The fire elemental. We forgot about the fire elemental. Well, no, we didn’t really, we just weren’t expecting it to turn up now. I think we’d all been hoping it would stay out of the way until we’d taken care of the senior mages. So much for that grand plan. The others are right behind me, waiting for me to say something to get us out of this. Trouble is, I’m not sure if a fire elemental can be bluffed. No time to worry about it now woman, it’s time.
I cast a glance over my shoulder, twisting my features into an expression of fear and some loathing. Done partly to begin the illusion that we were being chased, and partly to ensure Lester was far enough behind us to make the ruse believable. He was behind us, sword in hand; his own face showing a righteous anger. Not bad. I filled my lungs with air and let loose a scream, all terror and rage and anger and hatred – it was a thing of cold beauty.
“The paladin!” I cried, “the paladin is chasing us!” it seemed a trifle overdone, but I doubt very much that fire elementals are particularly sophisticated. The elemental stared down at me from a very great height. Good goddess, that thing is massive – and hot. Very hot. I waved my hands in its face, trying to draw its attention to me and not the others.
“The paladin!” I screamed into its face, “he’s right behind us! Do something!”
Those appeared to have been the magic words for the fire elemental charged so suddenly I had only enough time to throw my hands over my face for protection before it was past. A series of higher and lower pitched yells and curse words told me the others were being similarly singed.
It went straight for Lester, who raised his longsword and gave vent to a mighty roar.
“Back foul creature!” he roared, in what I can only describe as a ‘great voice’.
And yet, this entire ruse was planned to get us close to the mages, not the flaming fire elemental. None of us, Nera included, had ever intended for Lester to go toe-to-toe with the elemental on his own.
“I am here to take these evil creatures and chastise them!”
Well, that was unexpected. That man can really yell when he puts his mind to it. More importantly, I knew now what he was doing. Exactly what the plan was for. He was giving us the time we needed. Fear wasn’t so difficult to feign this time as I grabbed Tanc’s tunic and pulled hard.
“Come on! While he’s distracted. Let’s go!” I raised my voice effortlessly into the higher registers of pure terror. Tanc stared at me, his expression hard and fierce. I gave him a quick nod and jerked my head towards the door I assumed now led into the kitchen. He pulled his disguised face into what I assume was meant to be an expression of fear, but which had me desperately trying not to laugh. He saw me trying not to laugh and grinned at me. Then he winked and disappeared.
He’d warned us about this new trick of his, but my it was something to see. Any shadow he’d said, and he could disappear. Just a little trick he’d picked up from our sojourn on the Plane of Shadows. Neat trick.
We shoved through the open doorway together, it was unintentional, but served to give the impression we were fighting each other to reach safety. Rifus stumbled forwards into the room before catching himself, while I grabbed the doorway and yanked myself to a halt just inside. I have no idea where Tanc was, but I felt something brush my sleeve heading towards the wall.
There was a mage standing in the opposite doorway. He said nothing at first, just stared at us, looking somewhere between exasperated and disgusted.
<Rifus says it’s the same guy from upstairs. The one who nearly killed Tanc.> Nera’s voice came directly into my head. I stared at the mage, who stared right back at me. I gulped, glanced down at my feet, then lifted my head again. Message received.
“The paladin” I gasped, letting my head drop and bending double as if out of breath. “He- he found us, is chasing us. The fire elemental...”
Still nothing. The mage gave Rifus a disgusted look as he staggered and stumbled forwards, with much looking his shoulder in fear.
“Get upstairs and get out” he snapped finally. “You shouldn’t be here anyway.”
I nodded, quickly urgently, no desire to argue here. None at all.
“May-” I stopped cast a fearful look over my shoulder. “May we use the stairs?”
He glared at me with such anger I felt suddenly relieved that the woman whose face I was wearing was already dead. If we somehow failed, I wouldn’t want to be her.
“The belltower stairs. Now.”
No mistaking the menace in that voice. I backed up a step, facing the mage, but my eyes looked sideways – at where I thought Tanc was standing. The briefest flicker of movement. He nodded. He was ready. I turned and shoved at the others with my hands
“Go!” I said urgently. “Let’s go” hopefully Nera and Rifus have traveled with me long enough to realise that means ‘let’s go and let Tanc do his thing’.
We hastily backed out of the kitchen, moving towards the belltower staircase just to our right. I could easily imagine the smile on Tanc’s face. I had to imagine his predatory stalking, as he moved so quietly that I couldn’t hear him, even though he was right behind me.
The wall provided us with cover as I reached out and opened the door to the bell tower but didn’t go through. It was unlikely Tanc would take too long anyway. We waited in tense silence, listened to the mage huff exasperatedly and the sound of footsteps.
A grunt. A huffing of expelled breath. A thud. Another thud and a thump.
Finally, a low chuckle and Tanc’s voice
“Come on in guys.”
Rifus and Nera grinned at each other and me, turning towards the open doorway. I followed them, but as I did, my gaze fell on the hallway. There were scorch marks on the floor and walls as testament to the fire elemental’s passage; but nothing else. I stared down the way as if I could somehow divine what had happened here. I’d been so intent on making the mage believe every word I said that any sound from here had been completely blocked.
I recognised the sound of Rifus’ favoured weapon – his eldritch blast. I also recognised the sound of his favoured curse when it went astray.
I grimaced in the direction the fire elemental and Lester had taken and turned away to join my friends. Even as I went to join the fray, to finally rid the world of a group that definitely needed riddance, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud
“I hope we haven’t killed Lester.”