I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
In blessings and curses
And ever-filled purses,
In prophecies, witches, and knells
Pigenelle Surana was not good at a lot of things.
That's not to say that she lacked in trying. In fact, out of all the apprentices that called the tower their home, her unwavering determination stood out a head above the rest. The only problem was that a majority of the time, her energy was a bit misguided. She was the number one culprit of overturned furniture, glyphs left still active in the hallways, and she had recently managed to burn off enough of her hair that it had been easier to chop most of it off than to try to salvage it. Most people, mages and Templars alike, wished that she would just stop trying so hard.
It was very early spring, and Pigenelle was stuck sitting at one of the many writing tables, scribbling down figures and wishing very much that the windows of the tower were allowed to be opened. She could practically hear the fresh breeze whispering to her all the fun things that she could be doing if only she wasn't trapped within the block of stone that she lived in. Not that she could even remember what fresh air felt like. She had been taken to the tower too many years ago, but that didn't stop her from pretending that she could.
And if they buy five more crates of flasks, that should bring the total to...one hundred and fifty three. Wait, no that can't be right. Pigen scratched furiously at the parchment rolled out in front of her, trying to blot out her mistake. Scanning over her calculations did no good. She had no idea what she was doing in the first place, so looking for her mistake was as good as trying to pick out an honest Orlesian. Utterly impossible. Or, so she had been told.
With a huff, she pushed herself back in the chair so that it was balanced on the back legs. Rocking back and forth on the precariously balanced seat, she craned her neck to look up at the vaulted ceiling above her. Counting the number of stone tiles that made up the library suddenly seemed a lot more interesting than going back to her math.
She had only reached fifteen when a voice sounded from behind her. "There you are! I thought you were supposed to be working on your spells."
Pigen jumped at the sudden noise. Her chair thumped back down onto all fours. "Don't do that! You know I get jumpy when I'm working." She managed to squeak as she turned face her friend.
"I wasn't aware that staring into space counted as working. Were you trying to will your entropy magic to get better through pure determination alone?" Jowan slid into the chair across from hers with the same smug smile that she found so amusing.
The elf huffed slightly and started to gather her papers together into a more organized stack. "My entropy is just fine."
Jowan made a small noise of acknowledgment as he thought back to the last time she had attempted a disorientation spell. He was still trying to figure out just how she managed to turn it back on herself, but what he did know was that she hadn't been able to walk in a straight line for hours.
"And," she continued, "I was working with Sweeney on my spells, but then he said that something had come up. I even offered to help him with whatever it was, but he didn't seem too excited to have me tag along. So, I'm helping by doing his inventory for him." She waved the piece of parchment in front of Jowan's face just in case he didn't believe her.
The paper was snatched from her hand before she could blink an eye.
"Hmm. You know these are all wrong, right?"
The pout that she wore grew even more pitiful as she tried to transform it into a glare. She looked more like a wounded rabbit than anything remotely like she was going for.
Jowan tossed the paper back onto her desk. "So, since I think you've done enough ruining of other people's finances for one day, how about we go see if there's anything to eat yet. Maybe it will even be edible this time."
'I did promise that they would be done by tonight...but maybe I'll think better with a full stomach. Of course, why didn't I think of that before? Food helps everything, right?'
Pigen all but leapt to her feet and was nearly out the door by the time Jowan had even begun to stand. "Come on, all the good stuff will be gone if you don't hurry." she said, bouncing from foot to foot.
Jowan rolled his eyes as Pigen started her jumpy journey towards the stair well. "Yes, I'm sure everyone will just be falling all over each other to get in line for the two day old stew and stale biscuits. It's the most popular thing on the menu, I've heard."
She didn't seem to hear him as she sprinted down the hall, nearly knocking down the Templar walking the other way. She really did mean to say she was sorry, but there's only so much a mind can handle with the promise of food on hand.
Pigenelle Surana was absolutely perfect.
Alright, so her nose was a little too pointy and her ears were at least twice the size of any of the other elves in the tower, but those only added to her charm. The way she looked as she studied her books was a picture of the devout student. Her laugh was one that could be picked out of any crowd. That was mostly because of the slight squeaky sound that distinguished it from the rest, but the point still stands. She even managed to make those outrageously colored robes look beautiful. Not that he was looking at her, of course. That would be ridiculous.
Yes, Pigenelle was absolutely ethereal. And Cullen was going to have to kill her.
Cullen tried his best to stand still as he waited for the last of the ritual's participants to arrive. It didn't help that his stomach did a somersault every time he remembered just why they were gathered together in the harrowing room, or that his palms had started to sweat so much that he was afraid his gauntlets might slip right off of his hands.
Alright. It will all be alright. It's just a mage. One more hour and you'll be back in your dorm sleeping this off. And she'll be laying on the floor with a bloody hole in her back. He groaned as a wave of queasiness washed over him. It wasn't even like the butterflies that were usually trapped in his stomach whenever she was on his mind. It was more like a swarm of blood thirsty dragons decided that this was the best time to practice their dive bombing.
The sound of foot steps jolted him from his thoughts. He watched as another one of his Templar brothers led the mage towards the center of the room where Gregoir and Irving were waiting for her.
Pigenelle had never been more afraid in her life. Being dragged out from her bed by a faceless walking suit of armor was not the way that she wanted to start any day. She stumbled slightly as she turned around to take in the room that she found herself in. No one but the older mages were ever allowed to be in the harrowing chamber and those that could rarely talked about it. She was surprised at how not awful it was. There were none of the blood stained torture devices or mage eating beasts that she had imagined. Although, they could be in hiding, just waiting until she let her guard down. Pigen shuddered a bit at the thought.
"There you are." Irving lay a hand on her shoulder and steered her away from her guard and closer to the Knight Commander. Pigen tried not to look too terrified.
"It's finally time for you to partake in your Harrowing. You will use lyrium to transport your mind to the fade where a demon lays in wait for you. Pigen couldn't hear the rest of what he was saying over the pounding of blood in her ears.
She reeled in her racing thoughts and caught the tail end of her teacher's speech, You've been training for this for years and I have no doubt that you'll do well. Resist the demon that will be hunting you, and you'll be a true mage."
Was that supposed to make me feel better? Pigen blinked hard a few times to banish the feeling that she was going to faint.
"Enough coddling, Irving. The girl is supposed to do this on her own. Maybe you'd like to take her place in the fade as well while you're at it?" said Gregoir.
Irving nodded stiffly at the Templar and then gave his best encouraging smile to his student. Pigen couldn't help but think that he didn't seem to have to same spark of confidence that he held just a moment before. She gulped and raised her eyes to the ceiling in one last plea to the maker to strike her down right then and there.
Maybe being tranquil wouldn't be so bad. I mean, Owain doesn't seem to mind. Although, I think a mabari could be chewing on his ankle and he would hardly even flinch. Alright, so Owain isn't the best role model.
She was nearly to the basin of lyrium by the time she ruled out going tranquil. The magic poured out from the liquid, soaking into her bones and giving her a new wind of strength.
With a last look to the head enchanter and the swarm of Templars ready to cut her down where she stood, Pigen began to think that she might just be able to do this.
One touch of the blue glowing goo, and the energy that she felt was magnified ten fold, like being struck by a very powerful and very unexpected bolt of lightning. She barely had time to let out one final squeak before her mind was sucked from her body and she hit the floor.
Cullen jumped as the mage fell. A quick, paranoid glance about told him that everyone else were far more interested in preparing for a demon attack than observing his every move. Thank the Maker for small miracles.
As he scurried to his own post next to the unconscious body, he managed to catch a snippet of the conversation that Gregoir and one of the senior Templars were trying very hard to keep unheard.
"She doesn't have a chance in the world does she?"
"Maker, no. But you know that it's too dangerous to have her walking around untested. And besides, it never hurts to hope a bit. She may just manage to surprise us."
The Templar grunted without any commitment to one side or the other and turned back to his task of surveying the scene.
The dragons in Cullen's stomach seemed all decided to have a conniptions fit at that moment. Perfect. I'm going to have to run her through before our first real conversation. At least I don't have to worry about making a fool out of myself if she's too dead to see it.
Somehow, this did little to calm his nerves.
The fade was not somewhere that Pigenelle looked forward to being. The warped and swirling colors made it hard to her to focus on one thing for long, the landscape seemed to be constantly changing, and the Black Palace looming in the corner of her eye only added to her uneasiness. Of course, that was before she remembered that there was a demon waiting to ensnare her soul.
Pigen was shaking like a leaf by the time she picked herself up from the ground and took a moment to look around at her surroundings. It was like any other part of the spirit world; deathly still and creepy beyond belief.
Oh, why can't they test us with something less deadly? Maybe a game of cards, I'm at least decent at that.
Pigen sighed. There was no use in wishing for things to change and especially not when standing in the middle of a hunting ground.
Her footsteps sounded like thunder bolts in the complete silence as she made her way down the slightly sloping path. The hills surrounding her ensured that she stayed on the set path, although she wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
Magic crackled at her fingertips as she made her way down the winding path. That was one good thing about the fade, it made casting magic about ten times easier since there was no need to pull the energy from anywhere else. It was all just waiting to be used.
The silence wore on her as the minutes crawled by and she didn't find any sign of life. Even a few spirits throwing spells at her would have been a welcome distraction. Well, not welcomed exactly, but she would at least know that she wasn't alone on the floating hunk of rock.
Just as she was beginning to think that maybe there had been some sort of fantastic mix up and she had been placed in a part of the fade with only nice demons that didn't try to take over her body, she heard a noise. It sounded almost like a squeak, but she knew that couldn't be right because there were no rats in the fade and she hadn't made a noise like that in a good ten minutes.
It never hurts to look. Maybe it's some sort of good spirit. Like a Peace Spirit or the Spirit of Freshly Baked Cookies. I wouldn't even mind them possessing me, that might be nice.
Pigen picked up her pace and hurried towards the source of the noise. Her gasp was strangled in her throat as she rounded the corner and saw just what was happening.
A group of demons, the kind that was all made of flames that she could never remember what type they were only that they were dangerous, were crowded around a very small something.
"Hey!" Pigen shouted in her short burst of courage that she immediately regretted. The demons swerved their lava like bodies away from what ever it was they were harassing and towards the petrified elf.
She barely had time to think before they were upon her, moving faster than she would have thought possible. The demons circled around her, creating a ring of fire and heat that seemed to close in on her with every passing second. Her brain fought valiantly to think of something that would help her but it was like every single spell she had ever know had been wiped from her mind.
Finally, just as the first demon made their move and their claws reached out to scorch the mage, her instincts kicked in. With a sweep of her arms and some concentrated thoughts, she channeled all of her energy into a solid barrier that she pushed out around her, knocking the demons away. While they were down and dazed, she had enough time to ready her next spells. Pure adrenaline took over her body and lightning spells began shooting out left and right. It didn't take long for the spirits to be reduced to a few piles of ash.
That...may have been the most amazing thing I will ever do and there was no one here to see it.
Her reveling in her own powers didn't last long. Another squeak sounded from where the demons had been huddled before. Suddenly remembering just why she had made such an awful choice in the first place, she hurried over.
Sitting in the dirt, quivering slightly, was a rather large mouse. Pigen fought the urge to scoop it up and start petting it right then and there and instead settled on kneeling down in front of it to be more on its level.
"Oh, aren't you adorable? What are you doing here? I didn't think that animals entered the fade." she said in the same voice that she usually reserved for talking to small children.
The mouse didn't seem to appreciate it. His fur bristled as he puffed up slightly. "You don't have to speak like that, I'm not an idiot."
Pigen shrieked and fell backwards with a thump. Her mouth hung open and refused to close, leaving her looking a lot like a fish pulled from the water. "You...You're a mouse!" she managed to say.
If mice can sigh, this one did. A bright glow took over the creature for a second before it was replaced by a very not mouse like human. Pigen scurried up from her place on the ground and found that she still had to crane her neck to look him in the face.
He was quite average looking for someone that had just been a small and furry rodent. Brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin, just another person that you could imagine walking past in the halls.
A moment passed where they did nothing but observe the other. Finally, Pigenelle broke the silence by shoving out her hand for him to take and saying, "I'm Pigenelle, a mage from the tower and I'm very glad that you're not trying to kill me."
Mouse's eyes narrowed as he looked the mage up and down. Ignoring the hand he had been offered he said, "You're not going to make it if you do stupid things like that."
Pigen's hand fell limply to her side and her head cocked slightly in confusion. "What? But, I saved you."
"Yes, you did do that, but you also wasted time. Time that I can tell you're going to need desperately."
"What are you talking about? Why do I need time? Don't I get all I need?" She was understanding less and less of what was going on with every second she spent in this place.
"They didn't tell you, did they? Typical Templars." Mouse spat out the title like it was a bad taste in his mouth. "If you take even a second too long in the fade, they will cut you down without a second's hesitation. Why do you think I'm stuck in here?"
Pigen could feel her heart dropping down to rest somewhere in her stomach. "Oh, Maker! How much time do I have left? Do you know when they do it? What if they already killed me and I just couldn't feel it?"
Mouse grabbed the flustered elf by the shoulder to stop her jabbering. "You can't panic now."
"You need to find the demon that lives in this plane of the Fade. If you manage to defeat him, then you'll be able to leave."
She tried to take a breath to calm herself, but the air seemed to get caught in all the panic and fear that was swirling inside of her. "You'll help, wont you? Please, I don't think I can do this on my own."
The man was silent for a moment, as if weighing his options. Finally, he nodded.
Pigen let out the breath that she had been holding. "Oh, thank you! Thank you so much! Come on, I don't think I have much time left. Which way is the demon?"
Looking around the clearing, she saw that there were a multitude of paths that were available for them to take. Mouse, who had turned back into his smaller form, bounded ahead and down the one to the left. Pigenelle had little choice but to follow him.
"Are you sure that you don't want to talk to the Sloth demon? He didn't seem that bad, and turning into a bear sounded kind of useful." Pigen asked her companion as she clambered up the hill.
"What have they been teaching you at the tower? You never deal with demons, they will always turn around and twist it into something that benefits themselves and only themselves. Besides, I get the feeling that you're not the kind of person that would be very good at riddles."
Pigenelle flushed slightly at his comment, but didn't say anything to fight it. While she was good at thinking up out of the box concepts for the most part, word games were well beyond her mental skill set.
While she had been reflecting on her thinking abilities and lack there of, the pair had entered yet another clearing. The only difference between this one and the last was the enormous demon lurking in wait.
The thing swirled around her with alarming speed. The heat that it gave off was enough that beads of sweat began to grow on her forehead. The unmistakable feeling of absolute horror growing in the pit of her stomach also could have had something to do with that.
"What's this? Another gift for me? She doesn't look like much, more like a little toy just waiting to be broken." The demon said.
Despite the clearly mortal danger that she was in, Pigenelle found herself wondering just how the thing was speaking when it didn't seem to have a mouth.
From her side, she heard Mouse spit out his reply, "No, I'm finished with our arrangement. I don't need you anymore!"
The demon seemed to pause for a moment, before rearing back and rushing once more at Pigenelle. This time, however, it didn't divert its course. She leapt out of its path at the last second, twisting and fighting to stay on her feet.
Sparks of magic flew from Mouse in an assault from behind that took the spirit's attention away from her long enough for her to ready a spell of her own. With one last deep breath of air, she drew in the energy from around her and quickly pushed it to her hands. Flames erupted from her finger tips, wrapping around the demon in a blazing wall.
The demon didn't even flinch.
"Idiot! It's made of fire, why would it be hurt by the very element that gives it form?" Mouse shouted as he paused a moment to use a healing spell on himself.
Trying again, this time focusing on the ground around the demon, Pigen pulled all of her energy together and cast. When she dared to peek out from her tightly clenched eyes, she couldn't help but give a little yelp of happiness. The spirit was frozen in place, mid attack, in the center of a glowing green circle.
A few more blasts of energy from Mouse and some shouts of encouragement from Pigen, and the demon shrunk down until nothing was left except for a single scorch mark.
A giggle bubbled up inside her at the sight of her victory. Well, mostly Mouse's victory, but she helped. Somewhat.
"You did it! You defeated the demon. I knew you could." Mouse said as he smiled down at the elf. "You're going to be a great mage someday, I can feel it."
She studied his face for any sign that he was mocking her. "Well, I couldn't have done it without you. I just wish that there was something that I could do to help you. I mean, it's terrible that you're stuck here like this."
A flicker of a something unfamiliar and slightly disturbing crossed his eye before it was reigned back. "Well, there is something that you could do. You could help me get back"
Pigen tilted her head to the side. "How? Your body isn't there anymore. It's not like they have bodies just laying around to be filled."
"There's always yours." Pigen's face must have given away her shock, because he quickly launched into the next part of his proposition. "Just think about it, we both know that you don't have much going for you. It's a miracle you made it this far. With me helping you, you could be the most powerful mage in the tower. You could be the senior enchanter in no time."
Pigen took a shaky step backwards, careful not to break eye contact with what ever it was that she was speaking to.
"I-I don't think that's a very good idea. I mean, someone might find out and I really don't feel like being taken down by a Templar any time soon. As much as I would like to, I just don't think this could work out." She managed to stammer as she crept away from him.
Mouse's face went completely blank for a few seconds. "Maybe you're not as much of an imbecile as I thought." he said in a voice that was very much not human.
There was a flash of bright light and then Mouse wasn't Mouse anymore. The thing that stood in his place was something out of her worst nightmares with its twisted flesh and dead eyes. It growled out a few words before disappearing from view. "Don't trust everything that you're told, Mage. Learn to listen with more than your ears and you'll do well."
'I just got vaguely helpful life advice from a spirit of the fade. I guess this wasn't as completely a mess as I thought it was.'
Her last thoughts floated around her mind as the world around her began to fade away into nothing.
I'm trying out a way of writing that's not my usual here, and I'm still on the fence about the results. My main concern is the pacing, so any help with that would be appreciated. In fact, any help at all is appreciated.
The lyrics at the beginning of this chapter is from "The Sorcerer" by Gilbert and Sullivan.