Rowan stalked the night-shrouded street with a new purpose. The black eye he had gained in a tavern brawl earlier in the evening was still causing him pain.
'Never again...' The hangover from his night of indulgence was entering one of the painful stages. Rowan crushed his eye as he moved to hold his aching head giving a yelp of the pain in the process. How many tankards had he put back? He couldn't remember. The pain was terrible. He remembered how many.
The assassin on the roof across the street fired his crossbow. Rowan stumbled drunkenly and fell to his Knees. The thug in the alleyway was not expecting to be struck in the heart by a crossbow bolt, the assassin, maneuvering on the icy roof shingles for that second shot, slid at the worst possible moment taking a quarrel in the chest. As both corpses ate gravel, Rowan surged up and staggered onward in to the dark.
'Bloody drunks, Can't hold their liquor...
Rowan stumbled into another tavern, stepping over the various unconscious patrons lying in the doorway. His cry for more of the stronger stuff and a quick accusation that the rest was watered dog piss revitalized a group of brawling tavern-goers. Rowan's tavern crawl ended in the early hours of the morning after extended visits to six more taverns and a number of fatally bungled mugging attempts. The locals were showing a severe lack of ability in holding their drink.
The Sun was just rising as Rowan stumbled in through the open doorway of an old wooden structure that seemed a bit different from the rest of this termite riddled shantytown. Mrs Ketlan's boarding house was a flyspeck of purity in the western quarter of a cesspool of a city. Mrs Ketlan was a stalwart, swarthy, raven-haired wench in her mid forties. So she wasn't one of the best looking women in the city let alone the cosmos. Actually she was close to demonically ugly however, in his pissed state Rowan felt like committing suicide and gave her behind a quick slap of approval. The meat cleaver spun swiftly from her hand as Rowan dove for the safe side of the hallway. The thug hiding in the shadows across the street checked twice to be sure that his vitals were intact. The large cleaver had shaved hair from his inner thigh. Guthrie the knife dropped his crossbow and vowed to leave the city. He couldn't take this kind of stress any more. At the height of his reform a pair of muggers jumped him. They stole his crossbow.
Mrs Ketlan cornered rowan in the stairway.
'Now where in the bloody hell have you been my boy? Out at some orgy no doubt, and you're drunk.' She gave him a clip behind the ear.
'Bloody sorcerers... never should be aloud in the city. Cause nothing but trouble.1 Rowan was a little hard of hearing as he stumbled up the stairs, fumbled with the lock and fell through the doorway into his room.
Rowan had no realistic idea of how long he had slept but the sun was casting the usual red pigment to the air so he assumed it was evening. Odd thing was that it made the room look cleaner.
'This isn't my bloody room!' He was right. The door slammed open and there, shrouded in a veil of light stood Janna Murell, light glistening of her raven hair and naked tattoo covered body. This defiantly complimented the blood dripping from her hands and mouth. How flamboyant of her.
'Rowan. You once said you loved me.' Her hair cascaded across her shoulders with a life of its own.
'Rowan,' her voice took a colder tone. Every chunk of ice within a hundred leagues felt a severe desire for a warm blanket and a cup of hot tea.
'If you truly love me, then join me and fight for the dark mage. If not, you can die.' A sudden chill ran down Rowan's spine. He suddenly realized that he was as naked as the lady in front of him. He lifted the blanket from the bed and cloaked him self in it.
Its like this Janna. No chance.' Rowan threw himself out the second storey window. The glass panes exploded into a thousand shards. Rowan fell to the street in a cloud of debris shattering his left arm as ie hit ground.
As he struggled to his feet, Janna emerged onto the street.
'Thus you have made your choice Rowan, and thus you must die.' Her hair swirled and waved with energy. She lifted her hands and the world around them fell apart. A shadow fiend stepped from the darkest recesses of the street. Deciding that he had one course of action, Rowan rushed Janna.
'Kill him!' Rowan struck with speed and strength. The swift blow to her head and she collapsed to the ground. The shadow continued to advance.
'Oh shit! I'm going to die.' Rowan plunged down an insignificant lane only to find it was a dead end. He lost all grip on reality as the fiend advanced down the alleyway in pursuit. The only thought on this creature's mind was food. Rowan unleashed with a volley of magic.
The volley resulted a flash of light and a loud bang.
For some reason Rowan was now sitting in a pool of muddy water covered in the incinerated remains of what had been a blanket.
Rowan struggled to his feet, only to notice that he was under the watchful scrutiny of two well-attired young ladies of the upper classes.
The first fainted while the second screamed.
'Guards!' Four tall professionals emerged from the house with their weapons drawn. The young lady on the ground roused momentarily by the summons glimpsed once again at the rag-covered form that was Rowan and fainted.
'Oh do stop that Elanora, we know you do it for the attention.'
Elanora lifted her head from the ground and gave her sister a sour look of disappointment. She struggled to stand in her heavy dress, brushing furiously at a stain.
'If you ladles don't mind, I think it might be appropriate to acquire some clothing.1 Rowan was struggling to maintain his modesty behind a shrub of poor foliage. His arm was hurting again. The lady in authority nodded to a guard who quickly retreated to the house.
'Are you some rogue who ravages young maidens? Elanora's line of enquiry earned her a flick to her ear, which caused her to yelp in pain.
'Ouch! Cassandra, what did you do that for?' Cassandra pointed at the house and Elanora, after a last inspection of Rowan's partially concealed form, complied with instructions.
The guard returned with an off white robe which he handed to Cassandra. It took a while for Rowan to convince the lady present to look in another direction as he shed the rags he was covered in and pulled on the robe. Partially satisfied, Cassandra shifted into interrogation mode.
'All right, now just who are you and what were you doing on these premises in such an ill clad manor?' Rowan drew up a quick excuse of semi plausibility and then boldly lied.
'Well there I was, just minding me own business when boom, the building explodes and wham, there I is sitting shocked by the experience and totally naked in the dirt as it were. It came as a complete surprise.’
The shadow struggled to move as the light dissipated into the evening. The fiend looked about for its prey. gone. It examined the wall and jerked back. The light from a burning torch gave it pain. Prey was there. Others were there too. The fiend focused on the wall and slowly pushed through the gaps in the mortar, exiting into the garden, Rowan cried a warning.
'Run for your lives!' The crowd broke for the house but the fiend was already upon them rending and tearing it the guards as though they had the consistency of smoke. Light and fire burst forth from Rowan's hands and the shadow fell away into the nothingness as light hammered at it. The sky, the very air had exploded with the fury of a sun, lighting up the city. Cassandra's lily-white skin had emerged from the exchange with a full body tan that reached beyond the dense layers of her gown. She struggled to climb to her feet as Rowan moved to provide her with some assistance.
'My apologies, spur of the moment action. Hope you are not injured.' Cassandra fainted.
Cassandra woke with a sudden feeling of shock. She touched her singed hair. Then she noticed Rowan, his broken arm had been set and strapped.
'You! Wizard.’ Cassandra gritted her teeth and struck Rowan's arm with a forceful blow, which caused him to wail with pain.
'And stop whining you pathetic excuse for a magician. You have brought death and destruction to this
Household. Cassandra stumbled. The evening's combat had burnt the heels from her boots.
'My boots! You destroyed MY BOOTS! You wheezily little excuse for a man, no one stuffs about with the Winterdors. Do you understand me?' Her yell was a tyrannical screech. Elanora who had just entered the room, halted in stunned silence. Rowan revealed a face of twisted pain. Elanora fled the room before she was discovered.
It was a while before the noise of conflict vanished from the guest bedroom and Elanora, curious as to the reason behind the peace, penetrated the silent room. Cassandra was sitting on the bed, holding a glowing rose. She was smiling. The wizard was nowhere to be found.
'He's a wonderful wizard. Gave me this, kissed me, and flew away. Wonderful. Did I tell you that?' Outside, the sound of something heavy falling from a great height followed by a flurry of harsh words echoed towards the window.
Cassandra sighed, got up from the bed and walked out the door with the rose. Elanora rushed to the window and looked out at the night-shrouded grounds. Rowan crawled out of a destroyed hedge and returned to owl form, flying on into the night.
'Aw, how come I miss out on the nice ones? And he's a wizard. It isn't fair.' Greatly disappointed, Elanora slammed the shutters closed and left the room in a sulk.
Rowan shifted into human form as he reached the alleyway behind the Red Griffon tavern. This spooked a couple of muggers who ran out into the street. A squad of the city watch, a pack of thugs and murderers themselves, fell upon the duo. The skirmish finished quickly as the watch exited the dispute with a hand full of silver, several pair of boots and some above average clothing. The muggers didn't complain as a stray mongrel chose to believe itself upon their persons. The watch moved on. Rowan entered through the side door. The roof was low and the taproom was thick with a smoke that made Rowan's eyes water with pain. As taverns went, this crowd was the vilest pack of vermin he had the misfortune to meet. A tall fellow in a corner was speaking.
'Bernardo, Tonight's brew is the best I've tasted in months. What happened? You steal it from the rich quarter?' An ugly brute behind the bar spoke out across the gloom.
'No. Last night I got drunk and pissed in the Darrel.' A number of patrons moaned like sick drunks.
'Well, It certainly improved the flavour.' The Fellow in the corner took another drink of his mug. Others laughed and drank up.
Rowan strolled to the bar and slapped a gold mark on the counter. That would get him the good stuff until he couldn't drink without it being poured down his throat by the pink rabbit that stalked the edge of every drunk's mind. The large mug of ale he was handed was busy going through some unknown chemical reaction. Unidentifiable chunks were surfacing and sticking to the edge. One chunk in particular had sprouted legs and was attempting to climb out. Rowan took a long hard drink and slipped off his bench seat. Strong brew. He drank what was left, sifting fungus between his teeth as he went.
'So Bernardo! How are you on this droll evening?’ He quickly looked at the pink bunny that laughed at him from the corner of the room. Big bastard. Someone will get you yet.
'Fine noble sire.' Bernardo dropped into a whisper. Janna was in earlier. Looking for you she was.'
'Ah. Thought she might. I'd best be on the lookout for her and her associates.' Rowan glanced about the taproom with suspicion. There in the haze filled corner a stranger in heavy black robes appeared to be looking in the direction of the bar.
'Yes. That one showed up just after Janna left. Me thinks he is watching for you my friend.' Bernardo poured ale and passed it to Rowan.
'Take a look at his face will you.' Rowan reached into his robe and touched the amulet about his neck. It
was warm to the touch. He concentrated on the stranger in the corner.
'Now, what did you see?' Rowan looked into Bernardo's face.
'A red star reflected back from his left eye.' Bernardo had a look of concern on his face.
'Well, that's it then. I think he knows I'm here, fime to spring the trap.' Rowan started to climb off his seat.
'His trap or yours, my friend? The stranger also moves.' The stranger stood up from his table.
'Why Bernardo, Mine of course. Now you might want to take cover for this will get very messy, very quickly. And pass me that dagger of yours.1 Rowan concealed the weapon against his wrist. He eyed Bernardo and turned to face the taproom.
'Are you ready my friend?' A quick gaze about the room was all it took. The patrons knew something was afoot. Hands edged towards weapons. Tension thickened as Rowan drew himself up to a full height. The cloaked one looked about the room. He too was aware of the danger of a wrong move. Warily he pulled a charred black staff from the shadows of his robes and headed for the tavern door.
The shadowy one paused at the door and hurled a ball of fire towards the bar. There was a disturbance as patrons in the path dived from their upturned tables. Rowan held out his left hand and gestured. The ball of fire never reached him. Instead it became a small marble of light, glowing as it sailed the remaining distance to his open hand. The shadow mage paled. Things were not working, as they should have. Rowan smiled and the mage whacked out the tavern door and exited into the street. Rowan flicked the small sphere towards the door and it flew after the fleeing mage.
'Amateurs! They're sending amateurs after me. I feel insulted.' Rowan snorted into his ale as the sound of a loud explosion and a scream of primal agony echoed in from the street. The patrons had righted their tables and the merriment continued into the night.
Rowan finished his second ale, bid his friends farewell, and staggered out into the street. He narrowly sidestepped the smoldering remains of the cloaked mage and his pink bunny companion.
'Told you so you pink bastard.' He indecisively took a deep breath and felt sick from the foul stench in the air. Rowan hurried down the narrow street.
It was difficult to pin down the sensation he was feeling. Rowan looked back up the road. Something was wrong.
Must have been too much water in the ale. Rowan did an about face to retrace his steps. The street he had walked down moments ago was now a small, dark curio shop. A nasty thought dropped into Rowan's mind.
Oh shit! I've entered the shadow guild quarter. The Dark mage will get me for sure. A noise. Movement. I'm a dead man now. It was Janna. With her stood the Dark Mage. He was smiling, good.
'You were a fool to fall for such a simple illusion. For shame! I so expected more from you but then, the Talon have always proven easy to dominate.' Shan grasped Janna by the throat and licked the side of her face.
'It took so little to turn her, to break her, to set her free. In the end she begged to be mine.' Shan smiled at her nakedness. Smiled at Rowan. Rowan drew himself up.
'Even here I have the power to take you dark one. Arrogant are you to think that I should enter this place unprepared.'
One bluff. Better make it a good one. The dark one ceased to smile. Wish I had Bernardo's blade with me. No matter.
'You were observed since you entered the tavern. You took no preparations.’ Shan felt surer of himself.
'Not all actions are observable. Now, when you feel up to it, let's get it on.' Rowan spat at Shan's boots. The dirt exploded in fire as the gob of spittle landed slightly short. The dark mage took a step back and the shadows at the edge of the street wavered.
'Illusions!' Janna laughed. 'Such foolishness will not save you.' Rowan stepped forward and Janna retreated behind Shan.
'The end has come for you, Rowan. Even now I weave the path of predators.' Rowan could feel the magical energy around him, through him, twisting the fabric of reality, re-weaving all that is into that which must not be.
'You fool Shan! Not even old Thrain himself would weave this pattern into the fabric. 'There was much energy in the weaving. Shan had added his life force to the weave.
, 'Thrain is an old man and I choose to reach beyond his weaknesses.' Shan continued the focusing of his spell. Shadows darkened the sky.
Rowan watched in horror as the form of great wolves wove them selves from the nothingness.
Janna came at him with a knife. Rowan sidestepped the attack and snatched the weapon from her hand.
Janna was thrown off balance and landed face down in the dirt. Rowan struck her across the back of the head and she went limp. The weaving was almost complete.
One chance. The throw was good as the blade gouged the dark mage across the cheek. It had been enough. The pain broke his focus and he screamed. His body erupted in an inferno of energy. There was nothing left to hit the ground. The problem became obvious. The wolves were still forming. The city was alight. What to do? Janna woke.
'What has happened?' She spotted the wolves. Her mind went wild with the terror of the moment.
'There is no time to explain. I must form the barrier tree before the wolves are loosed upon this reality. You must complete the final weaving.' A brew-house exploded somewhere on the far side of the city. He passed Janna his cloak.
'You might need this. Now we begin.' Rowan focused on the necessary weaving of thought.
'Goodbye Rowan.' Janna focused in on his way of thought and he was no more. In his place stood a young sapling of some wood that was more real than any tree known. The wolves howled in pain and began to dissipate, the shadows in the sky fell away to reveal the stars and the moon.
Janna looked at her naked, tattooed form and smiled. A group of peasants fleeing the inferno of the trader's quarter hurried past. Janna grabbed one by the throat.
'Where are you going?' Her inquiry was more of a threat than a question. The sub human struggled in her grasp.
'We're fleeing the city on account of the fire.' Janna took stock of the situation.
'No you're not! You and you're little friends will Fill some buckets with water and go find some burning building to throw it on or I will feed you to my pet Fiend. Do we have an understanding?' The peasant struggled to say yes as the grip on his neck tightened
and she lifted him off the ground. His friends trembled in fear at her strength.
The first volunteers departed to find as many buckets as possible. Janna stared at the tree that was once Rowan.
'You men! Always fighting to see who gets to be the big dog. Never realizing that the bitch in the den is the real ruler of the pack.' Janna smiled at the memory of Shan.
I never begged for that which would be mine. Janna focused on the tree.
'And if you think that fool Thrain will oppose me, I had him by for lunch.' Janna whetted her bloodstained lips and kissed a leaf on the tree depositing a red mark.
The palace was probably a nice place to rest. Queen Janna. Has a nice ring to it. I can give it a try for a Few centuries to see how it feels. Queen Janna became an owl and flew towards the palace.