Moving along with Ambrosia things heat up. Or do they cool down?
Part 19 – Inherited Will
Nell stood in the city center of Terra, atop a simple wooden stage. Culvir sat, sharpening Silverdark with a whetstone and grumbled about wasting valuable time. She squirmed at the passing glances of the crowds and earned a glare from Topel. He stroked the scraggly strands of hair at his chin, but said nothing.
“Master,” Nell said. “Why am I—”
“You’ll see,” Topel said. “We’re just showing you off a little. Call it an old man’s intuition.”
Culvir rolled his eyes. “Show her off? Are you so desperate to fish for compliments on her new clothes?”
“You misunderstand,” Topel said, shaking his head. “The power of a sage comes from confidence, something Nell lacks by nature. This is a part of her training. Ultimately it should help her struggle against her malady. Surely you know this by now? The poor girl can’t even enjoy a night of sleep. Young nubile women need their beauty rest.”
“Yes well, I can’t argue with that,” Culvir said, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “She slept fine after her injury.”
“Y-yes but it was a huge risk,” Nell said, swallowing back a lump in her throat. “I should be dead. I’ve never slept longer than five hours without feeling like I’m slipping away.”
A little girl ran in front of Nell, pointing. “Mommy look! Is she a clown?”
“Kiko, don’t stare. Don’t point.” A woman pushed through the crowd and snatched her by the arm.
“I-It’s fine,” Nell said. “I guess I am a sort of performer.”
The mother stared up at Nell, scowled and stormed off with her daughter.
My neck. Right. Nell, raised a hand to her wounds. She even had a few fresh ones now. “Master, I should cover my neck.”
“Absolutely not. People must see you for what you are.”
“The old man has a point.” Culvir said. “You’re standing in the city center in a skimpy robe in broad daylight. Only an idiot could mistake you for a vampire.”
“It’s not s-skimpy,” Nell said.
“The old man has a point though, anyone that doesn’t know you, will now. He’s baiting a hook. You’re not helpless, not by a long shot and you have me to back you up. If an enthralled human attacks, everyone will learn we’re here to help. You planning to build her reputation as a Sage and Ambrosia at the same time. Bold.”
Topel chuckled. “What a smart boy. Keep this up and you’ll earn my blessings.”
“No one asked for your blessing. Nell is your student, not your child.”
“Please don’t argue,” Nell said. “W-we’re on the same side here.”
A shudder ran up her spine alongside the presence of overwhelming power. She called upon Wisp, out of pure instinct, separating her familiar from her robe. He burned white hot, darting about in frenzy.
Nearby people backed away, startled by the flame but two people approached. She recognized both of them. Despite his recent aid, Sonnie still left her uneasy. The man next to him chilled her to her bones. “Brando Blaugrunder.”
Topel regarded both with surprise. “Nephew? What are you doing with Brando?”
Sonnie shrugged. “He requested to meet you. I assumed you would not mind talking with a former student? If his presence offends you, just sat the word— please.”
“It doesn’t. I’m just… surprised he would seek me out.” Topel scowled. “Considering I told him outright I would not be teaching him the secrets of the Sage. Besides, the proverbial torch has already been passed. Nell will be the next Sage.”
“I could care less,” Brando said. “It can die with her. I’ve salvaged the last useful scraps from your pointless art and turned it into something remarkable.”
Culvir readied his dagger. “You’ve got guts passing out threats.”
“Threats?” Brando laughed. “Why would I bother? Nell is already dead. One day soon she will go to sellp and not wake up. The fate of any so called ‘Ambrosia’. In fact, you made the error of angering a Lich, that day may come sooner than later.”
“If you’re not here to hurt her, speak your peace and leave.”
“I’m here to take what’s mine,” Brando held out his hand. “Take off the robe and give it to me.”
Nell blinked in surprise. “My robe?”
“I don’t think it fits you,” Sonnie said, smirking. “Why not pester a tailor to make one more to your liking.”
Brando scoffed. “I don’t plan to wear it, imbecile. I want to dismantle it. I plan to use the stones weaved into it to imprison the Lich. Instead of leaving it to the hands of the incompetent Hunters Association, a rabble of orphans and thieves, it will be handled by me.”
“Bullshit,” Culvir said. “There is no one better trained to fight the undead than us. I don’t care how good you think you are; you’ll only end up dead or worse, on their side.”
“Culvir is right. Magicians aren’t normally cut out for fighting Vampires.” Nell said, stepping down from the platform. It’s too easy to be overwhelmed and bitten. If you want to help us we can work together.”
Brando yawned. “Oh the losers mindset, how droll. Your ridiculous aim for eradication is the problem. The answer is to control the undead, just like you would a wild animal. If we imprison the Lich we can use it to herd the threat together.”
“Control?” Culvir glanced to Topel.
“Brando. We have been over this.” Topel shook his head. “It is a theory with no solid evidence. Unless you had a willing subject—”
Brando wore a coy smile.
“You found a vampire willing to cooperate?” Topel gaped.
“I did. Nothing a bit of civil conversation can’t accomplish.”
“Civil conversation, hm?” Sonnie said. “You mean torture.”
“Perceptive as always Mr. Daie.”
“How did you manage to capture a vampire?” Culvir narrowed his eyes. “Any vampire we’ve managed to catch dies from the condition. Being held against their will always triggers their death. A vampire needs to want to be ‘alive’ at all times.”
“The answer to that is simple, even for an uncultured ignoramus such as you.” Brando leaned closer. “I found a vampire that needs to survive no matter what. Vampires are still men despite their twisted and malformed state. This vampire is the key to victory, my victory. So if you would, take off that ridiculous robe.”
“He makes a convincing argument,” Topel said. “Perhaps if we just let you study it up close?”
“I-I’m sort of wearing it.” Nell crossed her arms.
“Naturally. You take it off and hand it over, you’re wearing undergarments right?”
“I’m n-not taking off my robe in the middle of the city.”
Topel laughed. “Obviously, we can go back to the Inn, make a show out of it.”
Culvir and Sonnie stared down Topel.
“I was kidding. Mostly.”
“Unacceptable,” Brando said. “I’ve no need of aid. I only seek submission. I invoke my right to challenge your ‘successor’. I wanted to show you the futility of your methods anyway.”
Topel nodded gravely. “You do have that right, but know Nell is not some novice for you to bully. You will regret this.”
“M-master? I can’t duel someone. I don’t—”
“You’ll be fine. Besides, you have a clear advantage over him. He favors ice magic, what trouble could he cause a mistress of fire?”
“You’re about to find out,” Brando said, turning to step into position.
“I need a drink,” Nell said, muttering. “I can’t do something like this with no warning.”
“You don’t need a drink,” Culvir said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “You need confidence. He’s too smug, use that against him. Turn the pressure of failure into strength. This is nothing new for you as a member of the Association. Failure in the things you do every day means death. Treat this no different and win.”
Culvir turned away, twirling his dagger into his sheathe.
Wisp settled in front of her field of vision and bobbed urgently. She could hardly recognize him in his white hot state. Just win, huh?
Brando raised his voice, calling to the people around him. “This is a civil contest: a show of superiority by a great Wizard inflicted upon a pitiful Sage. Rest assured, by this very power I will bring the threat of the undead to its knees and restore order to Terra.”
Culvir and Sonnie worked in tandem to shoo away the crowds to a safe distance.
“This woman, Nell Draadich is Ambrosia. Mere food for our foes while I am the butcher that will bring them to heel, ask not the sparrow how the hawk hunts. Terrible power will bring a terrible threat to heel.”
Brando pulled a stone from his jacket pocket and shattered it on the ground. The sky darkened, thunder rolled in the clouds above and the air chilled. He raised his hands to the sky, calling heavy rain to form an isolated curtain around them. The rain turned to sleet and settled into a wall of thick ice to separate Nell and Brando from the audience. “Behold the true power of the elements. You have made a grave error accepting my challenge when you should have accepted my gracious offer for surrender.”
The storm settled and the wall glistened into flawless glass, offering an unhindered view of the fight to come. Warm steam wafted off of Wisp with a sharp drop in temperature. Goosebumps prickled across her skin with the cold.
Brando was right, she had made a terrible mistake.