Day 10: Grocery Magicians

You know, Case­usman­cer is pretty stu­pid. I always thought is was Case­u­man­cer, that way it sounds much better.”

They were walk­ing along the pas­sages of the cave, fol­low­ing the signs of use and tracks that they thought would lead them to who­ever was in charge, or at least some more people who they could try and inter­rog­ate. The pan­e­man­cer had lit a torch and given it to Ed to carry. Her name was Veron­ica, and she’d star­ted a whispered con­ver­sa­tion as they made their way to wherever it was they were now headed.

At least we didn’t decide to plur­al­ise part of our name just to make it sound a little bet­ter. You should all be Panismancers.”

Nobody even speaks that lan­guage any­more. Who cares if we bas­tard­ise it to make it sound a little bet­ter or be a little easier to say?”

Not really the point,” Ed muttered.

Look, you’re wel­come to put an old, dead lan­guage on a plinth and pre­serve it in the mod­ern tongue through your own actions, but don’t expect any­body to actu­ally keep using it. I’m all for stick­ing it in a book and mak­ing sure it’s always avail­able, but don’t get angry when a drunk­ard in a tav­ern starts slur­ring and mis­us­ing it.”

Why do you think I’d do that?”

Haven’t you?”

No,” lied Ed. He figured it didn’t really count as, on that occa­sion at least, he’d had a few drinks too.

Well, whatever. You still don’t get to start cri­ti­cising how other people use a lan­guage. I don’t think it’s in your remit.”

Is it in anybody’s?”

Sure. Lin­guaman­cers.”

That’s not a thing.”

Prob­ably not, no.”

They walked in silence for a while, Ed occa­sion­ally wav­ing the torch from left to right, check­ing the walls for any gaps or other pas­sage­ways, but the route con­tin­ued straight ahead.

How many spells have you got left?” she asked him.

Enough. I’ve only used the four you saw plus one to get in here.”

Four? I thought it was three?”

Well, the ques­tion you’ve got to ask your­self is, ‘Do I Feel Lucky?’”

What?”

I’m… I’m not sure. It just sort of came to me.”

I’m pretty sure it was three.”

You’re prob­ably right.”

Those were some good tricks, by the way. The stalac­tite was nice. You must have a pretty com­pre­hens­ive know­ledge of cheeses if you’re able to judge how much tensile stress they can take.”

Actu­ally, cheese is pretty easy. As long as you don’t go for warm moz­zarella or some­thing then it’s going to break. That was wens­ley­dale though. Really crumbly under those conditions.”

And the sword?”

Feta. There are some cheeses that you can make really intric­ate sculp­tures out of, but feta def­in­itely isn’t one of them. It snaps under its own weight, more often than not.”

OK, that’s simple enough, I guess.”

Well, it’s not exactly simple. I still had to time it right, not panic, aim the spells and everything. I mean, those guys were pretty angry. Plenty of people would have made a mistake.”

Look, you don’t get points for not screw­ing up. That needs to be the baseline here. Ingenu­ity, excep­tional per­form­ance, sure, worth con­grat­u­lat­ing, but say­ing ‘well, I didn’t get stabbed through the chest’ doesn’t earn you anything.”

I was just say­ing,” said Ed, drop­ping his voice to a sulky mutter.

What were you plan­ning with that rock any­way? What did you turn that into?”

Ed brightened up again, “I’m actu­ally quite proud of that. It came to me in a flash down there. It was a heavy rock and, if I’m hon­est, I wasn’t up to the task of throw­ing it at him, but I can turn it into emmental, which has enough weight to aim and gather momentum whilst still being light enough for me to actu­ally throw because of the holes. Then, when it’s in midair and trav­el­ling towards him, reverse the spell and poof! A huge lump of rock right in his face.”

Poof?”

More like crunch, I guess.”

That is pretty smart. Shame you didn’t get a chance to do it properly.”

Yeah, he moved faster than I thought he would.”

Veron­ica stopped and motioned for Ed to do the same. She whispered some­thing and the torch went out with a hiss. The dark­ness let them see the glow of a lamp fur­ther down the pas­sage­way much more clearly.

Creep up and see what we’re deal­ing with?” sug­ges­ted Ed.

Abso­lutely,” replied Veronica.

They found a crevice in the wall where they could hide and watch what was going on in the light. One man, a leader or higher up of some sort, was yelling at a group of eight armed and armoured ban­dits in front of him. From their vant­age point, Ed and Veron­ica could make out most of what was said.

I don’t want any more fuck­ing cock-ups, you little shit stains!” screamed the man, “no more ‘we couldn’t kill the chil­dren’ or ‘you didn’t want us to let the women go?’ excuses! If I send you to wipe out a vil­lage and bring back the plun­der, you wipe out the vil­lage and bring back the plun­der, under­stood? I don’t want a thing mov­ing in any vil­lage you raid unless it’s the wind stir­ring a noose!”

Lovely man,” said Veronica.

Now, you bas­tards march out of here and bring back some­thing worth steal­ing, and if any of you come back without a sword drip­ping with blood I’ll have you all flayed alive and fed to the dogs!”

The com­pany of men walked down a dif­fer­ent pas­sage­way, grumbling to them­selves with their heads hung.

They don’t seem happy about it, at least,” said Ed.

No. Those guys we could have a chance of con­vin­cing. Him,” she nod­ded at the man left stand­ing, watch­ing their retreat­ing backs, “not so much.”

What do you want to do then?”

Stay here a little longer. See where he goes.”

The man sat down at a table and unslung a bottle from his waist. He star­ted drink­ing from it, lean­ing back in his chair and star­ing at a torch. The pair remained still until ten minutes after the last sound of the men walk­ing away had died off.

OK, I think I know how we can deal with him. I need you to run into the light and say some­thing to him. Or throw some­thing at him. Get his atten­tion and make him stand up.”

You’re sure?”

Yeah.”

This doesn’t sound like much of a plan.”

Just go and do it, will you?”

Ed, against his bet­ter judge­ment, left the cover and walked towards the circle of light. The man had his back to him. Ed picked up a rock, aimed it at the man’s head and threw. The rock con­nec­ted with the base of the man’s skull and he yelled out, clutched the back of his head and turned around.

Hi,” said Ed.

What the fuck?” said the man, stand­ing up, draw­ing his sword and march­ing towards him. Veron­ica yelled some­thing from the dark­ness. Sud­denly, the man stumbled as his legs gave way. Crumbs star­ted flood­ing out of the bot­tom of his trousers and over his shoes, and little pink strands poked between them. The man screamed so loudly Ed wor­ried the oth­ers would come back, but a moment later he passed out.

Shit,” said Veron­ica, “I must have over done it.”

What did you do?”

Turned his legs into over­handled pastry but left the nerves intact.”

Nice.”

It requires a del­ic­ate touch.”

What now then?”

He’ll come around even­tu­ally. When he does,” she drew a bread knife from her belt, “we’ll see how sens­it­ive those nerve end­ings really are.”

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