“Outings with friends are always clever things. It so often starts off so very innocently. Oh wouldn’t it be fun to take a little stroll, they say. Why yes, I would enjoy spending a spot of time in your company, you say. Hours later, after a minimum of three buildings have been set on fire, half the city watch is trying to arrest the other half, and somehow a lemure has absconded with the ducal crown, you’ll find yourself bereft as you pour out the sad dregs from the last bottle of wine to survive the rampage by the local Mummer’s guild.
That sounds overly specific you say? Why, yes, I might have thought so too, but this being the third time those exact events have unfolded, I feel as though I allowed to recognize a trend when I see one.”– Xindir Harshek Doxle of the First Flame, with a lamentably empty bottle of wine and no other means to placate an annoyed Enika.
Nelphas, apparently having done far more cardio work than I would have given him credit for, seemed disinclined to stop his screaming any time soon. I wasn’t sure why he was so upset though. I mean, yes, losing an appendage isn’t terribly pleasant but it wasn’t as though the schools healers would have any problem reattaching it.
That thought was rolling through my head when I chanced to glance down and noticed the fallen Nelphas hand burning away to ash.
Which, okay, that was going to be a problem for him.
To her credit, Idrina would have been legally justified (so far as I knew) in removing his head rather than his hand, so she had exercised a commendable amount of restraint.
Assuming that the searing flames weren’t also going to travel down Nelphas’ arm and eventually turn the rest of him to ash too.
I threw Idrina a quick questioning glance about that to which she she shook her and gave a small eye roll.
Nelphas would be fine.
For someone who’d been so sure he could murder the both of us without consequence, he really seemed to have very little stomach for injuries really meant. Even if we hadn’t been, well, us, any targets who chose to fight back at all could have accomplished the same thing.
But that was the point, wasn’t it? Nelphas knew his place. He knew that Lightstone was a power that almost no one dared oppose and as long as he limited his predation to those who couldn’t afford to fight back – out of fear of what might happen to their families, or the knowledge of just how awful Lightstone could be – then even Nelphas didn’t need to worry about contending with even basic survival reflexes.
I don’t think the Head of House Lightstone understood just how useful of a tool he’d allowed Nelphas and all the others like him to become. I am abysmal in terms of manipulating people but Nelphas’ control buttons were so glaringly obvious even I couldn’t have messed up the assignment.
There was a less predictable part of the scenario though, namely how Nelphas’ fan club was going to react. I had a few suspicions, with ‘run the hell away from the girl who had dismembered someone so quickly no one had seen it’ as a leading contender.
Of course that outcome failed to account for how tremendously stupid people are capable of being.
Oh, did we just demonstrate that Nelphas is a braggart with nothing to back up his claims of even base-line competency?
Would everyone be better off not to poke the girl who claims to be a Head of House with the authority to invoke summary executions on the lot of them?
Perhaps, even the basic wisdom of ‘just don’t say anything’ might have been appealing. People are phenomenal at pretending something they didn’t want to see simply didn’t happen.
Any or all of those would have insured a calm and peaceful resolution to the situation. I did need to cause more trouble before the night was over, but I was looking for useful sorts of trouble. Random mayhem, while more enjoyable than I’d originally considered it to be, was not on the agenda.
It’s possible I was starting to take on the traits of those around me, since I knew that random mayhem led nowhere good, despite how much my friends seemed inured to it.
Of course it also may not have been them. After the ups and downs of the last several days, I might have been left a little more cranky than usual.
Figuring that out wasn’t quite as important as dealing with the in rushing hoard of Academy first year cadets.
Because, of course, rather than being sensible, Nelphas’ fan club had decided that they’d based their both social standing and personality around supporting him and there was simply no chance that objective reality was going to convince them that he was anything but the mighty and powerful figure they’d deluded themselves into believing he was.
I wasn’t going to kill any of them for that.
I really wasn’t!
I thought Idrina grabbed my arm to hold me back from a flurry of claw and teeth related violence, but, foolish me, she of course had other things in mind.
“I defend you,” she said, cutting the idea down to as few words as possible to fit into the time available.
And then she did.
And she was gentle.
I mean, yes, bones were broken, but for the first three cadets who rushed towards us, magic crackling in their hands and/or weapons summoned, none lost any body parts beyond a little blood and the integrity of a forearm or a shin.
Again, I would have thought that seeing their three quickest fighters taken out almost simultaneously would have convinced the idiots to stop fighting.
Or rather I would have thought that before I came to the Imperial Academy.
Out of the twenty or so hangers-on, another five came charging in, these with slightly more planning than the others. The two in the lead blocked Idrina’s strikes with conjured shields while one of the others peppered her with quick cast little dart spells and the fourth did much the same with an arcane bow they’d conjured. In the back, far enough that I wasn’t sure Idrina had seen him, the fifth was building power to feed into what looked like a fairly nasty area spell.
“Idr…” I started to say when a spear dropped from the heavens to explode about a foot away from the caster in the back.
Amusingly, well amusingly from my point of view, the caster also lost control of the magic he was gathering and it exploded too. That knocked him into a tree and blasted two others to the ground. Since they were all writhing in residual lighting from the caster’s spell I didn’t think they’d be much of a problem, but I kept an eye on them just in case.
The archer and the dart conjurer weren’t having much luck getting past Idrina’s guard, and from what I could tell she wasn’t even putting much effort in protecting herself.
In her hand, a short spear spun fast enough that I thought she’d enchanted it to actually be a shield. Nope. The spear wasn’t enchanted at all. She was spinning it in her hand. Because she was enchanting. Or enchanted. Or something like that.
She was fighting real good with it.
And she looked kind of bored?
I mean, not that she has the widest range of facial expressions. Normally she’s just got a ‘Are you going to do something that makes me have to kill you’ look which is so relaxing. Its what she looks like, its what she’s thinking, its so nice and easy to decipher. And her scent matches right up with it.
Was that why I liked her? Wait? Did I like her?
Well she was fighting to defend me, so its hard not to be at least marginally well disposed towards someone whose doing that.
Five more Nelphas flunkies came in, relieving me of the need to introspect or ponder anything.
Well, anything except Idrina yoinking me gracefully behind her as she parried the archers arrows and the dart casters projectiles into two of the five new flunkies.
What! It was hysterical watching them flounder like that. Any reasonable person would have laughed there.
Idrina even let the corners of her lips tug a hairs breadth higher in the approximation of a smile too. So I wasn’t alone.
I wasn’t alone.
I felt a shiver go through me. Not a bad shiver either, despite the glassy eyes it left me with.
Three more flunkies joined in, which at this point I couldn’t blame them for. Sure, from their point of view, attacking us was a bad gamble, but being sensible and running away at this point would mean giving up entirely on a social circle who clung to their delusions with a grip tighter than any vice and who would crush you like that vice if you ever even hinted that they were wrong about anything. I mean, how could you walk away from a treasure like that?
I gestured towards the new comers who were wielding a flaming sword, a pair of storm cloud and another flaming sword respectively.
I could have dealt with them myself but Idrina could handle this on her own and I wanted to show her that I trusted both her skills and her intentions.
And I was willing to bored for her.
Well, not that it was boring to watch her work. Storm clouds, it turns out, serve as excellent bombs if you break the casters concentration. Idrina managed that by nothing more complex than tripping of the flaming sword guys into the storm caster. The two went down in a jumble of limbs and before they could get up, the two storm clouds exploded with lightning bolts flashing everywhere.
That had bought time for two other attackers to stealth up and get the drop on Idrina from close enough to stab her.
If they’d hit her, I would have stepped in to help. If they’d killed her…probably best for me not to think about what I would have done then.
Especially since I didn’t need to worry about it.
Their invisibility didn’t fade until after they stabbed at her, one from the front, one from the back.
But when the blades struck out, she wasn’t there.
The two would-be assassins were far enough apart that they didn’t skewer each other. Instead each only got a small knick on the other.
Hysterically, both then immediately passed out due to the paralytic agent they’d put on their blades.
It wasn’t a particularly strong paralytic from what I could smell, and it seemed ot be targeted at the leg muscles only. That was a lot of info to read from a scent but I was reasonably sure of it given the confirmation of the two assassin’s collapsing instantly and yet still seeming to breath.
Idrina spun back to the shield guys, who were looking more than a little concerned and started advancing on them. They both took a step back and then planted their knees on the ground to brace against her charge.
Except she didn’t charge.
Up and over the shields which gave her a clear shot at the archer and the dart caster, each of whom ceased to be a problem with Idrina’s choice to smash the archer’s bow in half and reflect the dart casters projectiles right into them,
I waited to see if any more flunkies would join them, but there were none left. That fact registered from the shield casters a moment later and in a stunning burst of basic competency, they turned tail and fled with the others who finally been convinced that this was a lost cause.
Seeing our opponents fled, I held out a fist towards Idrina, who in turn…looked at me funny?