Interlude – Ireland Part Four
August 4th 2014 – Molly
Just one step though. It wasn’t like I was about to get in a wrestling match with an undead giant and his horde of shorter minions. I just wanted a better view of the hillside. Between my sweaty fingers, I could feel the little oaken statue that would be my trump card. If it worked. If it didn’t, I’d probably die horribly looking like an idiot. No point dwelling on that, either my craftsmanship was good enough or it wasn’t.
I filled in the spaces between the fires around the edge of the plateau, creating a solid half circle of flame. It didn’t take much power or time to spread the existing fire around, even in the damp hedge. Ireland was also a bit more magical than the states, I could probably throw around quite a bit of power here before I really started feeling the effects. Especially if I was able to draw out the battle, and avoid using too much mana in any one instant. A long battle was definitely in my favor here, the longer I went without dying, the thicker the ring of flames around me would get. Eventually it would be impassable to the undead, letting me lob spells at them with no risk of retaliation.
At least, that was the plan. Dozens of considerations rushed through my head in the moments before I acted. It was amazing how calm you could get when your life was on the line.
I swapped my lighter over to my right hand, squared my feet, and took a breath. Using untested magic against a bunch of undead giants. This is what I live for. I defy you to show me a drug that can match the high you get from literally holding your life in your hands. I could feel blood on my shin from where one of the zombies had grabbed my earlier. I rubbed the wet blood all over the statue, clenching my teeth through the sting. I could feel the blood between my fingers, filling in the cracks where I had carved runes into the little wooden tiger. Even without a circle, I could feel the connection forged by my blood, a sign I had enchanted the statue properly.
Feeding mana into the statue was like watching an impossibly intricate fountain get filled with water for the first time, or seeing a building constructed in time-lapse. It wasn’t as much a visual thing as a sense of a geometric shapes and complexity, of the lines of a diagram being drawn on an infinite plane just beyond your vision. It was a surreal experience that dragged on forever, yet ended in a moment, as the basic structure of the spell surged into life. The scaffolding, or the outline, waiting to be filled in. The targets steadily approached, the frontrunners of the horde were now less than a hundred feet from me.
I had chosen to use the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet because it was old enough to have metaphysical weight, but translated phonetically into English. It also had no curvy lines, which made it so much easier to carve into an uneven surface with a pocketknife than English letters. I had written, translated, and carved the spell myself. It wasn’t about precision, the enchantments on the statue already provided enough structure to shape the spell. The spell, the runes, the carving, the blood, all of it was to build a connection. Thaumaturgy is an art, not a science. I spoke aloud the words I had carved as I threw the statue forward towards the horde. It was less of a incantation than a prayer, but they were my words, and that was what mattered.
“I am the fire in the heart of the darkness”
The statue reached the apex of it’s flight.
“Torch, Aegis, Companion”
For a fraction of a moment, I thought I saw a flicker of orange light around the statue.
“My blood shall make your body, my strength will shape your form, and my will shall anchor your reason!”
On impulse, I added another line.
“Sic em Guenwhyvar!”
Hey, it’s another personal connection. A girl’s allowed to have heroes. And cats should have names.
I lost sight of the little tiger statue as it went tumbling into the night. I caught sight of it again, just before it touched the ground. It was glowing orange. I smiled, faith in my handiwork restored. As the little carving touched the ground in front of the horde, it burst into flames. A large part of the power fueling the spell came from me. I could feel the little statue draw strength from me through the connection between us. It wasn’t like the normal strain of working magic, it was more of a steady exhaustion. If burning out after a major working was like collapsing after sprinting a mile, then this was more like having weights attached to every limb, or being kept awake for hours on end. It wasn’t fun, but the drain on my strength was manageable.
The flames around the statue coalesced, shaping and reshaping until they reached a form the spell was happy with.
A tiger composed entirely of swirling flames stood between me and the horde. It’s fur and flesh shifted through every shade of orange imaginable as it flexed it’s muscles. It’s stripes were dark gray, continually shifting as if they were composed of bands of smoke. It’s eyes and claws were black embers tinged with crimson heat. It’s tail swished back and forth idly, igniting the hedge around it. Satisfied with it’s shape, the tiger turned to it’s, our, enemies. And it roared, the deep voice of a jungle cat mingling with the roar of a forest fire. The giant in front, the one animated by the spirit of the little girl, recovered from the surprise first. He, or she, I’m not really sure how gender pronouns work with possession, dropped into a crouch, and charged at my tiger. Worked for me, I had already decided to kill that one first.
Guenwhyvar retreated up the hill with blinding speed, leaving a trail of tiny fires in her wake. The charging giant threw itself to the side, avoiding any contact with the fire. I could feel Guenwhyvar in the corner of my mind. I didn’t have any real control over her, but I could dimly sense her mood. The giant and the tiger circle each other, each waiting for the other to move. Neither me nor the rest of the horde of undead intervened. We all understood that this wasn’t our battle. Yet. I had no problem at all with waiting, and letting the brush-fire spread further.
The giant moved first, clambering forward toward Guenwhyvar. He covered half the distance between them in a single motion, then swung his impossibly long arm around like a club. Guenwhyvar dropped back, easily dodging the massive arm.
Unfortunately, it was just a feint. At the apex of the swing, the giant opened it’s hand and released the rock hidden beneath it’s massive fingers. Off balance, the tiger couldn’t move quickly enough to dodge the heavy rock. The stone tore through Guenwhyvar’s fiery flesh, leaving a ragged gap above her right shoulder. I could feel pain and anger seeping through the link between us. I could hear a little girl giggling. The giant’s mouth wasn’t moving. I looked at the fires strewn across the hillside, trying to find a way to distract Guen’s opponent. It wasn’t necessary. The ragged hole was slowly closing, as the Guenwhyvar absorbed the magical fires she had set in the hedge around her.
Okay, that was fucking awesome. I needed to make another of those statues. The self-healing kitty made of fire was definitely my new favorite toy. I got a strangely mixed response through the link, a combination of pride, elation, and contempt. Was… Guenwhyvar upset at being called a toy? Could she hear my thoughts?
“Bad Kitty! Stay dead!” The giant shouted with the voice of a little girl. Oh dear, it was developing a sense of humor. And learning from it’s mistakes. The giant had rocks in both it’s hands now, and was keeping Guenwhyvar outside it’s massive reach. Every time the tiger threatened to pounce, the giant gave ground and swung one of it’s long arms inward, forcing Guenwhyvar to retreat.
I turned away from the stalemated fight and took stock of my more immediate surroundings. The ring of flames had expanded both toward and away from me. Now the barrier was several feet wide and getting dangerously close to my tent. I reached out to the fire and pushed it away from me. It took much less energy than expanding or creating flames. After the fire slid a few feet towards my enemies, I had a nice semicircle of ashes that would prevent the flames from growing back towards me again. Unfortunately, the horde took that as a signal to join the fight. Two of the human sized frontrunners headed towards me, leaping across the barrier of flames. One’s legs gave way as he tried to jump, and he fell short. Right into the ring. I ignored him, turning my attention to the one that had actually cleared the ring. I brought my wand to bear as he got up from his crouch.
“Fuego!” The wand blast caught him near the top of his chest, sending him tumbling backwards into the ring of flames. I kept watch on him out of the corner of my eye, but the spirit animating him didn’t have the presence of mind to try a suicidal charge at me. I swung my wand around like a conductor’s baton, moving it between the zombies standing just outside the ring of fire. The two zombies who had fallen into the fire screamed in their death throes. Even after the charred bodies stopped moving, the voices of the ghosts continued to scream into the night sky.
A flash of concern from Guenwhyvar tore my attention away from the mob on the far side of the circle. Half of the zombies, and the other two giants, had headed for Guenwhyvar instead of me. Two of the giants used their incredible reach to prevent her from closing to melee range, the rest of the mob threw stones at her. Most of the stones fell far short of their target, and the ones tossed by the human zombies didn’t have very much force behind them. Unfortunately, Guenwhyvar’s fiery body wasn’t very solid. Every stone that hit gouged deep tears in her flesh, and each new hole was slower to close than the one before it. The third giant, the one that had first engaged her, kept itself positioned to prevent Guenwhyvar from retreating toward me and the ring of flames.
Guenwhyvar gave ground freely, brushing against plants wherever possible. The undead weren’t able to safely touch even small fires, and were forced to spread out, preventing them from flanking Guen. It wasn’t enough. The damage caused by the stones was adding up faster than she could create new fires to replenish her body. If she tried to get close enough to do deal damage, the horde would bury her under the sheer weight of bodies.
She hadn’t been around for long, but she was my flaming kitty damnit! The mob chasing Guenwhyvar was too far away for me to easily reach with fire magic. The blasts from my wand would reach them, but they would barely be a distraction against so many. I needed to take down the giant between us, if Guen could get to the ring of flames she’d be able to replace the flesh she’d lost. I think. I felt approval and agreement through the link, apparently she agreed. Guen’s remarkable healing ability hadn’t been an intended part of the spell, neither had her apparent sentience. I sure wasn’t complaining.
“Fuego!” I launched a blast of force at the giant, catching him between his shoulders. He stumbled forward, but otherwise appeared unharmed. Living giants were supposed to be pretty resistant to magic, apparently that applied to dead ones too. Fortunately, that was all the distraction Guen needed. As the giant stumbled forward, Guen pivoted to the right, turning to face him. She leapt, shifting into a blur of flames as she crossed the distance between her and the giant in an instant. Guen stuck to the giant’s chest as she landed, digging in with her clearly solid claws. She tore and raked at the giant’s flesh, starting small fires as she thrashed around. The giant brought one of it’s arms to bear but Guenwhyvar shrugged off the blows. The giant changed tactics, falling forward to try to catch and smother Guenwhyvar between itself and the ground.
Guen was far too fast for that, and slid forward like an oiled piglet as soon as the giant tried to turn on it’s stomach. With the giant that had been in her way sprawled on the ground, she bounded up the hill, easily outpacing the rest of the horde. As Guenwhyvar reached the ring of fire, the flames started to flow out towards her like a liquid flowing downhill. The new fire snaked up Guen’s legs, seeking and filling the holes in her body. In a few moments, she was good as new. She padded over to stand beside me. I almost tried to pet her, before remembering that heat rises. I settled for standing a comfortable distance away from her side.
The rest of the mob was slowly making it’s way over to the far side of the ring of flames. The giant that Guen had savaged had recovered and as leading the horde. The magical fires barely found purchase on the giants withered body. As soon as Guenwhyvar had retreated, the flames had begin to die down. There was clearly some damage, black burn scars crisscrossed the giant’s torso, but nothing serious. I wasn’t sure whether it was because of the innate magic resistance of the giant itself, or the greater power of the spirit animating it. Either way, the giants would be more formidable foes.
Giants are unusual. I’m sure you knew that, since I doubt you’ve seen one in real life, or know anyone who has, other than me I suppose. But that’s not entirely what I meant. While primary sources on giant populations are obviously hard to find at the best of times, it’s generally agreed giants have been pretty uncommon since before the birth of Christ. Almost every pre-christian culture has stories about them. There are even some credible stories of giants in the northern wilds and the far corners of Asia and Africa as late as the fall of the Roman Empire. However, since the Renaissance, giant sightings have been almost unheard of. Giants were the first group of supernatural humanoids to fall into decline with the rise of the modern world. There are a bunch of theories about why, ranging from giants being dependent on high densities of ambient magic to survive, to them just being too large and warlike to hide from the growing human populations. The one thing everyone agrees on, is that they pretty much dropped off the face of the earth well before people started telling their kids stories about magic beanstalks.
To find the corpse of a giant is impressive, that’s a rare find on the level of a mundane archeologist stumbling upon a perfectly preserved T-Rex. But to animate one, to restore unlife to something that lived and died back when the world was a much wilder place, that takes power. That took the sort of power that hasn’t been common among ghosts for a very long time. This was starting to look less like an unfortunate run-in with a greater undead, and more like someone deliberately sent me on a suicide mission. Meh. At least I could blame them if I was accused of setting a horde of zombies loose on County Sligo.
With Guenwhyvar closer to my source of fire I was feeling much more confident about this battle. My particular brand of magical combat really isn’t what you’d call subtle. Creating fire on the fly takes a lot more power than a comparatively novice elementalist like me usually has on tap. As a result, I typically need to rely heavily on magical tools and mundane weapons. It’s a real treat to be able to let my hair down like this, so to speak.
I reached out to the fire surrounding me. It was, for lack of a better word, famished. I could feel the fire’s, or rather, the spirits within the fire’s, overwhelming hunger. As an element, fire is rarely predictable or placid, but the undead are pretty much it’s favorite food. It might sound like I’m giving an inanimate object too much credit, but even small and fragmented spirits like you’d find in an untended fire really do have a mind of their own.
All they needed me to do was provide the means for them to act.
I raised my hand in front of me, curling my my pinkie and ring finger inward. I bent the other two fingers and curled my thumb in along the edge of my palm. I always liked this gesture, it feels like something a witch from a Grimm fairytale would do right before she cursed someone. Sensing my intent, Guenwhyvar slowly walked into the ring of flames. I pointed my scrunched up claw of a hand at the little girl in a giant’s body who had started this whole mess.
“I almost wonder what happened to you so long ago, that you still can’t let it go. What made you need an army of monsters to feel safe at night.” I said.
The giant with the soul of a little girl responded by picking up a rock. Yeah, that wasn’t going to lead to any sort of meaningful dialogue. It’s not like I’m some kind of ghost-therapist or something, but I know when negotiations have broken down.
I twisted my hand upside down, and swiped it around in a little half-circle. I finished the gesture by flourishing my two extended fingers upward. There was some complicated magicking that went along with hand motions, but I won’t bore you with the details.
Guenwhyvar leapt, and the flames followed her, twisting outwards and upwards like a solar flare. She landed directly on the chest of the little girl giant, and immediately started trying to rip her arms off. The tongue of fire that extended out from the ring decomposed around her, flooding out with a vengeance. The flames actively sought out zombies, clinging to every undead thing within a few yards of the embattled giant. I could feel the strain of the working beginning to set in, but I kept up the attack. I swung my hand horizontally, bringing up a wave of flames the engulfed the first few ranks of zombies. They charged and leapt en-mass, the desperation of the Slaugh compelling them to ignore even their mortal fear of fire. The first few fell far short of clearing the now massive ring. One especially athletic specimen leapt nearly six feet into the air, high enough to easily clear the ring. As he began to come back down, I dragged the fire up to meet him. He came down in a flaming, thrashing, heap.
I dealt with the next few waves of jumpers in a similar fashion. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
“Get the hell off my hillside you damn ghosts!” I shouted. I could hear a little girl screaming in the distance, the sound brought a smile to my lips. Guenwhyvar was holding her own against two of the undead giants, using the fire she’d carried from the ring to control the flow of the fight. She danced in and out of the patches of burning hedge, forcing the giants to risk immolation every time they tried to attack. Both the giants were badly burned, one of them seemed to have lost part of it’s arm.
A rock bigger than my head whizzed by, missing my face by inches. That wasn’t good. I brought my wand to bear, ready to blast or dodge the next one. It must have come from the third giant, who had retreated to a safe distance and was alternately lobbing rocks at me and Guen.
The tide had begun to turn now, with the battlefield was engulfed in flames I was able to easily keep the horde from getting close to me. Guenwhyvar was having similar luck, using her speed and the spreading flames to prevent her opponents from fleeing or landing a decisive blow.
They should’ve ignored the cat and rushed me while the ring was still manageable. Or they should’ve just left me alone altogether. Either way would have ended better for them, the attrition and theatrics the Slaugh would normally use to bring down it’s prey had given me the opportunity to get my defenses up and running.
From here on out it would be smooth sailing.
Hah, famous last words.
As Guenwhyvar finally managed to cripple down one of the giants and fully turned her attention on the remaining one – the apparent ringleader with the voice of a little girl – the entire horde went berserk. Sensing that their master was in danger, zombies rushed headlong into the flames, trying to reach me or smother Guen. Most of them didn’t even have the presence of mind to jump, they just ran into the flames, scrambling across the bodies of those who had gone before them. For a moment, it looked like they might smother themselves a path with sheer numbers. Then I turned up the heat. Actively fed, the wildfire raged higher than before, reaching dozens of feet into the night sky. Zombies caught light from the flames around them even as they crawled across the charred bodies of their predecessors. Black began to creep in around the edges of my vision. I got lightheaded, my fingers tingled, and what I could see started changing colors.
I kept up the wall of flames, praying to someone, anyone, that the horde would run out of bodies before I ran out of power.
Heh. Someone was going to have to explain to the local media why this hillside was filled with dozens of burned corpses. And three dead giants. Wait, where were the giants?
I tried to find them, but I couldn’t see anything beyond the wall of flames. A few moments later, I could barely see the flames, I just felt that my front half was warm and tingly, and my back half was just tingly. I don’t know when I stopped standing, but I could feel something hard beneath my shins.
My last thought before I passed out, was that someone was definitely going to try to blame me for this…