Monday, April 7, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 24.



By the time more SpellHounds showed up to investigate reports of dawn devils inside Emberhelm Glitch and I were already long gone. We had left all explanations in Stane’s capable hands as we pursued our own problems. It seemed like every answer I had been able to dig up was only pointing me further and further away from a final answer. Instead I was only finding more and more questions.

“Glitch,” I called for my companion’s full attention as we shuffled along down the street. He was still stalking along at my right and only a pace or two behind me. It was somewhat frustration for him to remain just out of the edge of my field vision but I was tired of trying to argue anything with a gremlin. Even so and fearing another fresh verbal confrontation with him I had to ask.

“Why did you sink steel into that stranger when he approached,” I asked him openly. Of all the things swirling around in my noggin’, for whatever reason, some of Glitch’s actions stood out at the moment. Once the guy had come towards us the gremlin had greeted him with a rather grave reception. I don’t know if it was the speed of his decision to deal with the matter with deadly force that troubled me or if it was the fact that he had done so without starring the stranger in the eyes first.

“He was already in the motion to attack us,” Glitch announced as his assessment of the issue. “Besides, when you are my size and provoke unpleasantness in others you learn quickly not to provide anyone the edge to press their advantages. He made his move so I made mine. Had I been a hair’s breath faster I might have halted him from hurling his projectile.”

“And what of your own little projectiles,” I asked. Whatever that weird weapon was in Glitch’s satchel I had to concede made me curious what other gear the gremlin carried. Had he not been in my employ I might have not liked to be on the lethal receiving end of it. You had to hand it to gremlin genius – they had a way with things that could counter their deceptive lack of physical strength in a fight.

“If I kept throwing things at anything else that attacked us after our ambiguous ambusher I figured we would have fallen,” he commented. “So I opted for field testing my little creation. I am thinking of calling it a ‘crank bow’ – although I am not completely certain I can replicate it. You see it uses this fascinating arrangement of…” Glitch trailed of as he talked once it occurred to him that I might not fully share his appreciation of some of the finer details.

He blinked those salmon spheres of his at me to dismiss the incoming information that his mind had called forth and shifted back to the subject without ever slowing his stride. “It shoots specially crafted crossbow bolts far faster than any crossbow ever could. The only problem is that aiming is still somewhat of an issue.”

“I’ll say,” I agreed as I recalled the rapid rain it had sent sailing through the sky. It was still impressive, to say the least, even if it wasn’t exactly accurate. And to think that if I was hearing correctly Glitch had just mentioned that it was something of his own invention. Something that he hadn’t ever actually tested before until only minutes ago. I wasn’t sure whether or not to applaud his clever creation or question his use of an untested implement in the heat of a dangerous encounter. My eyes drifted down to the satchel at his side and I found myself wondering with perhaps more caution than curiosity how much he had stuffed into that thing.

It just seemed bizarre that the bag bouncing by his side didn’t even betray the bulk of his ‘crank bow.’ The sack seemed to have simply sucked whatever he had slipped inside it and absorbed it somehow. That thought reminded me of something Stane had said to me, something that at the time I had heard but at the same time hadn’t heard. It may just be a minor detail but it was one that felt too important to overlook. Plus, it was something that I hadn’t recalled ever hearing of being done before.

Stane Stormaxe had reported that when cornered the wily wizard had drawn not just on the ambient arcane energies around him or simply his own skill to craft the spell he used to strike out with. He had also tapped into the very trinkets, tools and treasures he carried to power it. In the end he had drained everything dry in an ambitious attempt for an ambush assault. That was a tremendous degree of power to pour through him; I had never heard of anyone alive capable of anything on that level. I don’t think I had ever even heard of anyone crazy enough to even try it. If Stane hadn’t been the one to tell me that it had happened I never would have thought it was even possible.

Making use of their senses and natural abilities a SpellHound could deflect some magic directed their way. If they are really focused they can channel the surging sorcery through themselves and into the ground. The spell-shaped steel they carry acts to aid them, serving as a focus and a conduit almost akin to a lightning rod of sorts. But even a SpellHound could only withstand so much power passing through them. This guy had been squarely seated at the center of a terrible tidal wave of raw power and had chosen to do so.

It was insane to imagine anyone consciously choosing to do anything of the sort. Most people with any ability for magic generally shaped spells they were comfortable with – typically things they could do without reaching out for even small amounts of the raw power around them. Those individuals who dared to might try their hand at working with the wilder forces found flowing naturally but even they didn’t tend to turn more than a minor amount to their will.

Not only had the wizard worked towards wielding his own familiar forces, but he had also called on everything around him. He had used himself as a funnel of sorts for every element of potential power and directed it at Stane. I couldn’t even say with any certainty that committing to such an attack left him with any idea that he might survive. If that was the case, he had to be really motivated to make sure he took Stane out with him.

But Stane hadn’t been the one to receive the blast. Wynna Snowsong had felt its formidable force in his place instead, having placed herself in its path. She had taken the terrible trap for Stane and had somehow survived. I could see her racing in to the situation and throwing herself immediately into becoming involved. Wynna loved proving herself and in her own right she was quite capable. However I don’t think I could have handled that amount of arcane fueled attack and survived. Although upon seeing a friend facing that danger I am sure I would have tried.

So how was she even still standing? “Can someone actually do that,” I absently asked aloud. Glitch grunted back at me, not sure of what I was referring to and prompted me to elaborate. “Draining down everything from even things as old as items like that amber amulet? I mean, is it even possible to cannibalize them and shove that much spell-power through a single person?”

“In theory,” Glitch decided. “But there would be too many variables to account for to make it effective or guaranteed of success. If anything went wrong the results could be unpredictable at best and catastrophic at worst. The effort alone could drive a mind to madness, burn a body to oblivion or even leave you as an empty shell. That is all contingent on if you even had the ability to even get the stuff to allow you to withdraw all of its essence out in the first place.

You’re talking about unbelievably long odds,” Glitch explained. “And what about someone on the other end of all that energy,” I added inquisitively. “Similar situation, I’m afraid. You can only push so much through you at any time. If you could gradually release a good portion of it slowly then perhaps you could survive the situation. But even holding a small amount would still cause a strain and the initial impact would leave lasting harm.”

“Assuming you could do the impossible and store some of that to slowly slip out, you could live from the experience though, right,” I asked. “Survive, yes,” Glitch answered. “But not without being warped by it to become crazy as a loon for example.” Wynna hadn’t seen overly altered to me but I couldn’t exactly look insider her head either. And there was a certain element of insanity present in everything that was going on.