Magic and Machines Part Three
Last time of Magic and Machines:
King Taiken is not pleased with losing his family's stone and the capture of the kingdom's most wanted thief and mage to little to lighten his mood. Balaz reveals that the stone is a vessel for the power of a demon that nearly toppled the kingdom years ago and stressed how important it is to get back. In order to keep his kingdom safe the king reluctantly agrees and send Balaz out with Ethel and Ash, Hel's magic to track those she shot acting as their guide.
First light of the next day blanketed the kingdom with warm light. A brisk wind swept through the streets as the odd party of adventures left the castle. Three sets of horse hooves trampled the cobbled road even if there were four humans they had to take. Hel was sat pouting onto the back of Ethel’s horse as she clicked her stiff neck from her lovely sleep on the ceiling beam.
“Why didn’t I get my own horse?” She asked, facing backwards and waving to the castle guards as they left.
They didn't wave back.
“To make it harder for you to run away,” Ethel informed her.
"I mean. This isn't much extra difficulty." The thief mused, stopping her ignored waving and leaning back into the knight lazily.
“So how does this tracking magic work?” Ash moved her horse closer to talk, eager to make sure that Ethel and Hel didn't start arguing...again.
The thief didn’t reply; Instead, she pulled down the sleeve of the long glove that covered her left arm. It revealed strange red glowing markings that spiralled around her forearm in a foreign and demented pattern. The thief didn’t touch it and nothing about them seemed to change but after twisting her arm in inspection for a few moments she answered,
Balaz leaned forward to see round Ash curiously but Hel quickly pulled her sleeve back into place before he could get a good look.
“That’s it?” Ash asked unimpressed,
“I’m a thief, if I use magic it’s not going to be flashy.”
“You seem to like being the centre of attention though,” Ethel noted.
"What kind-" Balaz tried to ask something but Hel ignored him and smirked at Ethel,
“Puppy got sass,”
"I am not a puppy." Ethel hissed, pushing the thief with her back so she wasn't leaning on her anymore.
"Hel, what kind-" Balaz tried again but Hel was busy glaring.
"Just a bitch then."
"I swear if we didn't need you I would have done the execution myself," Ethel growled, taking a deep and unsuccessfully calming breath.
Balaz sighed in frustration, their argument seemed to be over,
"What kind of magic is that, Hel?" He finally managed to ask his question.
"Secret." Hel chirped simply.
Balaz glared, now feeling as annoyed at her as Ethel was, "You can trust me with the answer you know. I am a magic user too."
The thief giggled, "Nope!"
Balaz didn't look happy but he could see this was going nowhere.
“Maybe Hel should ride with me,” Ash suggested, warily, seeing both knight and mage were losing patience with her quickly.
“Yes!” The thief looked at her hopefully,
“No. She is my responsibility.” Ethel declared.
Ash sighed, "Okay..."
The kingdoms main city was vast but split into many districts. They headed east as Hel had said, through the high-class area around the castle that was filled with mansions, knights and people wearing the most impractical fashion to try to get ahead in the noble game.
A game which Hel seemed to know a bit about as she waved to some of the nobles and they looked away pretending they didn’t know her.
“A lowlife like you is acquainted with nobles?” Ethel questioned.
“The literal cutthroat politics of nobles is business for a lowlife like me,” Hel explained, cheerfully.
Ethel made a mental note. It seemed she’d been looking in the wrong place for people like Hel.
The areas shrunk down in wealth and the air got more clouded as they got closer to the east most district of King Taiken’s fair city, the factory district.
Another jewel in Taiken’s crown; the new factory manufacturing lines made mass production a breeze and skyrocketed the kingdom's trade and economy. Although like all advances of this nature it did mean a lot of jobs were taken by machines; which, in turn, had led to many riots in the past months.
When they entered this district the party thought they stumbled on another one when they saw some black smoke make a pillar darker and thicker than any coming from the factory chimneys.
“Not another one.” Ethel frowned.
“Well, I guess that means you have to go stop it?” Hel chirped, hopeful for the distraction.
Ethel looked at the ground conflicted as she brought the horse to a halt. Ash glared,
"The other guards can handle it. We have a dragon to slay." She insisted but Ethel didn't look convinced,
"I'm sure it won't take long. We can just check on it." She tried to convince the dragon slayer as Hel giggled.
"Good dog." She commented and was elbowed for it, "Ouch."
"Ethel, it's fine it's-"
“Oh god, what now?” Ethel glared, feeling like every time Balaz said one word and trailed off somehow everything was going to get worse.
“I’m sensing something very dark over there, even if it is not what we are after it is defiantly something woken by it and, I, am your best bet at stopping it.” He explained with a worried look.
“Why?” Ethel sniped.
“Because I’m the only one left in this damn kingdom who knows anything about magic, its side effects and its creatures!” Balaz roared.
Hel knew a bit about magic and Ash knew about a bit about magical creatures, they weren’t the walking encyclopaedia Balaz was famed to be. If you were up against anything to do with magic the fire mage Balazs Fai was who you wanted by your side. Hence the reason his family had once served the king and hence the reason Ash and Hel didn' argue with the statement.
“Fine,” Ethel sighed pretending she didn’t want to get involved too, if they could prevent deaths they could prevent deaths, “Let’s go.”
Ethel turned her horse and all followed, though Ash sighed annoyed they were detouring from the dragon.
The group entered the grid-like alleys between factories. They were cramped dirt roads just about big enough for two horses to pass. The closer they got to the only pillar of smoke that wasn’t coming out of a chimney the more the streets were being flooded people, running and screaming.
Ethel met the crowds first. Her horse reared, neighing in protest at the number of people that suddenly came flooding her way. The small knight struggled to get control of her horse but eventually got it to settle down and changed forward, into a square that opened up between the buildings. Before she had a good chance to look around a huge explosion went off. The shockwave knocked her horse off its feet and she luckily, skidded back far enough for her horse not to land on her.
Bal and Ash saw the flying knight and dismounted their horses before running into the square on foot.
“Thief!” Ethel looked around for her passenger and her eyes narrowed when she saw nothing of the blue thief.
What she did see though, was Bal and Ash run onto the scene and quickly turn to something behind her; drawing their weapons ready for a fight. The ground shook slightly in a steady rhythm and Ethel had faced enough giant monsters to know footsteps when she heard it.
She jumped to her feet grabbing her sword in one hand and her pistol with the other as she ran forward to join the dragon slayer and mage in a line formation; Only then did she turn to face their foe.
Twisted metal, conveyor belts, robotic claw arms, engines and generators connected and manipulated by a soul of black fire. They twisted into a giant humanoid figure, a golem of factory pieces.
“Apparently even technology can get possessed,” Balaz smirked smugly at the vulnerability of the kingdom's oh so precious technology.
“Now is not the time” Ethel snapped, “How do we stop it?”
“Hit it,” Ash said simply, darting forward.
“It’s not going to be-“ Ethel went to yell but stopped and sighed.
Ash was going to hit it anyway and at the very least she would keep it busy while her and Balaz came up with a plan.
“Easy?” Balaz guessed the end of her sentence,
“Yes. Nothing is with magic.”
“Well, you’re right.” He agreed, shrugging, trying not to look as happy as he felt to have the challenge.
They watched Ash dodge a slow kick and with a powerful swing of her hammer she blasted out its other leg from under it. She got some distance, getting out the way so the giant didn't fall on her but the creature did not fall. It defied the rule of gravity and stayed standing as black fire tendrils reached out for parts, anything it could get its tentacles of fire on. Piping, fallen bricks, even trying to grab for Ash herself but she darted back from it, struggling but managing to avoid being sucked in. It even moved while its leg was regenerating, moving to punch the ground where Ash stood.
“So how do we stop it?” Ethel asked, having complete faith in the dragon slayer despite how surprised she looked at the creatures abilities.
“Basically the same way I deal with most problems, burn it.” He answered simply.
“But whatever is controlling that thing is made of fire? How will that help?” Ethel questioned with a look of doubt.
“For one, it’s not fire, it’s a dark spirit, it just looks like fire and white hot fire has purifying properties that will get rid of the spirit.”
Ethel watched him carefully, it sounded far too simple.
“There’s a but coming, isn’t there?” she predicted.
“The white flames are hard for me to conjure out of the blue like this. I need time to draw energy, space so I don’t hit anything else and for it to stand still.”
“Right,” Ethel sighed, “You focus on getting your spell ready me and Ash will work on getting it still and getting people out the area.”
Although not sure how the two would achieve the feat he nodded, “Alright.”
Ethel darted away to an unbroken factory, as fast as her speedy legs could take her and straight into one of its offices. Heading to an abandoned desk that was a mess of paper and office supplies she picked up the large grey block that was a phone. Through that, she was able to order her knights to set up a perimeter and get anyone inside that perimeter out as soon as physically possible.
One job, done.
Ash, despite not knowing the plan was getting a second job done. She was keeping the thing busy and buying time; Admittedly she was being cautious about it. The dragon slayer glared at the creature trying to keep its attention on her without doing too much damage. There was no point if that damage just put her at more risk.
Luckily, her hammer had all the bells and whistles.
She flicked a switch in the pole of her great hammer causing a generator built into the base to light up green with energy and send electrical charges down the exposed cords that crisscrossed over the head.
She struck the creature with a blow light enough to keep it in one piece but the electricity coursed through its metal body and it let out a strange strangled cry.
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” She smirked as she dodged a kick and went to hit it again.
Ethel returned to the scene, stretching her mind as to how they would complete Balaz's third requirement.
A way to keep it still…Ash was doing a good job and keeping it busy but it was moving around a lot. She glanced to Bal who looked back with a nod. He was ready. They weren’t.
“Shit,” Ethel growled looking around, for an idea when she noticed something.
Three arrows had been placed, well, fired into the ground around the area Ash and the creature has been dancing. Ethel shook her head slowly.
It couldn’t have been Hel, she had a chance to run, she’d never come back. She’s a thief with no interest in helping others.
But then a fourth arrow whistled past the small knight and she looked back not able to believe her eyes,
The thief stood on the roof of a nearby factory pulling her bow back and extending her free hand. Ethel watched a light white glow appear and slowly become more intense, then it spread out drawing wings behind Hel.
She looked back to the fight and the arrows started to glow too and a line of white was being drawn in a circle connecting the four arrows.
Ash’s first instinct was to get out the circle and then looked at Balaz who looked just as confused, struggling to keep his concentration on the spell he had ready. The dragon slayer retreated back to the wizard as the inside of the circle began to fill with an intricate runic design. With foreign and strange magic words none of them were close enough to hear Hel activated the spell.
The golem's movement started to slow as a light appeared around its body. As the light grew brighter the slower it moved until it came to a complete stop.
Balaz was stunned a few moments. Finding it very, very hard to hold the spell he had ready as his mind raced through all the books he had read to try to figure out the spell just used.
“Do it!” Ash barked at him.
“Right.” The wizard managed to pull himself out of his own mind with some effort and with a flourish, threw out his arms and a funnel of white-hot flame engulfed the creature.
Ash, who had been right next to him stumbled back at the sheer force of the flame. Ethel had to over her eyes a how bright it was.
A strange and inhuman scream echoed through the area before slowly fading out and only after it had gone silent did the flames die out as well.
Balaz's arms fell to his side and he panted to trying get his breath back.
They had least had expected to hear the clang of metal as the possessed pieces of factory fell to the
ground out of the spirits control but there was none.
When they could see the aftermath of Balaz's flame there was a steaming puddle of molten metal where the golem once was.
The white markings faded allowing Ash and Balaz to finally see the four items that were used to set it up.
“Oh, you’re kidding me?” Ash shook her head.
“Nope!” Hel chose this moment to jump down from the factory roof she had watched the scene from, landing daintily like she had a cushion of air to stop her.
“What was that magic? I don’t recognise it.” Balaz looked at her, hoping at least this time he would get an answer from her, though that answer didn't come from who he expected.
“Well, I do.” Ethel finally caught up with them and marched to the thief who blinked her wide eyes confused,
Hel was so confused by this development that she forgot to run away as Ethel pinned her to the factory wall behind her, a hand around the thieves neck.
“And I know its cost!” She roared at her, “And you wouldn’t pay that for us so, why?! How?!”
“Hold on.” Balaz darted over and tried to pry the two apart, “What magic are we talking here and what cost?”
“I can’t tell ya…if I can’t breathe…” Hel pointed out and with that Ethel just squeezed tighter.
Balaz wasn’t getting anywhere trying to pull the two apart so Ash walked up behind Ethel and used the pole of her great hammer to sweep the knight's legs from under her. She let go of Hel as an automatic reaction and she landed flat on her back.
“You obviously have some magical inflicted emotional scares,” Ash looked down on her, “But at the same time we have a mission and we need her for it. You can quiz her all you like about it later.”
“Yay Hammer lady!” Hel cheered from her hiding place behind Balaz who did look relieved that at least someone of them had the strength to stop Ethel from killing Hel before they even got to the dragon.
“Fine,” Ethel growled trying to remind herself her mission as Ash helped her back to her feet.
“Right then.” Ash turned to Hel, “Which way to the prey?”
Thank you for reading Part three of Magic and Machines!
I found this bit quite fun to write, mixing magic with a steampunk esk work was a interesting little world to build.
Next time on magic and machines:
Ethel reveals the kind of Magic Hel used and it's price but the thief is reluctant to explain how she came across such a power or how she is able to avoid said price. The party finally reaches the home of the dragon and the Slayer does her job.