Mongoose Company, Part 3 — Legendary
Despite falling asleep after Mardie, William woke before her thanks to a morning chill that snuck through the flap of her tent. He stood, rubbing his eyes, and ran his hand along the sturdy flap. No wind had moved it, nor could one. The heavy steel insert kept it firmly in place. Even moving it was a chore for him, with its thick plates of magnetized metal, a wonder of science.
When he managed to pry open the flap, he quickly found the cause. Three of Mardie’s men peered into the tent.
“The librarian awakes.” Garus said. The mountain of a man, Mardie’s second, stooped to peer into the tent and wore a deep frown. “I swear, if you so much as laid a finger on her I’ll rip your balls off.”
“I assure you, no treachery has been even considered.” William held his hands up defensively. “I did however find some very valuable—“
“Save it for someone that cares.” Garus pushed past him and into the tent. He settled in front of Mardie, sprawled out on her bed without sheets. Her second cleared his throat noisily, drawing no reaction. “Sir. We have a problem.”
“What’s the matter? She’s likely exhausted, after a day of hard work and travel only to come back here and study…” William fell to silence from a glare from Garus.
“Sir. We need to move. Now.” Garus reached over and grabbed her cot, toppling her onto the floor.
“Fuck you, Garus.” Mardie struggled to her feet. “I was having the best dream ever.”
“It’ll have to wait.” Garus folded his hands behind his back. “We have a force of one hundred that will be here within the hour.”
“So kill them. That’s barely three to one.” Mardie rubbed the back of her neck. “Probably just some annoying lordling we pissed off. “
“If it were that easy, I wouldn’t have bothered waking you, Sir.” Garus straightened. “Black Snakes.”
William didn’t recognize the name, but he knew a look of fear when he saw one. Black Hearted Mardie, known for her ruthlessness and formidability, showed pause. She lowered her gaze, considered and turned to Garus. “Yeah. We need to run. Set fire to the camp and get what you can carry. Kill anyone that lags behind too. Can’t afford to have something get leaked just cause they can’t deal with a little torture.”
“Torture?” William’s eyes widened. “Who are the Black Snakes?”
“Nothing you need to worry about. We’re putting you on a horse.” Mardie said, giving him a hearty pat on the back. She plucked up a satchel full of jewels and spilled them onto a cloth spread across the floor of the tent. She smacked the empty bag on the center of his chest. “Load up this saddlebag with anything you’d need to keep working on that book.”
William’s head spun at the gems cast aside so callously, working through his head how much even one would be worth. She dumped out a few more bags to form a pile as he carefully slipped parchment into his bag. Even a handful of the treasure she tossed about like dirt would cover a year or two of expenses.
He had his bag half full of parchment when she pulled the cloth to a cinched sack, slung it over her shoulder and tossed it to a waiting colleague.
“You got five minutes, make em’ count.” Mardie jabbed an accusing finger at him and disappeared through the tent. William frowned at the priceless relics around him. In mere minutes they would burn, lost to the world. An ancient statuette, a tapestry thrice his age, and a goblet of a forgotten king: The three things he packed beyond the documentation.
His stomach churned thinking of the destruction of the fine wooden carving made by the first men, an eating utensil made from bone from the Uttaki empire, and even the ceramic vase of the people of the sea. The first artifact he had laid eyes of that people that even hinted at their existence. But he knew better than to leave her waiting.
William pushed out of the tent to see fire. The smaller tents had already been set ablaze, save for one banner of the Mongoose Company left to identify the ruins. A pack. He could wear a pack on his back and save more artifacts. As he considered this, a thrown torch lobbed over him and settled atop Mardie’s tent. Another followed and the canvas ignited.
Mardie slipped a hand under his shoulder dragging him towards a black and white stallion.
“W…wait. There’s so much history in there. We need to—“
“No chance. Unless you want to join that junk on the pyre.” Mardie slipped the bag away from him and paused at its weight. “Hey, what’s this? I told you papers. Not random junk.”
“I got everything of importance.” William scrunched up his nose. “I have the rest memorized.”
“That’s fine and dandy, but what if you get killed?” She shoved him towards the tent. “What do I do then?”
“Th…Then I guess you need to keep me alive.” William sputtered. “Look. It’s only three things. And they’re related. I think.”
“You think?” Mardie hissed. “You and I are gonna have a chat when we get out of—“ An arrow cut off her words, landing with a heavy thunk into the burning canvas. “For fuck’s sake Garus, an HOUR out? I’m going to kick your ass for this.”
“Sir. Ten approaching, the arrow was a bluff, shot blind by a single man. Engage or flee?” Garus glanced back at her drawing his axe.
“We kill the bastards.” Mardie jabbed a thumb at William. “Babysit the bookworm Garus. I’ll handle this on my own.”
“Wait. Can’t we just escape? We don’t need to kill them do we?”
“That was the plan at first, but they went and pissed me off.” Mardie drew her sword.
“Wait.” William did not envy those that rose her ire, but he had a bad feeling. “I have a better idea, if you’re willing to listen.”
Mardie’s glare was pure poison, but she gave a curt nod.
“I can use a spell, it will trap and humiliate them. A fate worse than death no?” William forced a smile. The truth was, he would rather anything than killing.
“You’re no wizard.” Mardie narrowed her eyes.
“I don’t need to be one. In your tent is a relic, one I can trigger with ease.”
“Fine.” Mardie sheathed her sword. “We do it your way.”
William wasted no time, ducked into the tent, and grabbed a chest. The fire had spread across the canvas widening in intensity. He found what he was looking for, a rolled parchment, tucked it under his arm, and escaped out of the tent.
“A piece of paper?” Mardie frowned.
“Paper covered in runes.” William but his lip. But this is only based on speculation. So I hope this works. William raised his hands skyward. “Oh great, Celcia, hear my plea. In this, I plead mercy. In this I–”
An arrow landed in his shoulder. William’s eyes shot open wide.
Mardie drew her blade barking an order to strik.
“No. Wait…” William winced. “Let me finish. In this, I beg mercy for my foes. But not without terrible vengeance. Arise and and strike, Goddess of Storm.”
He reached to the arrow, pushing down enough to seep blood onto his fingers, and placed a bloody palm on the rune paper. A blue light erupted shooting skyward, punching through the clouds and parting them into an eye of storm. Energy crackled around it and a billowy form manifested in front of them.
Celcia the Goddess of Storm wore a flowing robe, wielded and staff of ice and a crown of lightning. She had not appeared as the scriptures depicted her. A woman of plenty with broad body, thick muscular shoulders and a large stomach jutting out farther than her considerable bust. William stepped back and silently suggested Mardie do the same. He fell to one knee, eyes lowered. The legends were true, and he had been the one to call her.
“Summoner.” Celcia’s voice boomed with authority. “Point me to thy foes. I have deemed you worthy.”
William stood, wincing from the pain of the arrow. “The Black Snake Company and all who side with them, M’lady. They besieged us without warning, breaking the laws of war, and decency.”
“It will be done.” She raised her her staff of ice and her considerable form turned to mist, rushing into the eye above. Power gathered and rumbled above them in the form of deafening thunder. An array of light shone forth small in some places, larger in the distance.”
They stood in awe as the beam solidified into an array of ice, freezing into massive pillars. Lady Celcia’s voice spoke directly to William’s mind, from the look on Mardie’s face, she could hear it too.
“Your foes will be frozen for ten days and ten nights. Let them know that treachery against the Summoner will not be tolerated.”
Celcia settled to the ground before them, wordlessly. She settled her storm infused gaze on his wound, and clapped her staff on the ground. A focused current of electricity destroyed the arrow and piercing cold wracked his shoulder. The wound wasn’t healed, but instead filled with water and ice.
William raised a tentative hand to the patch of ice on his shoulder, while it took adjustment, it was a vast improvement to the pain of the arrow. He dipped his head at the Storm Goddess and she dissipate into nothingness and the clouds above settled into calm.
“You’re a summoner?” Mardie looked on, gaping.
“I am now I suppose.” William considered. “Per the research, the contract is for life, which can be very short if I displease the Storm Goddess.”
“So, this means the Black Snake Company has been dealt with?” She turned her gaze towards the pillars of light, sparkling in the sun.
“Not dead. Just frozen I guess.” William sighed. “For ten days…”
“That means I burnt my treasures for nothing?” Mardia’s face darkened. “Why didn’t you tell me about this BEFORE I lit my tent on fire?! And couldn’t you have asked that portly wench to make it RAIN or something?”
“H…Hey. I wouldn’t call the Storm Goddess that.” William frowned. “And you didn’t exactly warn me you made habit to burn your valuables before you flee from an enemy.”
“Shut up and help me get put this out.” Mardia rubbed her head. “Argh… Garus. Don’t just stand there.”
“I’m a mercenary Sir. Not a fireman.” Garus scoffed.
Mardie roared in anger, helpless to watch her tent burn. But now that William knew the rites of the Summoned, that was worth more than any gold. The tricky part, would be convincing Mardie that.