Favion’s sword dripped with Captain Jethrey’s blood. He threw it aside. He was not going to carry around the blade that killed his friend. This was the last time. It had to be the last time. He was tired of being the executioner. Why did everyone he care about have to be a wizard? And why did he keep letting himself get attached to them? To distract himself from this question, he turned to the mustachioed man in the cage.
“My name is Captain Favion Mageson. Who are you?”
“Hans Terwin, proprietor of the Hammer and Sword’s Grill and Pub – right upstairs from here. Most of these people are customers. A couple are my staff and a few are people who ran in from the street when the pincerlings attacked. I’ve been using this bunker as storage, but there was still enough room for us to hole up down here.
Favion noticed that some of the cages were full of boxes, but most of them held people. The cages lined all of the walls, except for the spot with the thick metal door.
“I’ve got good news for you, Mr. Terwin. I’m going to use your pub as a base of operations while I’m here in Gorida, which means the army is going to pay you for the use of your property.”
“And for the use of your alcohol,” Acolyte Rekler added.
“Ignore him,” Favion said. “We will not be drinking while in hostile territory.”
There was a murmuring among the wizards that told Favion that Rekler had spoken for the whole company. Favion couldn’t blame them. Today had been a nasty day, and it wasn’t even noon. The men and woman in the company had killed for the first time, seen friends die, and witnessed allies transform into monsters. These were traumas that Favion at least had the luxury of experiencing on separate occasions, not all at once, like the wizards. But as much as he’d have liked to give them time to process, he knew they couldn’t afford to – not yet. They needed to get on with the mission.
“There’s no need to be shut up in these cages, Mr. Terwin,” Favion said. “Nobody’s going to spontaneously transform just because there are pincerlings in the city. That’s a wizard myth.”
Another round of murmuring went through the bunker, both among the company of wizards and among the pub patrons.
“It ain’t a myth,” said an older man in a fancy suit. “I seen some people before I ran in here. They was half way through the transformation.”
“It’s true,” said a woman in one of the cages behind Favion. She wore a nurse’s uniform. “I saw them too. I think they were directing the pincerlings.”
That was ridiculous. These people were obviously in hysterics. Favion turned to his runner, Acolyte Sunney, expecting to see a smirk on the man’s face. Instead, he was frowning. That made Favion frown too.
“Tell me it’s just a myth, Sunney,” Favion said in a whisper. “I always figured it was a rumor started by the Wizard’s Guild so people wouldn’t think too hard if they witnessed a wizard transforming.”
“Sorry, Captain, this one is true. It’s strange, though. There hasn’t been a documented case of spontaneous transformation in centuries.”
Favion sighed. He hated operating on faulty information.
“We can’t discuss this around the civilians. We need to continue this conversation upstairs.”
Favion gave the command and the wizards followed him through the thick door into a long stairway leading up. Favion hadn’t realized how far down they had gone while tunneling. Sunney said that they must be so deep to give the occupants adequate distance from the pincerlings.
The top of the stairs had a thick door to match the bottom. They could hear the pincerlings milling around the pub. The company quickly organized and executed the beasts. It was no real threat – just six green pincerlings and one dark blue. Rekler shot most of the greens while Favion used a war hammer to vent some of his frustrations on the blue’s armor plates. When he had opened a wide enough crack in the armor, he stepped aside and let Acolyte Bask finish it off.
With the pincerlings down, the wizards barred the doors and pulled the blinds over the windows. There was no point letting a stray pincerling see them camped out in the pub.
The place was in good shape, considering that pincerlings had been in it. It was big, comfy, and had an old-fashioned feel. Favion especially liked the large, round fireplace in the middle of the room. He would have one of his men build a fire as soon as they were settled.
“Gather round,” Favion commanded. “We need to take care of business.” He waited briefly for the company to line up. “First order of business – we lost a captain today. So, congratulations, Bask. You’re a captain now.”
“I’m pretty sure you can’t do that, Captain,” Acolyte Rekler said. “You can’t promote someone to your own rank, and you have no authority to give promotions to anyone in the Wizard’s Guild.”
“And I’m pretty sure I don’t care,” Favion said. “I need someone in Captain Jethrey’s role. I’m going to start calling Bask “Captain” and your guild can deal with that however they like when we get home. You okay with that, Bask?”
“Yes, sir,” Bask said.
“Good. Now, for the next thing on my list – These bunkers are suspicious.”
“What do you mean, Captain?” Sunney asked.
“They are obviously built for this exact scenario – for the city to be overrun by pincerlings. Why would anyone ever have expected that to happen? It’s never happened. It was never even considered possible.”
“I can’t answer that, Captain.” Sunney said.
“Fair enough. I can’t expect you to have all the answers, but think about it,” Favion said. “That leaves me with one last question. How does spontaneous transformation work? I’ve been assuming it was another one of your wizard lies.”
“It’s no lie,” Sunney said, “but it isn’t likely to happen in ordinary circumstances. A person has to spend hours in proximity to a pincerling before they transform. Normally, it would kill you long before you had the chance to transform. In tests, they used cages like the ones downstairs to keep the subject and the pincerling separate.”
“Wait! You’re telling me the Guild does human experiments?” Favion asked. “That’s sick, even for wizards.”
“This was centuries ago, and only on convicted criminals,” Sunney said.
“That doesn’t make it any better,” Favion said.
“I’m not saying it was right,” Sunney said, “but it would be a waste not to use the knowledge.”
“Oh, I’m definitely going to use it,” Favion sneered. “I just can’t believe how low the Guild is willing to go.” He shrugged. “Well, go on. Tell me more. How close do you have to be to transform?”
“Twenty feet is generally considered a safe distance.”
“Fine. We can stay in the middle of this pub, or downstairs. Is there anything else I should know?”
“Two things. First, wizards are more susceptible, especially wizards who have used a lot of magic. Second, the more pincerlings are nearby, the faster the transformation happens.”
“That makes this tough,” Favion said. “We need to scout, but I can’t send any of you because you’ll likely transform the second you step outside. But, we also can’t wait because the citizens will be transforming at an exponential rate.”
Favion fiddled with his sword hilt while he paced. After a few minutes, he shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, you all hold tight here. I’m headed downstairs to inform the pub goers that they’ve been drafted.”