Favion stared into the fireplace, wishing he could dwell in the memories it stirred. It hurt a little to think about the farm, knowing that everyone who lived there was dead except him. Still, they were good memories and they were a lot more inviting than the meeting Favion was sitting in.
Captain Bask scowled, though it was hard to see through the scar. “We need to find Captain Kit,” he said. “We’ve been in this city for a week and haven’t accomplished anything. Let’s send the scouts out farther.”
“We’re civilians!” Hans Terwin complained in his gruff voice, causing his impressive mustache to flap. “It’s a miracle anyone volunteers for scouting missions at all. You can’t expect us to do anything more dangerous than we already do.”
“So, it’s ok for us to risk our lives, but not yours?” Bask countered. He had gotten surly in the week since he became a captain. “You’re trapped here just like us. We live or die together.”
“He’s right, Bask. They don’t have the training for it,” Favion said. “Besides, there’s a better way. If they can get a vehicle or two on the next scouting mission, they could move farther and more safely.”
Hans smiled. “We have a person who can hotwire,” he said. “Don’t ask me who. They don’t like talking about it.”
“I won’t ask. Just make it happen,” Favion said. “What else was on the agenda today?”
“Arguments in the spa,” Bask said. “Four showers and a hot tub don’t go far when a hundred people want to use them.”
Favion groaned. “I’ll have Sunney write up a schedule,” he said. “I’m starting to hate that place. We put our lives on the line clearing it out and our reward is more babysitting?”
“But we needed it,” Hans reminded him. “The stench was getting awful with all of us cramped in this pub.”
Favion shrugged. “Our first objective should have been the restaurant next to it. Our food isn’t going to last much longer,” he said. “Bask, have you put any thought into how we’re going to take it?”
“I’m told that the spa’s massage rooms should line up with the restaurant’s kitchens. Theoretically, that should be the safest place to enter. We can just knock a hole in the wall and storm in.”
“Perfect,” Favion said. “We’ll go tomorrow. Round up the entire company except Acolyte Brenner and Theurge Hestian.”
Hans’ mustache twitched as he smirked. “You have a wizard named “The Urge?”
“Theurge,” Bask corrected. “It’s a rank in the wizards guild.”
“I thought they were all acolytes except for Captain Bask,”
“I handed out some promotions. I was tired of having no command structure,” Favion explained.
“Can you do that?” Hans asked.
“Not technically,” Favion said, shrugging. “But the Wizard’s Guild already wants to hang me anyway.”
The next morning, Favion found forty-three wizards crammed into the spa, waiting for the order to go.
“First off, you’re all forbidden from using magic. No need to complicate this battle with more pincerlings,” he told them. “Also, we’re going to have a quick refresher on how to fight pincerlings.”
“Why?” Acolyte Rekler asked. “We already know how.”
“Anyone who has watched you fight would disagree. We’re lucky we only had two injuries,” Favion said. “But since you’re an expert, why don’t you instruct us? Tell us about the greens.”
“We’ve already done this – you putting me on the spot and making me look like an idiot,” Rekler said.
“Yes, but you make such a great idiot. Tell us about the greens.”
Rekler said something under his breath before saying, “The greens are small and fast but can be killed with bullets.”
“That’s right,” Favion said. “Someone tell us about the yellows… Theurge Murson, go ahead.”
“They have armor plating,” she said. “Bullets only work if you’re lucky. The best bet is to surround it and get swords between their plates.”
“That’s right,” Favion said. “Captain Bask, tell us about the dark blues.”
“Their exactly like yellows, except they’re blue and bullets never work,” Bask said.
“Exactly right,” Favion said. “Now, Rekler, what will you do if you see a cerulean?”
“Run away!” Rekler said. “Facing one of those things in a confined space like a restaurant would be suicide.”
“I’m disappointed in you, Rekler,” Favion said, mournfully. “You were supposed to make an idiot of yourself. You’re exactly right. If you see light blue plating, retreat before it sees you. The same goes for pinks. We are not prepared for that kind of fight. Understood?”
The forty-three wizards all said, “Yes sir,” in near unison.
“Good. Now, we go.”
On his command, two civilians with sledge hammers ripped through a three-foot-wide section of wall. Before they were even done, four wizards charged through the gap and spread out. After a few shots were fired, Rekler yelled, “Clear!”
Instead of the kitchen they were expecting, the room was an employee break room. Its chairs were scattered haphazardly, and the tables were propped up against the door. The tell-tale sounds of pincerlings came from the room beyond. Favion shoved the tables out of the way and shot a hole in the door. Through it, he could see yellow pincerlings milling around the kitchen. There were a dozen at most. One fiddled with the pots and pans as if trying to remember what to do with them. It was strangely human-like, despite the pincer hands, the armor plates, the ring of eyes around its head, and the vertical, sharp-toothed mouth.
Favion decided to lead the charge this time. As their captain, he was supposed to let his subordinates do all the dirty work, but he was getting bored of watching all the time. Besides, they outnumbered the pincerlings by at least three to one.
He threw the door open and rushed in, moving quickly to the side of the room. As soon as they saw him, the pincerlings went into a rage, but he had put a large table between them and himself. The wizards who followed were able to intercept the other pincerlings before he was overwhelmed. There was one remaining pincerling that attacked Favion. It charged, holding a pot in its pincer. Favion easily dodged its swing and jammed his sword between the plates on its torso. Thick blue blood leaked from the wound. Favion pushed the sword in deeper, while carefully avoiding its thrashing limbs. The eyes in the back of its head stared at him in an almost accusatory way. The creature didn’t understand that he was doing it a favor. A few moments later, it collapsed.
Once all the pincerlings in the kitchen were dead, Favion checked the two doors that led to the dining room. They had small windows in them that let him see the crowd of pincerlings beyond. None of them were a dangerous variety and the way the room was partitioned into several sections meant it would be easy to isolate and engage small groups. Favion sent a group of wizards through each of the doors while he kept three with himself to help him clear a side hallway that passed the bathrooms on the way to the dining room.
It only took a few minutes for Favion and his squad to clear the bathrooms. Most of that time was spent carefully checking each stall. The one green they found was shot dead before it could even react to their presence. When they opened the door at the end of the hall, they expected to find an orderly execution. Instead, they found chaos.
A large cerulean pincerling stood over three wizard bodies, crouching slightly to fit in the room. There was a trail of rubble that indicated that it had crashed through the outside wall of the restaurant and knocked over several of the partitions on its way in. Captain Bask and his squad were trapped in a corner. Their swords and guns barely seemed to annoy the giant beast.
“Use magic!” Favion yelled. “Use it now!”
But he hadn’t needed to give the order. Lightning arced through the restaurant before he had even said it. As the light flashed, Favion noticed a weakness in its armor.
“There’s a huge hole in the plate on its backside,” he told the three wizards that followed him. “We need to get over there!”
Unfortunately, that proved impossible. As they tried to get around a partition, a pack of pincerlings swarmed them. Favion looked around for help. Theurge Murson was not far from Bask.
“Murson! Get behind it! There’s a hole in its plate!”
When she looked over at him, her expression was shameful or fearful or maybe both. She cast a protective bubble around herself and cowered in it. Favion swore. Someone needed to help Bask, now! He couldn’t, Murson wouldn’t, and another wizard had just been cut to shreds while they dawdled.
“I need someone behind that thing, now!” he yelled again.
One of the wizards in his squad pointed behind him and asked, “Who is that?”
Favion turned around and saw three people at the hole in the wall – two men he didn’t recognize and one woman he did. It was Mira Kit! She looked exactly like her father, and not in a good way. He hadn’t expected her to be so ugly.
Mira unsheathed her sword and charged the cerulean, stabbing it in the back. The beast jerked away, pulling Mira’s sword out of her hands. It turned around to attack her and she backpedaled, luring it out. Favion was impressed. Most people would be running, cowering, or wetting their pants. Mira held her ground.
“Attack!” Favion yelled to his wizards. “Now is your chance!”
Mira danced with the pincerling. That was the best way Favion could describe it. She taunted and dodged, making it so angry, it ignored the wizards who were pelting it with swords, guns, and spells. Her two companions used their war hammers to further weaken its armor. This dance went on for several minutes until the pincerling stumbled. Theurge York seized the opportunity, shoving her hands directly into its wound and casting a fireball. The air filled with the smell of burning meat and the sound of wizards cheering as the beast crashed to the ground.
Mira didn’t stop there. She pulled her sword from the toppled beast and began to slaughter the remaining pincerlings. Her swordsmanship was beautiful. Favion watched, entranced for a moment, trying to decide if she was better than him.
“Keep fighting,” he commanded. “We aren’t done here.”
A few minutes later, Mira killed her last pincerling. She left the sword in it and walked over to Favion. One of her companions pulled it out of the corpse, cleaned it, and sheathed it.
“I’m Captain Mira Kit,” she said. Though she smiled, her eyes were red and lined with dark circles. Clearly the last week had been hard on her.
“I’m Captain Favion Mageson. How did you find us?”
“I saw the smoke coming from your chimney, so I came to check it out,” she explained. “What are you even doing here?”
“We’re actually here to rescue you,” he said.
Mira cocked an eyebrow. “Really?” She asked skeptically. “Because you’re doing a crappy job of it.”
Favion laughed. It felt good – he hadn’t laughed a lot recently, but it was sadly short-lived. He reminded himself that finding Captain Kit was one miracle but finding a way out of the city would be another one entirely.