Favion stirred the coals in the pub’s large fireplace. He was trying to concentrate the current situation, but he was too annoyed at Acolyte Sunney who kept telling people to come back later because, “Captain Mageson is brooding right now.” He was not brooding. He just wanted some quiet while he contemplated their doom.
They had completed the “search” half of their search and rescue mission, and they hadn’t even managed that themselves. Captain Mira Kit, the person they were supposed to be rescuing, had found and rescued them while they were overwhelmed by a cerulean pincerling. Currently, she was sleeping hard after a week of living on the run from the pincerling hordes that had taken the city. Favion was waiting for her to wake up so he could learn what she knew about the city. Maybe she would have some idea of how they could get out. They definitely couldn’t leave the way they came. Captain Jethrey had barely managed that spell before succumbing to the pincerling transformation. If she had trouble with it, the other wizards wouldn’t have a chance, even if Favion were willing to let them try.
At least with Mira here, they had some hope. She and the two war hammer specialists she had brought, would dramatically improve their ability to fight pincerlings. Favion remembered the way she fought when she arrived. She was like some sort of sword goddess displaying a performance art of death. She was also a poet laureate of swear words. When Acolyte Sunney had asked if she wanted a wake-up call, she had unleased the most creative torrent of threats and insults. Favion grinned at the memory.
“What’s that grin about?” Sunney asked. He was sitting at the bar sorting through scouting reports. “Are you thinking about Captain Kit?”
“Why would thinking about Captain Kit make me grin?” Favion asked.
Sunney gave him a flat look. “It’s obvious you like her, Captain.”
“I don’t like her,” Favion said.
“I think it’s good for you,” Sunney said. “All you ever talk about is pincerlings. They’re probably all you think about too. You have no life outside of fighting – it’s boring.”
“I don’t have the luxury of thinking about other things while we’re in the middle of a city that has somehow been taken over by pincerlings, even though that should be impossible. The things are incapable of even basic coordination.”
“See! You can’t even argue about this without talking about pincerlings,” Sunney complained. “Live your life, Sir. One day, this fight will be over, and you’ll be left with nothing to do. You’ll be a grumpy, retired soldier with no friends, no hobbies, and no life. You’ll probably just sit in front of your fireplace and brood, like you do now.”
As Favion contemplated the strongest way he could say, “Mind your own business,” the door opened, and Mira Kit walked in. She wasn’t traditionally beautiful. Her chin was broad, and brow protruded, but she had a utilitarian charm. Plus, she was a sword goddess. She didn’t need the dainty features of inferior women.
Oh, crap! Favion thought. I do like her! That wouldn’t work at all. Everyone he cared about ended up dead. He didn’t need to add her to the list of people he had killed. He would just have to quash those feelings and work past them.
“Good morning, Captain Mageson,” Mira said groggily. “Or good whatever it is right now.”
“Afternoon, almost evening,” Favion said. “And call me Favion.”
That was appropriate, right? They were both captains.
“Sure, Favion,” she yawned. “Your guys said you were brooding in here and needed to talk to me.”
“I’m not brooding,” Favion complained “I’m just contemplating our options. From what I can see, we’re trapped here. We could continue doing what we’ve been doing and clear out one building at a time as we slowly work towards the edge of the city, but that would take us weeks.”
“We’d never survive that long,” Mira said “If we don’t run out of food, we’ll slip up and get ourselves killed. And then there’s the company of wizards you brought into a pincerling infested city – they could transform at any moment. That was a real genius move on my father’s part.”
“See!” Favion said to Sunney, “She gets it! It’s not brooding if it really is that bad.”
“Oh, it’s worse than that,” Mira said. “The pincerlings have leadership.”
“What!” Favion and Sunney both exclaimed.
“That’s impossible,” Favion said. “Pincerlings are mindless. They can’t lead or follow.”
“I’m not talking about pincerlings leading other pincerlings,” Mira explained. “I’ve seen humans among them, giving them orders. They have partial transformations, like wizards get sometimes when they’ve used a little too much magic. Some of them had claws. Some had partially formed plates. One of them had that weird band of eyes that wrap around a pincerling’s head.”
Favion looked at Sunney. “Is this another wizard secret?” he asked.
Sunney’s face was pale. “I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he said. “Wizards don’t hang around once the transformation has started. We either have someone kill us before we change, or we unleash a massive spell, so we’ve at least killed more pincerlings than we’ve made. No one in the Wizard’s Guild would experiment with this kind of thing.”
As Favion thought about that, he realized how important it was that Mira survive to give a firsthand account of what she’d seen. This would change the way they fought pincerlings.
“We have to get you out of this city!” Favion declared. “The army needs to know. The general – your father – needs to know! I will get you out of here or die trying!”
“Aww, how sweet,” Sunney chimed in. “You’re feeling protective already!”
“I’m protective of this information,” Favion said quickly. “He means that I want to protect you so you can give this report to the general,” Favion explained.
“Yeah. That’s what I mean,” Sunney said, rolling his eyes. “Because Captain Mageson doesn’t care about anything except killing pincerlings. That’s why he’s single – so very single. Completely unattached. Fair game,” Sunney said in exaggerated tones. “What about you, Captain Kit? Are you dating anyone?”
“No, I’m as single as Captain Mageson is,” she replied. “But I don’t date wizards. Sorry Sundlee.”
“It’s Sunney,” Sunney muttered.
“Besides,” Mira continued, “you don’t look like you could even lift a sword. I only date guys who can beat me in a fight. I’m old fashioned that way.”
Favion remembered how she fought and started devising strategies to beat her. He forced himself to stop and reminded himself that he wasn’t allowed to like her. Instead of fantasizing about the epic duel they would have, he needed to think of a way to get out of the city. Then he remembered something else from when she arrived.
“You knew we were here because you saw the smoke from the chimney,” Favion said. “I wasn’t worried about pincerlings seeing it. They’re too stupid to recognize it as a sign of humanity. But if they’ve got human leadership, they know where we are.”
Sunney jumped to his feet, “Do you want me to gather the company, Sir? Tell them to prepare for a fight?”
“I think you’d better,” Favion said. “Something’s bothering me though. If they know where we are, why haven’t they attacked yet?”
The three looked at each other for a moment until Mira spoke up. “They probably know that your company is full of wizards,” she said. “They’re waiting for them to turn to pincerlings. That way, they can take you without a real fight.”