute staggered back; broken arm hanging uselessly by his side. “See? I knew you had it in you girl…”

“No more games!” she yelled. “I am a member of this tribe and will not let anyone deny me of my rightful place! Contest,” she spat the word, “or no contest!”

The boy smiled another of his dazzling smiles. “But can’t you see I’ve won fair and square? C’mon, let’s b- urk!” He sunk to his knees as Merelyth pulled her long dagger from his stomach. Scornfully she kicked over his gurgling corpse before defiantly facing the wizard.

“Enough foolishness old man! Now let us make haste, for there is much I want to learn…”

After what seems like ages I’ve finally finished some more figures. The skeleton is a mix of undead and Viking plastics, the young man I acquired second hand, while the barbarian wizard, apprentice and werewolf were from the Forgotten Pacts ‘Nickstarter’.

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