“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?”
“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?”
“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?’”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”