Day 09: Bear With Me. Let’s See Where This Goes

Ed arrived at the covered hole in the floor. Planks lay across it it, loosely attached with nails. A crow­bar, pulled from his robe, had soon pried up enough of them for him to slide through. He let him­self down between them and slowly dropped until he was hanging by his fin­ger­tips. At that point he real­ised he should have tested the depth first. “Bug­ger,” he said, as his fin­gers slipped away from the plank and he tumbled down into darkness.

He tried to ori­ent­ate him­self until he was facing down­wards, judging when that was from the air rush­ing past his face. Once he had done so, he mur­mured an incant­a­tion just quietly enough to not be heard, which, given the air rush­ing past him, meant he com­pletely mis­judged his volume and screamed it. Moments later, he slammed into a soft, almost liquid pool that had formed under­neath him. The depth of the drop had been of a remark­ably con­veni­ent level.

He stopped to appre­ci­ate the fact for a moment before stand­ing up and wad­ing to the solid edge of the small pool, lift­ing him­self onto the dirt covered rock.

He felt around in his robe until he found a torch, a little sod­den at the base but with a dry enough burny end. He pulled out a flint and steel and spent a few minutes light­ing a hand­ful of tinder and trans­fer­ring the flame to his torch. With light, he could see that a dark, dank cave was around him, a pas­sage­way stretch­ing away from him, down which he could only see thirty feet or so. He headed off.

Half an hour later, he had smothered the torch and was peer­ing over the top of a spike of rock that jut­ted out of the cave wall. Ahead of him were three men play­ing cards on a badly bal­anced table. One of the legs was over a large crack in the ground, but some­body had shoved some rags under it to try and hold it up. He was won­der­ing whether he’d be able to handle them all or if he’d have to wait for one to leave.

Sud­denly, the oil lamp on the men’s table spluttered and went out. “What the hell?” one of the men said, “who’s got the matches?”

Didn’t you-rgh!” said another.

What?”

The other man didn’t respond.

Oh, found them.” The candle was relit and two of the men jumped and gasped. The third was lying on the ground, unconscious.

Ed shrugged. he didn’t know what had happened, but this was his chance. He leapt from behind the rock and shouted a spell, hold­ing his hands out in an arcane ges­ture that made him look like he was doing a futur­istic dance. One man whipped his sword from its scab­bard, just in time for it to go limp and drop off at the hilt, land­ing on the floor with a splat.

Ed began cast­ing another spell, and the chants echoed off the rock walls. The unarmed man froze. He glanced around him and was then skewered by a stalac­tite drop­ping from the ceil­ing, stabbing through one shoulder and drag­ging him to the ground as its poin­ted end came out one of his but­tocks. It cracked as it hit the cave floor. He screamed, which quickly turned into a gurgle and he fell down. The white, crumbly mass that had appeared around rim of the stalac­tite fell apart a little more on impact. A match­ing mass had appeared on the ceil­ing where it had detached.

The other man had drawn his sword by now. When he saw his com­pan­ion brought down, he screamed and raised it, char­ging at Ed, who threw him­self side­ways and grabbed a large rock he’d seen there. He whispered to it and its tex­ture shif­ted. It felt lighter in his hands and took on a pale yel­low tex­ture. He drew his hand back to throw it but the man fell upon him before he could. The sword rico­cheted off the cave wall and he dropped it, bring­ing his hand back again and clench­ing his fist, opt­ing to punch Ed instead. As his fist came fly­ing, the glove that covered it turned from green to a pale, pasty beige, and rap­idly swelled. It still hit Ed’s face, but it was more like being pum­melled with a large, wet cush­ion. It made a splat­ting noise upon impact.

The man stared at his fist, then the chain­mail he was wear­ing did the same, swell­ing to cover his head. He brought both hands up, try­ing to pull the sub­stance away as it suf­foc­ated him, but both hands were covered in the same thing, and it just stuck together, cut­ting off his air supply.

Ed pushed the man off him and stood up, try­ing to sweep off the rem­nants of whatever it was that had suf­foc­ated the man in case it tried the same thing on him. As he did so, a woman’s voice spoke to him. “Don’t move,” it said, “I’ve got a cross­bow poin­ted right at your stom­ach. It’s hard to cast any­thing with a foot of wood stuck through your abdo­men.”
Ed froze. “Can I talk?” he asked.

I fully expect you to. What are you doing here?”

Ed looked at the bod­ies on the floor. The man who’d jumped on him was still twitch­ing. He decided hon­esty was the best policy here. “I’d heard these ban­dits were raid­ing nearby farm­ers. There’s a reward in it for me if I stop them.”

So you star­ted killing them?”

I wasn’t really given the chance to negotiate.”

Will you carry on?”

Not if I can help it. I think most of these men were driven out of the forests when they became over­run, but there’s a fight­back hap­pen­ing and large swathes have already been reclaimed.”

Don’t treat me like an idiot. I know all that. I’m not one of these idiot locals.”

Sorry, it’s just hard to judge when I can’t see you.”

You’re hop­ing to con­vince them to move back to the forests and join in the efforts to reclaim them then?”

If I can.”

Good. Last ques­tion then, what’s that on your robes?”

Ed looked down and ran his hands over the dry­ing, white lumps that covered his blue gown. “Cot­tage cheese,” he said, “I didn’t arrive here in the most dig­ni­fied fashion.”

A case­u­man­cer?”

Case­usman­cer,” cor­rec­ted Ed, “yes. Who are you?”

The woman walked into the candle light. She wasn’t hold­ing a cross­bow, which annoyed Ed. Not because he’d been deceived but because he didn’t like lies as a gen­eral prin­ciple. Her hair was dark and tied back, cut crudely, and she wore the robes of a panemancer.

Ah,” said Ed, look­ing down at the dough coat­ing the body next to him, “I was won­der­ing what that was.”

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