An introductory short story by Ben Marshall
Deep in the bowels of Shadowholm, in the dust and echoes of a world long past juxtaposed into the kingdom of Nagash, the mad wizard slept in the coffin-prison. Restful! Fitful! Just a little damp!
His eyes shot open at this thought.
“DAMP! Yes, but not as damp as the bottom of that stuffy Deepkin lair, or the bowels of that Godbeast.” Oblivious to the claustrophobic conditions or the fact he was locked in a casket, Fawkes screwed up his face in thought.
He huffed and puffed quietly. “What was his name again? Neraxes? Negredon? Nexushair…?”
From the space next to his restrained hands, a small and gribbly voice answered him. “Nehnaxiir. It was Nehnaxiir, Fawkes. Though I conjecture that this particular detail is unimportant, as we have more immediate concerns.”
A smile creased Fawkes’s wrinkled face. The voice was none other than Lex (oh, but his full name is Liber Licentia, the fop), his talking, demon-possessed journal and dutiful documenter of Fawkes’s dastardly and daring dramas. The old wizard shuddered. Alliteration? Was he reduced to alliteration? He rolled his eyes, and said, “A jolly occasion, my faithful journal was interred in this prison with me. By the by, my loyal literature, any idea how long we were under the spell? And indeed how we were awoken? And how we can leave this musty space? My old bones are singing.”
A flutter of pages signified Lex sighing, the closest thing he could do without lungs. “Our Nighthaunt captors may have had the decency to put YOU into arcane slumber for our imprisonment, but they just tossed me in. Not only have I been awake and planning the suffering of that Spirit Torment that locked us up, Le Tortionne if your old brain recalls, but also….I think page 274 has a permanent crease now.”
Fawkes gasped. “MY SKETCHES OF GHUR? CREASED?!”
In a fit of frustration and anger, the old wizard’s hands glowed blue, and with a minor spell he blew the heavy stone lid clean off his coffin, sending it to shatter against the far wall. He sat up, stretching. The room was small, but empty. No guards stood vigil over his prison. An oddity, given his reputation and the fact he was almost certain Nighthaunt suffered no exhaustion or boredom, and therefore had little reason to abandon post.
The room shook, the distant bass rumble of a wall being hit by a heavy onject. There was his answer. Shadowholm was under siege. No (dead)manpower to watch over a somnolent old and restrained prisoner. Fawkes pulled Lex out of his satchel, opening the book to look for inspiration. He was quite peckish and a little groggy, and didn’t fancy the idea of fighting his way through two warring armies to escape.
He furrowed his brow. “Lex, I am looking at page 274. There are no creases here.” The book answered him telepathically, “No, but I had to rile you up enough to do something dramatic.” Fawkes made a derisive snuffle. The book answered, sheepishly, “for posterity, your sketches are quite nice.”
Sudden realization hit Fawkes. If his scrying spells were to be trusted, he had been restrained for just under a year. That meant….”Oh Lex … The laws of universal fortune, realm stability, and leaky cheese state that it’s almost time for the annual hunt again…”
The book let out another shuttering page-flutter sigh. “You have just escaped an arcade prison in the bowels of Shadowholm, a city not taken to living visitors, and even our ethereal goalers are yet unaware of your escape. How do you think anyone outside will find out, let alone come for the bounty on your head?”
The old wizard grinned. “News of me travels fast, old friend. They will come.” He nodded to himself. “They always come.”
The rumble of fighting, sounding closer this time, snapped Fawkes out of his reflection. The mad wizard looked down to his satchel. “Any suggestions, dear diary?” A pause, then Lex answered, “I don’t suppose somewhere near Chaotic influence? I’d like to possess something other than paper for once.”
Fawkes lit up. Yes! That was it! “Ah! My curmudgeonly companion, brilliant! Let’s take the hunt somewhere truly different. Somewhere that armies can’t follow, but the more creative and flexible can.”
While the wizard begain an arcane ritual to tear a hole in the fabric of reality and step through, realization dawned on Lex. “You can’t be serious. There? Are you mad?” Fawkes paused in his ritual to regard Lex. The book scoffed. “Fine, MORE mad than normal?”
Fawkes chuckled as he finished the ritual. A gaping maw opened in the wall of the chamber. “Cheer up, Lex. This will be an adventure! A new tale! Truly unique!” The wizard took a last look at his prison. Another smile crossed his face. “Besides. I hear the Eightpoints are nice this time of year.”
As the portal closed, the room went silent but for the sounds of battle growing ever near, and a faint echo of a madman’s laughter.