Pay the Piper
A short story featuring Piper, elf illusionist/rogue.
Rengi watched the elf stagger out of the inn and retch into the gutter. Her ears picked up the faint clink of metal on metal from the purse at his belt as he righted himself. She smiled in the darkness. It was about time a decent mark presented itself. She shadowed him from a safe distance as he moved off, weaving down the street. She wasn’t concerned about losing him at this hour and the other denizens of these streets knew better than to cross her by poaching a mark. The elf was horrendously drunk, he threw up another three times between staggering advances before coming to a rest on his knees above a gutter, forehead resting on the cool stones of a house wall.
He stayed motionless in that pose for a few minutes, hardly moving as she began her approach. The light breeze ruffled his hair slightly and she froze as he stirred, muttering incoherently to himself. She silently closed to within a few strides of him and paused, wondering if she could steal his purse without disturbing him, but she’d learned the value of making sure of her own safety a long time ago. She drew up her small weighted club and took two silent swift steps, closing the distance and bringing it down on the back of the elf’s head…. and staggered as it passed straight through him, his form evaporating. She hissed, quickly regaining her balance, whirling into a crouch, ready to flee or fight.
“That, was not nice.” The voice was a soft, sibilant hiss and she turned towards it as a spark of blue light flared in the darkness to her left. The elf was there, leaning against the wall. One hand was hidden in his pocket, the other raised in front of him, palm up. The blue light was a tiny orb above one finger and she cursed inwardly. A magic user. Just her luck.
The elf’s face turned toward her and a second ball, green this time, flared into being above another finger. The green light reflected in his eyes and for a second she was held by that gaze. His lips stretched into grim smile and she flinched as a third orb flared, pure white. The three began to orbit slowly on his palm.
“You chose the wrong night to play with me human”, he chuckled. The sinister sound seemed to echo off the walls and gain in volume before cutting off abruptly, as a fourth orb now joined the dance above his palm. Staring at the four lights she remembered her father once telling her the name of that constellation, the only time in history when the four stars had moved in Onathien’s sky; come together and orbited.
In the days before Edarr had come to Onathien the world had celebrated the beauty of the sign, so sure of its significance. Not noticing that with it came the disappearance of the fifth star, the black star. Later, following the fall, a name had sprung up for that constellation; the dance of death.
She shuddered and backed away as he pushed off the wall and began a slow advance toward her. His gaze was still lit, but she noticed it reflected only the green. She looked away again, seeking an escape. She didn’t hesitate when she found it, the alley that opened in the walls of the wide street, perhaps a dozen steps away. She darted for it, not bothering to look back. She’d learned early that if the decision was to run, looking back never helped. She’d made it a mere three steps when a glowing green form erupted in the mouth of the alley. A Wyrm, vivid green eyes in a body of softly glowing jade scales, writhed in the air in front of her and she stumbled to a halt, falling to the ground as it lashed towards her, mouth gaping open and lined with wicked teeth. Scrabbling backwards instinctively, her rational mind caught up with the illusion too late to stop her sliding into the elf’s legs as he stood behind her.
“You see, I’ve had an eventful and successful day. I feel strong…hungry.” she pivoted, dragging herself away from both threats as best she could. The eyes of the Elf and Wyrm were identical lambent green orbs in the darkness. He had extinguished the other lights.
“What do you want?” she asked, getting her fear under control. Illusion was just that, very few magic users could do much more and even if he wasn’t as drunk as she’d thought, she was still confident she could handle him in a direct fight. Although she wondered how she had not noticed the knife at his belt earlier.
“What do I want?” he mused, another brief cold chuckle sliding from his lips. “Your soul, actually.”
He drew his dagger and she scrambled to her feet, drawing hers. The Wyrm drifted to the other side of her and she tried to ignore it. Illusions could not kill her, only his dagger could.
“Since I can’t have that while I’m here” his tone was petulant and his smile slid away, “I guess I’ll take your blood.”
She tensed, watching him for the telltale signs that presaged an attack – and yelled in pain as a burning tore into the back of her shoulder. She whirled and found the Wyrm floating peacefully, a few strides away, with her blood dripping red-on-green from its scaled jaws. Its tongue emerged and lapped at the crimson.
Her mind whirled, she’d never encountered an illusion that could harm, she backed away trying to keep an eye on both of them. The elf was inhumanly still, watching her curiously.
She had backed away nearly far enough to consider another chance at fleeing. The elf was still unmoving and the Wyrm hung passively in the air. She realized her mistake a split-second before the elf again disappeared and her eyes widened as she felt steel against her neck, followed by the heat of her blood spraying down her chest.
She staggered forward, trying to spin, seeing the elf standing behind her smiling. Her vision dimmed as she collapsed backwards, feebly pushing herself along the cobbled street. She flailed, blindly striking out with her dagger, gasping for air. As the last breath left her lungs the world faded to black around two glowing green orbs and the soft lapping of a tongue at her throat.
- Colin "BoBliness" Hill -