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April 15, 2024

The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole

By Sand Pilarski

Cornered between the deadly river and the fields of Kaladang the Axe, Aser and Danner get to insult the evil wizard Fellmount one last time.

"When we're done with this and safe, I am going to do nothing at all but frequent fine pubs and inns and drink beer and eat pretzels and those little crackers that look like anchovies," said Danner. "And Aser, don't even start telling me that we're not going to live through this, I'm sick of hearing how we're going to die no matter what."

"Okay, I won't say anything," I replied.

"Good," she said. "I think that after the beer and crackers stint, I'll conduct a survey of which tavern offers the best margaritas. In fact that might become my life's work."

Dan Ur-Jennan and I were nearly across the ocean of oats that stretched from the ridge far behind us to the river that used to be known as the Icetrout, due to the good fishing and frigidity of the water as it flowed down from the highest mountains in the east. Kaladang the Axe had renamed it "Kaladang's River," which came as no surprise to anyone he left alive in its environs. So far we'd encountered no one living, just hundreds and hundreds of ghosts, massacred some time ago to make room for the fields of grain that fed the many horses of Kaladang's army. The ghosts howled for vengeance, imploring us. I wished I could tell them that Kaladang's tyranny would end soon, but I had very little hope of that, as Danner had mentioned.

"I know we said we were going to try to get Kaladang blown up along with us when Fellmount the Rat Bastard Wizard kills us," Danner said, her brow furrowed. "But I think I'd rather face Fellmount without worrying about a spear being thrown at me from a horde of horse-back soldiers."

"Since you don't want to hear pessimistic news, I'll refrain from saying that it's not going to make any difference, anyway."

"Aser, I've wanted to tell you something ever since I met you. Two words: SHUT UP."

"You've told me that on many occasions," I observed.

"Well, I didn't want you to forget it before we get kacked."

"I'll commit it to memory. Listen, Danner, we're nearly at the river. There's two of us and only one of Fellmount, so when he turns on one of us, the other needs to tackle him, immobilize his magic-wand arm, and knock him into the river. He can't swim, so the tackler is going to shove him in and keep him from reaching the bank."

"Got it."

"You're going to need to come up with some of your best insults to distract him," I said.

"What?" Danner shouted. "No, elder Shaman, I'm not doing the distracting while you tackle the wizard into the river. You have a wider vocabulary and -- "

" -- And a greater skill at swimming, I assure you. I know where the falls are on this river, and you don't."

"Falls?" The sun was going down and gave Danner's face a rosy glow. "What falls?"

"The Shelasian Falls, of course." I neglected to mention that at the Falls, the Icetrout River poured over the cliffs all the way down from the plateau to the Eastern Desert. Nor did I bother to mention that the water was too cold for any swimmer to last long.

Just then a pigeon burst from a clump of shrubs.

We stared at it, astonished. "One pigeon?" asked Danner. "Pigeons don't fly alone at dusk! There's a spy in that hedge!"

She began humming, and using her hands, framed the area from which the pigeon had burst. A man's face peeked out from behind leaves, and Danner focused her hands on him.

"Abejorros, abejorros,
Favor de ayudarme:
Piquen este espio
Asi ahuyentarle!"

The man screamed, batting at his head, and then ran away. "Dangit," Danner said. "That carrier pigeon will have Kaladang's troops here in no time."

"You made some sort of insect attack the spy, but that's about all I understood."

"I made bumblebees go after him. I know that's cruel, but insects are all I can command with what little magic I have, and I'm sick of being persecuted." She rubbed her face with both hands. "I've been thinking about this. I'm going to try to put an end to Kaladang's raids," she said, "but I'm going to have to resort to theatrics to make my spell work. And my trying to cast a wizard's spell is going to bring Fellmount right down upon us. This is it, Aser, I'm sorry."

"We're at the river anyway, Danner. Look, there's where the bridge used to be. Let's get closer to the bank," I said.

"Okay," she said. "Here goes." With wide gestures of her arms, and stamping feet, Danner shouted,

"Que los caballos de Kaladang
Ahora cebar tabanos
Cuando los montan los soldados
Para vengarse de todos huerfanos!

En este pais los insectos
Van a atacar los soldados de Kaladang,
Hiciendo paz y seguridad,
Libertando la gente de Kaladang!"

And with that, she smote the ground with her staff. "There, maybe horseflies attacking Kaladang's horses when his soldiers mount will slow down his cavalry. And if the rest of the spell took, anyone who fights for Kaladang is going to be attacked by every bug near them.

The sun had gone down, and we made a fire from some twigs. The river, our ace in the hole, chuckled behind a thick hedge of river willow, nettles, and silver maple. A dark gap and some stone pylons marked the end of the old road and the ruined bridge.

"Good luck, my friend," I said.

"See you on the other side," said Danner.

WHOOM! Fellmount of Verdansward, Wizard Extraordinaire, appeared cackling before us. "You fools thought to escape me in the lands of Kaladang, did you?" he said, waving his hands with electrical lightnings exploding between them. He was wearing a yellow mariachi hat whose multicolored sequins and blue ribbon did not at all go with his velvet robes.

"No," said Danner, picking her nose with her left little finger. "This venue is so madly you, what with the tyranny and mismanagement opportunities, that we knew you'd show up just in time for us to take you out permanently." She flicked something off the finger in his general direction. "And by the way, that is almost as stupid-looking a hat as the one you used to have."

Fellmount's face was contorted in the light of the magical charge which crackled around him. "You're going to incinerate by inches, Miss Meddler, until all that is left is your cognizant head -- minus its tongue!"

I crouched and scuffled around on hands and knees, pretending to be terrified, but positioning myself so that Fellmount was between me and the river. Setting my staff on the ground, I poised to tackle him.

Just then Hailcatcher the Weatherwise, Fellmount's ally, stepped from where she had been hidden behind him in the dark. She sported a black eye and swollen nose, and was missing her hat and magic wand, as Danner had socked her and stolen them. We hadn't expected Fellmount to drag her along with him.

Danner's jaw sagged in surprise for a moment, but she recovered well. "My, my, look at that, it's gutless Hailie herself! Come over here, you slut, and I'll punch your face for you again!"

If only Hailcatcher would fly at Danner with her fingernails, I could knock Fellmount into the water!

"Look out!" Hailcatcher cried, pointing at me. "This one's set like a linebacker! Get out of line with the river!"

Fellmount roared with rage and striding forward, aimed his wand at me. Danner held up a hand, palm facing him, and shouted "Alto!" Fellmount staggered as though he had tripped on something, and then turned the wand on Danner. She was knocked to the ground. In another moment, I felt myself magically picked up from the ground and dashed to the earth beside Danner.

Fellmount laughed, actually making a sound like "Bwah-ha-ha!" Energy crackling around his hands once more, he advanced on us. "Are you ready to listen to each other's screams for mercy?"

"No, we're not -- what are you, stupid or something?" I asked, eager to get the last few insults in while I could. "Or did you just take classes in jackass rhetoric?"

Danner bellowed, "Bwah-ha-ha!" in mockery of Fellmount's laugh and then began to inappropriately laugh hysterically herself.

The evil wizard screamed with rage and pointed the wand at us. We were suddenly paralyzed, and the ground by our feet erupted into blue flames like the hottest part of a blacksmith's forge. It inched toward us, hissing, so hot that it made no smoke at all. "Wait!" Hailcatcher grabbed at his arm. "What did that cow do with my hat and wand? Just hold her still, Fellmount -- I bet she has them with her!"

"Go ahead, search them." The blue flames edged nearer, and I tried not to feel the pain the heat was causing already. Fellmount's eyes glowed with his glory in his revenge, and the outstretched tip of the wand quivered in anticipation as Hailcatcher circled around us away from the fire.

Just then, hurtling out of the darkness, a dog-- a black dog with a few white spots on his back -- flew through the air and grabbed Fellmount's wand with a snap. The dog disappeared into the night, leaving us free to move, and the flames, without magical support, died to a smolder in the trampled green weeds.

As Fellmount turned to scream at the now-invisible dog, a baboon vaulted screeching from the bushes onto the magician's shoulders, snatched the hat from his head and vanished also. I ran to the water's edge and called into the night, "Racer! Guillaume! Here, quickly!"

The dog and the baboon appeared immediately, and I took the hat and wand from them, even as Danner was running toward me with Hailcatcher's wand and feathered hat as well. I gathered them in a clump and was about to toss them into the river when Fellmount and Hailcatcher bumped shoulder to shoulder and began to frame us with their hands, chanting, "Ab torporis adstare! Ab torporis adstare!" over and over, as they advanced on us.

We could not move. We were like statues, standing still, waiting for the wizards to take the hats and wands away from us. Our ploy was ended; our resources and allies were not enough. We would have said "Good-bye, it was nice knowing you" if we had had the use of our mouths.

A rich "THWACK!" split the night air, and Fellmount and Hailcatcher both did forward somersaults to land at our feet, out cold. Margot the Troll strode out of the night with her 10-foot damascan spear held like a baseball bat. "You want them skewered?" she said in her deep voice. "I can do that, too."

Guillaume's older brother Narsai came into our sight to casually pick the pockets of Hailcatcher and Fellmount. "Normally I would not stoop to petty thievery, but I believe these two will be more likely to learn the error of their ways if they have no bargaining pieces."

I tossed the wizards' hats into the torrent that would carry them to the far eastern desert, and then end-over-ended the wands to follow them. "Don't skewer them, Margot. Let's just tie them to a tree and let Kaladang find two wizards on his lands. He'll never believe it wasn't them who cursed his army."

KA-FOOF! went the air, and theatrically, there appeared Cloudraft the Great and -- a dragon, wings outstretched, ready to fight by his side. "Aha!" cried Cloudraft triumphantly. "I'll save you!" He peered around, and then jumped, seeing Fellmount and Hailcatcher lying on the ground. "My word, how did you do this?"

The dragon sat back on his haunches and crossed his forelegs. "You woke me from a six-month nap to help you defeat these wusses?"

"Sorry, old chap. Normally Fellmount is quite the adversary."

"Yeah, whatever. I'll bill you later." With that, he vaulted into the night sky and flapped away.

Cloudraft seemed rather crestfallen as he watched us shaking hands with Margot and hugging the animals. "She's been tracking us and staying out of sight," I told him, pointing a thumb at the troll. To her I said, "You had this planned all along, didn't you?"

She laughed, emitting a sound like cement blocks breaking. "You didn't think I'd really desert you, did you?"

"I didn't think you would, but I thought you did," I admitted. "I guess I owe you beer for the rest of our lives."

"We still won't live much longer if Kaladang finds us here," said Danner, tying the fallen wizards up with strips ripped from Fellmount's cape. "I suggest we head for the nearest exit with beer near it."

"Oh! I can help with that, at least," offered Cloudraft. He waved his wand and gestured grandly with his arms, and with the feeling of falling, we found ourselves in a great forest, dog, baboons, and all. In the distance, lights from a city winked through the trees. The wizard bowed. "The woodlands of Shaddir."

"Shaddir! I love Shaddir!" cried Danner, giving Cloudraft a grateful hug. She stepped back and looked at her feet. "Listen, I guess I'm sorry I told you that you were an idiot."

"If she hadn't told him, do you think he would have found it out on his own?" rumbled Margot to me behind her large and scaly hand as we took to the road.

"If we hadn't had enough of vengeance already, I would turn you into a toad," the wizard said. "And given your proclivities, you would undoubtedly become a horny-toad."

Narsai the baboon pretended to mark a score in the air with one finger. "It is my pleasure to announce that this round goes to the Esteemed Conjurer."

Round two, coming right up, I thought.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-07-21
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